The Entrepreneur's Guide to World-Class Customer Service

As entrepreneurs, we're constantly trying to encourage more people to buy what we're selling. But of course, we can't succeed until we learn how to deliver a truly world-class client experience that differentiates us from our competitors.

The key is to create a customer-driven culture -- and that's what Shep Hyken is all about. Hyken has been dazzling clients since the tender age of 12 when he started his first business as a birthday party magician. He's since gone on to help firms from American Express to Winn-Dixie excel at delivering amazing client experiences consistently. Along the way, he's earned the CPAE's Hall of Fame speaker award, written the bestselling books The Cult of the Customer and The Amazement Revolution, and been endorsed by customer service exemplars like Zappo's and Ritz-Carlton Hotels.

Here are six of Hyken's strategies that will help you nail the client experience at every step.


1. Take simple steps to create huge customer confidence. You want customers and potential customers to be completely confident in you, what you offer and your ability to deliver it. At the core, creating that confidence often takes nothing more than a few small actions on your part.

To illustrate how simple it can be to create that sense of confidence, Hyken highlights the steps he took during his initial job as a 12-year-old magician for hire. "I came home from the first magic show I did and my Mom told me to write a thank-you note to the family who hosted the party. My dad told me to follow up with the parents in a week to make sure they were happy -- and to ask when their other child's birthday was," he says. "I did that time and time again for my customers, and it paid off."

That obvious yet brilliant advice is applicable to all business owners. And yet, we often don't make these types of common-sense gestures that can quickly differentiate ourselves in big ways. And when you think about all the different ways we can say thanks to our customers, touch base with them and ask them for referrals -- from phone calls to emails to short video messages -- there's no excuse not to.

2. Communicate your vision. Contrary to popular opinion, the hard part of creating an amazing experience isn't coming up with a vision for customer service. It's communicating that vision and getting everyone in your organization aligned with it.

Hyken recommends boiling down your vision into a mantra -- a short statement that sums up your vision and that all team members can recite automatically. Example: The mantra used at Ritz-Carlton Hotels is: "We're ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." Likewise, Ace Hardware's mantra is "The helpful hardware place." "Make it so simplistic and easy that it's easy for everyone to execute on," says Hyken.

3. Always be the example. Don't treat your vision like just another theme of the week. As the leader of your firm, it's up to you to demonstrate your vision and your commitment to it at all times -- no matter how big or small your company is, or how important you think you are. Hyken's favorite example of this is Walt Disney, who would regularly walk through the park. If he saw a piece of trash on the ground, he'd pick it up and throw it away. "He called it 'stooping to excellence'," says Hyken. "He knew full well that all the employees were watching him as he did his walk-through, and that if he didn't model his vision no one else would either."

4. Empower your team to own and defend the vision. Your employees and teammates need to take ownership of your customer service vision and be willing to correct the situation if they see someone not living up to expectations. That doesn't mean berating the person or reporting them to management. Instead, let your team know that we all sometimes won't meet the vision, and that such times are opportunities for teachable moments instead of tongue lashings. That approach will help ensure that the person doing the correcting isn't doing so from "on high" and that the person being corrected doesn't feel demoralized.

5. Make training ongoing. Great customer service training isn't something you did; it's something you do on a consistent basis to reinforce your expectations and further foster employee buy-in. So, for example, make sure you have an onboarding process that immediately immerses new hires in your particular service culture. "I don't care how experienced someone is at customer service, you need to train that person in your unique culture," says Hyken.

Then feed them small chunks of content and training regularly over time to expand their understanding of that culture. Online learning tools are tremendous resources here: They can be accessed when a person has the time and inclination to learn and can be viewed repeatedly so that the messaging sinks in.

6. Celebrate your successes together. You need to let your people know that you appreciate their good work and that it's paying off. Don't forget to acknowledge, commend and reward great service when it happens. At Hyken's weekly meetings, everyone writes down an example from the previous week of how they delivered great customer service. The group then reads these "moments of magic" out loud. These examples not only create a positive working environment, but also often lead to new ideas and best practices on how to better serve clients.

Every week at AES Nation, top entrepreneurs share their best strategies, tactics and advice for achieving the highest levels of success and performance in business and in life.