Written by Ian Landsman on Mar 29, 2016 in

Good, Great, Excellent and Exceptional… And The Emotions They Evoke

Alright. Last week, we talked about what great customer service means to you. We discussed how it makes you feel, why it matters, and how it changes your mood and your impression of the company you're working with (or, sometimes, for!). 

This is a good first step in understanding delightful customer service. A great one, maybe even excellent! 

Er, wait a minute... Let's talk words today. 

Consider if you asked "What does great customer service mean?" to fifteen people you know. Fifteen of your customers. 

You'll probably hear some of these answers.  

  • "When you don't leave me on hold for too long."
  • "When you listen to my problem and quickly find a solution."
  • "When you're pleasant to deal with."
  • "When you seem like you genuinely appreciate my business."
  • "When you listen to my feedback." 

These make sense. Remarkable customer service isn't fancy or flashy. Remarkable customer service provides solutions quickly, and makes things easier for the customer. Remarkable service comforts customers, shows your loyalty to them and increases their loyalty to you.  

Now, think of other ways you might ask our question. Except, instead of "great," insert "good." Insert "excellent." Insert "exceptional." 

What are the differences in these words? Are there differences? 

Why did you choose the poll option you chose above? Does it really depend on the customer service experience, or when asked, do you simply, nearly always, default to "it was great" - never somewhere lower or higher, because the question doesn't seem to require more thought or nuance?

These words, in many ways and uses, are interchangeable. But they also evoke considerable emotion and reaction. Which terms get associated with your brand matter. 

Your business doesn't want to be known for its "good" customer service. So what? As opposed to bad? You better be good.  Good is not enough. Good is not brag-worthy.

Understanding Nuances... And Emotions

What does good customer service mean, and how does it improve to great? What makes it excellent and what X factor does it take to bring customer service all the way to exceptional? 

"The human brain is incredibly efficient. When we think, we use only verbs and nouns. Adjectives, adverbs, and other parts of speech are added during the transformation of thoughts into spoken or written language. The words we add reflect who we are and what we are thinking." - Jack Schafer, Ph.D

What do you want customers to be thinking about you? What do you want them to be saying about you? 

Let's roll through the options. 

Good. Well, the dictionary indicates it's not what we all should be striving for. "Of a favorable character or tendency." Yes, very necessary. "Deserving of respect." We'd hope. "Often used in faint praise... conforming to standard." 

Ugh! Who wants to just conform to the standard? Nobody. No business. If you do, you're doing it wrong.

You certainly can't be offended when a customer describes your customer service as good. It's comfortable. It means you're doing your job at a basic level. It's positive, rather than negative, but it's not a glowing review. If a customer says you have good customer service, you met their basic needs. There was nothing negative worth commenting on. It's so comfortable, in fact, if you followed up on their "good" comment by asking, "Could we have made it better?" they might easily step up to saying, "Not at all! It was great!" 

Great. Merriam-Webster says: "Remarkable in magnitude, degree or effectiveness." "Markedly superior in character or quality." If good is the ground floor (and bad's in the basement), you're taking it to the next level. 

"Used as a generalized term of approval." 

...Well, now we're back to that last definition of good. For some customers, "great" is an easy answer. There may be no major differentiating power behind it. "Great" is easier than answering our paranoid questions of "Only good? How can we make it better?"

Great is satisfying, for us to hear and the customer to say. 

Excellent. "Extremely good." This one is more straightforward! It's so good, it's extreme

Excellent requires more thought. It doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily. For a customer to say you did an excellent job, you've likely done something either unexpected or out of the ordinary. 

Excellent matters. Excellent gets noticed. 

Exceptional. Unusually good. Uncommon, even. So rare, it may hardly get chosen in the scale of "horribly bad" → "exceptional" and almost never uttered unprompted. 

"How was your cheeseburger?" "Exceptional."

How often do you hear that? You don't. But if you did, you'd take notice. You'd consider checking out that cheeseburger for lunch tomorrow.  

Exceptional customer service is what we strive for, but it's rare. And even if you do provide it, you might not hear it described that way. 

Exceptional customer service changes the way you think about the brand. It redefines your opinion of how they do business. 

What IS exceptional customer service? 

  • It resolves a problem quickly, effectively and with an enhancement (such as an account credit for inconvenience, a gift card or free added service).
  • It takes feedback and changes processes to make it work better for you in the future.
  • It doesn't just satisfy the customer. It excites them. Wows them. Because that was easy.
  • It customizes approaches with a focus on making a positive ongoing change breaches the great/excellent wall.
  • It's what propels you to create more exceptional experiences. 

How Much Can You Depend On Terminology?

In everyday language, you might use good or great interchangeably. 

You might tell your friend you liked your meal, it was good, but tell the waitress, "Everything was great! Thanks!" 

Or you describe a new movie as "excellent" to someone who you might think will like it, but play it down as "pretty good" to someone who you already know has different tastes than your own. 

You can't automate feedback. Human emotion and our personalities play a role in the terms we use to describe our experiences. How we're feeling right now may impact how we describe a customer service experience that happened earlier this afternoon. 

But all of these - all of the nuances, all of the "yes, but" examples - cannot be used as excuses to settle for "good." Great, excellent and exceptional stand out. They make people notice. They make people listen. 

They are what you should strive for. 

One customer's exceptional review can lead to countless more customers. 

For each new customer, there's a new customer experience. 

A new opportunity for feedback. A new opportunity to be excellent.   

Are you up for the challenge?



If you're obsessed with exceptional customer service like we are, make sure to give our customer service software a look! Built from the ground up with the idea of providing a fanatical customer experience to your customers.


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About the author

Ian Landsman of UserScape

Ian is the founder of HelpSpot and also podcasts at Bootstrapped.fm.

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