“The man who does more than he is paid for will soon be paid for more than he does.” – Napoleon Hill

“You have to try this restaurant,” Jason told me. “It has the best Szechuan noodle bowls I’ve ever tasted. But watch out for the service. You might end up waiting half an hour before the waiters remember you haven’t ordered. Plus, they usually forget to bring out your drinks and appetizers. And occasionally, they forget to put in your order at all. ”

I stared at him. “You’re kidding, right? That place sounds terrible.”

He shrugged. “It’s my favorite restaurant. Sure, I curse it up and down. But the food is absolutely worth it.”

I had a similar conversation with Charlie – this time about bagels. (You’d think all we talk about at ETR is food!)

“Even though Florida is overrun with New York natives, I’ve always had a tough time finding a decent New York City Bagel,” he said. “You know – moist and chewy on the inside but with a flavorful, crisp crust on the outside.

“Finally, a new deli opened nearby, and their homemade-in-the-store bagels are spectacular. Maybe even better than anything from the Big Apple itself. (Heresy, I know!) The problem? The owner is gruff, you can tell the staff is miserable, and one time when we were on line, an argument even broke out behind the counter! Plus, the service is slow and the line moves at a snail’s place, even during slow times. But the product? Unparalleled!

“I despise this place,” Charlie said. “But my mouth waters every time I imagine going back.”

Let’s be honest. You don’t really NEED to offer good customer service. If you’ve got the best product (the best bagels outside of New York)… the only product (the only Szechuan restaurant in the city)… or the cheapest product, you’ll have plenty of customers. Even if your service stinks. But when you aren’t superlative in quality or price, going the extra mile – or, heck, even the extra inch – can give you a leg up on your competition.

The power of going the extra mile for a customer hit home a few months ago.

While searching for invitations for a special holiday party we were giving, I came across Momental Designs. Artist Kristy Rice runs the company, and sells custom invitations and stationery. Her prices are fair. She even hand-paints details on the invitations and stationery she designs.

Her holiday invitations looked beautiful in her online gallery. But I was suspicious. None of the samples I’d been getting from other companies looked as good as they did online. Some of the designs looked different in person. Some weren’t on high-quality paper. And one handmade sample looked like a toddler had made it in art class.

So I was prepared for yet another disappointment. But time was running out. The party was a month away, and we needed to send invitations to people in several states. So I called Kristy to ask if I could get a sample.

“Boy,” she said. “No one has ever asked me that before.”

The way she runs her business, you call her, explain what you’re looking for, pay a small deposit, and Kristy begins the design process. She then works directly with you to make sure the design is up to your standards.

But for me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to make sure – BEFORE paying a deposit – that the cards would be good. I wanted to hold the card in my hands, feel the paper, look at the detailing up close. And I didn’t want to be “locked in” to the purchase if I didn’t like the work.

She told me that no one she’s worked with has ever been dissatisfied. No one has asked for a refund. And she has plenty of testimonials on her website to back her up.

So I told her about my bad experiences. Time and again, I’d liked a card online but it had been a huge letdown in person.

Kristy didn’t get frustrated. She didn’t get defiant. And she didn’t say, “This is how I do it, and that’s that.” Quite the opposite. She was willing to work something out. “If you don’t like what we end up with,” she told me, “I could refund you a portion of the deposit.”

That sounded reasonable to me. After all, I’d had to pay a small fee for the other samples I’d received. So I told her I’d think about it.

A few hours later, I got an e-mail from Kristy. “I am working on some holiday cards right now for other clients,” she wrote. “How about I send you a couple of samples from those orders?”

I already liked Kristy. We’d spoken on the phone. She was friendly, professional, and gave thoughtful answers to all my questions about pricing, design, and her order process. Plus, she’d been willing to refund part of the deposit if I didn’t like the cards she came up with. But then she took this extra little step. She’d listened to what was important to me, and she’d come up with a solution.

A few days later, I got an envelope in the mail. She’d included two sample cards. And let me tell you – they were beautiful.

I called my mom. “I’ve found the perfect invitation designer.”

How much did this little extra step cost Kristy? Adding up the cost of the cards and the cost of the postage, she was out about nine bucks. In return, she got a new customer.

But here’s something else…

Because Kristy was so willing to go that extra mile to satisfy my request, I’m telling you about her. And I’m going to tell anyone who needs holiday cards, baby announcements, wedding invitations, stationery, or greeting cards about her too. That’s a lot of free publicity… just for popping two cards in the mail.

The word-of-mouth and repeat business you’ll get as a result of providing excellent customer service is free. And priceless.

Take Nordstrom. Its reputation for service has spawned tall tales about just how far employees are willing to go to please the customer. Maybe you heard the one about the gentleman who returned a set of tires to Nordstrom, even though Nordstrom doesn’t carry tires. The Nordstrom employee gave the customer a refund, and then returned the tires to the store they actually came from herself.

Lands’ End is another retail store with a legendary history of service. One story – reported in CRMBuyer.com – tells about a man who received a London taxicab as a gift in 1984. (The taxi was a luxury gift item in the Lands’ End holiday catalog.) In 2005, the man returned the cab for the full $19,000 his wife had paid for it – and it has become a symbol of how willing the company is to stand behind their products… even after two decades.

Do these companies actually offer excellent customer service? Maybe. Or maybe the stories are apocryphal. But that doesn’t matter as much as the fact that everybody thinks they do. Their reputation for top-notch service has helped these brands maintain their market presence for years.

But you don’t have to be a giant in your industry to reap the benefits. No matter how big you are, or how small (Kristy of Momental Designs is just one person!), you can grow your business and impress your existing customers just by making a little extra effort.

“Your customer-service policy should be bend-over-backward,” says Michael Masterson. “Your employees should be trained to do everything they possibly can to please customers – even the most demanding ones. They should be taught not only to give customers what they want but also to do so with a smile.”

Giving your customers what they want isn’t the only thing you need to do. You need a good product and you need good marketing. And, according to Michael, “You need a set of standards… clear standards that YOU set. For instance, make sure the phone gets picked up after one ring every time. You also need a way to monitor the quality of your customer service, either by posing as a customer or creating a feedback system. Keep in mind that the natural tendency in service is entropy… to get worse. Unless you constantly fight to make it better, it will get worse by small degrees.”

True, good customer service isn’t 100 percent necessary for success. Plenty of companies have mediocre service at best and manage to make millions. But it doesn’t take a whole lot of time or energy to do a little something extra. And that tiny step can help grow your customer base by leaps and bounds.

[Ed. Note: Michael Masterson’s latest book has hit the New York Times Business Best-seller list! Ready, Fire, Aim: Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat reveals dozens of secrets that you can use to propel your business forward. Pick up your copy by clicking here.]

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