Customer service isn’t all about smiling and being nice. It’s more than that. It’s about going that extra step. Put simply, it’s about being genuine and thoughtful.

When I was on the bus one morning, I witnessed the bus driver waiting for an older man to sit down before he drove away. Just by waiting an extra few seconds, he showed care and respect for his customers. Compare this to what I have experienced many times before where the driver rushes off seemingly more concerned about his schedule than the safety of his passengers.

Walking to daycare with my daughter in her stroller one day, I was about to walk across the pedestrian crossing. A van came down the hill and stopped (like any decent driver should). I waved as I always do to say thank you to the driver for stopping. How he then reacted, on the grand scale of things, was nothing much – he nodded his head and waved his hand in acknowledgment – but it made a personal connection between him and I. It was not until the truck drove away that I saw the BC Hydro logo on the back of his vehicle. Instantly, that warm fuzzy feeling I was having was transferred over to their company; this led me to think that they must do a great job hiring and training decent people with manners and respect. Again, this extends more positively to their brand, all of this value from a simple head nod and hand wave.

The opposite of this example can also leave a brand message but in a negative way. Have you ever been cut off while driving by a branded corporate car or truck? Has a driver of such a vehicle ever given you a hand gesture that utilizes just one finger? It boils your blood and has you relate to that company in a way that is less than favourable. You then go on to tell all your friends and colleges about your experience, which creates an even more negative brand association.

Another personal experience I have had with a negative brand association came while shopping in my local supermarket. As I approached two nearby cashiers, I heard them discussing (read: gossiping) how strange and peculiar their previous customer was. I too had seen the customer they were speaking of and, frankly, their judgments matched my own. That said, those employees made a critical error. Their choice to adversely discuss that customer left me wondering what they were going to say about me behind my back once I had left the shop. I became distrustful of them, feeling cautious about what I said and did in their presence. I am sure that this is not the way businesses aim to have their customers relate to their staff and brand. If you are an employee, be conscious that all of your actions do leave an impression. Make that extra effort to make it a positive one. If you are an employer, expect the best from your staff; train them on how to be fantastic brand ambassadors and treat them well, so they care to make that extra effort.

If someone has a negative experience of your brand, you have a lot of extra work to do to reverse that experience. If it is an ongoing complaint from a wider user group, you may have to take a look at the bigger picture and make some fundamental changes to your business.

A good example of this is my recent experience with Apple. I downloaded two rental movies from Apple for the first time, and when I transferred them over to my iPhone to watch at a later date, only one worked. I wanted to email them but remembered how difficult it had been in the past to find an email address on their site. They (like many companies) would rather drive you to A FAQ to see if you can solve it by yourself. Although, this time, it was relatively easy to find their email address, which was quite refreshing.

I sent off my email explaining my situation and did not expect to hear back from them for several days, if at all. In retrospect, this was a sad revelation. I had experienced such poor service from them in the past that I was be resigned and did not expect a reply. Is this something you would want to have associated with your brand?

What followed was a more-than-pleasant surprise. It impressed me (and believe me, it takes a lot to impress me). Apple had obviously, as a company-wide initiative, addressed their customer service problems and had made their employee-client interactions personable and straightforward.

After sending my email, I received an automated response from Apple confirming someone would look into my situation straight away. Within nine hours, I had a reply in my inbox from a real person with a real name, not “customer service.” That in itself impressed me. I continued to be delighted as I read the rest of the email. Here is that email with my comments (in brackets) about why their email was so successful:

Dear Matt,

Greetings from iTunes Store Support. My name is Lalchand. (By using first names it set a personal tone and creates a personal connection)

I understand that the movie “Town” that you rented is missing. I can certainly imagine how a situation like this could be disappointing. I can imagine you must be eager to get this taken care of. I am happy to assist. (The best way to defuse an angry person is to “recreate” the situation, letting the person know that you have fully understood what happened and that you can relate to how they are feeling.)

Matt, I have posted a fresh copy of the movie to your account, please follow these steps to download the items: (Without further ado, they resolved the problem by reposting the movie.)

Please reply to this email if you have not received the fresh copy, and I will be glad to assist you. (Setting an expectation that Apple would continue to support me if I still required it was comforting. Furthermore, receiving a personal email address was a great promise of excellent service vs. a general customer service contact where I presumably would have had to explain the situation all over again to a stranger unfamiliar with the situation.)

Matt, I hope this helps to resolve this for you. If you have any questions or require further assistance, just reply to the email and let me know. (This extends the hand of support again if I need it, and by using my name, it suggests that this isn’t a “cut and paste” email.)

Thank you for being a valued iTunes Store customer. Have a great day ahead! (An acknowledgment that I am valued makes me feel fuzzy and warm, and after all the content above in this email, this type of statement comes across as genuine and not just marketing rhetoric.)

Lalchand. iTunes Store Customer Support

Please note: I work from Sunday, Monday, Wednesday- Friday, 11 AM-8 PM CST (This was brilliant, by informing me when he works it is preventing me sending him an email on say Monday night and being frustrated because I didn’t hear back from him on Tuesday.)

The best customer service is not complicated; it just takes a little extra thinking and effort from a committed team. Every person (including yourself) that works for your company is an ambassador for your brand. Where can you improve your company’s customer service and take it to the next level? What can you do to go beyond your clients’ expectations to leave them delighted and eager to share with their community how great a company you are?