When I became CEO of Westpac Financial Services in 1994 my first “Contact Point” column in our monthly staff magazine focused on customer excellence. I reminded our team that customer excellence, that is, the attainment of raving advocates, will be the key to our ongoing success. It will become what differentiates us from our competitors. I also reminded them that if they felt they were providing superior service currently, to remember the old adage, “You don’t have to be ill to get better,” as a poignant reminder of our obligation to the pursuit of customer excellence.

I then provided them with “The Ten Commandments of Customer Excellence.” I feel these points remain relevant today, especially in these tough economic times and I have modified them from their original focus on providing financial services advice to being generically applicable to any business.

Extreme Customer Service


1. Keep ’em coming back.

Experience dictates that the only way to really find out what our customers want is to ask. As one sales motivator expresses it, “Give it to them…and then some.” Within your particular business you need to utilize tools that expertly discover your customer’s real needs and then match product and systems to these needs. Ensure you tailor for each individual situation (within reason).

2. Excellent service depends on excellent systems.

Being courteous and friendly is only the beginning of customer excellence. Our systems must be such that they enable us to deliver. This ensures that we can do the job right the first time—every time. You need to be committed to continual improvement of systems to support frontline staff. Having said that, do not allow staff to blame systems, especially if there are examples of customer excellence being provided by other staff using the same systems.

3. Offer less, deliver more.

Customers come back when we keep our promises. Give them a pleasant experience by exceeding their expectations on a regular basis. In this day and age expectations can be high; “offer less” does not mean reducing your value proposition, it means having a great offer and then delivering more. As an example of providing more for less, we at Westpac gave a commitment to producing simple, cost-effective products that would meet and exceed our customers’ cost versus return expectations…and then delivered!

4. Treat the business as if you own it.

Every person in the business needs to have the mindset that this is my business. If every interaction with colleagues, business partners, and customers occurs with the thought in mind that our life savings are invested in this business, then outcomes will be different. It is a leader’s responsibility to provide the environment where this is possible, and so it has to start with all leaders respecting, valuing, and trusting their team. Make everyone feel special! This will make a difference—when you change your behavior to others they will change theirs. This mindset will quickly improve customer service and the bottom line. A “wowed” customer becomes a raving advocate who cannot wait to sing your praises to family and friends, resulting in a massive lift in referred customers.

5. Follow the “Sundown Rule.”

There is a maxim that states: “If you never hear a complaint, something is wrong.” If this is the case, chances are your customers are complaining to your competitors. We introduced the “Sundown Rule”: on receipt of a customer complaint, we undertook to contact the customer by day’s end—even if it was only to acknowledge receipt and advise them how we would proceed with their complaint. Then we ensured there was a fool-proof diarized follow up system in place to ensure our promises were fulfilled.

6. Remember your manners.

Our moms were right. People like courtesy—anything less is unprofessional and unacceptable. Recall the last time you were treated with discourtesy as a customer. If you are like me you are now an ex-customer of that business.

7. Show compassion.

Empathy is good, compassion is great!

Having empathy is about understanding: it’s looking at the situation from another’s perspective and understanding how he or she feels before reacting. As I said, this is good—but we need to be careful that it is not used just to profess understanding. Compassion is empathy in action. I regard it as “commitment with passion” to not only see the situation from another’s perspective but to take action and do something about it.

8. Share ideas and initiatives.

In your business you need to encourage the sharing of best practice ideas and initiatives that demonstrate excellence in customer service. Also, be committed to learning from the world’s best in your particular field. Copying and adapting the world’s best practice ideas to your business, and then improving them, is smart business. Leaders need to seek out the exceptional customer service stories, reward the staff involved, and tell these stories at team meetings. Also use the combined brainpower of your team. There are many businesses out there contemplating redundancies and cutbacks without asking their employees what can be done to avert these drastic actions. When I first became CEO I wrote to over 400 staff asking them three simple questions….

– What can we do to improve customer service

-What can we do to increase revenue or reduce expenses

-What can we do to improve morale

We received over 300 responses with some excellent suggestions, some were no-brainers that could be implemented immediately which we did with due acknowledgment. All businesses should be using this combined brainpower to address issues, that is smart business and an excellent first step in engaging staff.

9. Hiring the right people.

Employees are the critical link to superior customer service. Hire the best people and then treat them in a manner in which you expect them to treat customers. There is a strong link between how your employees feel and how your customers feel.

10. Measure, measure, measure.

A. You need to always strive to be the best and measure your performance against those who excel in your field.

B. You need to continually measure your performance—daily, weekly, and monthly—otherwise you will have no criteria for which to gauge your success.

C. Continually strive to improve your performance in all areas to better your “personal best.”

D. Have an organizational matrix in place that measures results on one axis and behaviors on another. The goal is to have everyone in the quadrant high on results and high on behaviors; you need to ensure that the behaviors being measured are clear, that everyone is aware of their particular behavioral requirements, and ensure that they are easily quantifiable.

I can assure you that if you involve your team and adapt all Ten Commandments of Extreme Customer Service to your business, the results will be impressive.

A focus on this type of service will ensure you create loyal customer advocates and enhance the referrals provided by these engaged raving advocates.

If you are currently not receiving a minimum of 25% of new business from referrals your customers are not engaged.

by Ken Wright