There’s no such thing as the ‘customer service department’ anymore. In our hyper-connected and transparent world, everyone in your company is now in customer service. The question is, are they delivering an experience that people love, or one that they loathe?

The first time you ever call Metro Bank, you’ll be in for a (pleasant) surprise. Somewhere between pressing the final digit of their phone number and ringtone number three, you’ll be greeted by a real life human being. No pre-recorded voice. No menu of options. No hold music. And no “your call is very important to us”. Instead, a friendly person welcoming you to the bank and asking how they can help.

Metro Bank doesn’t just have phone calls nailed: it offers a whole host of services and cute little whynots to its customers. One of the more unusual amenities is the fact that they’ll provide treats and water for your dog (who you can take in with you) – but there are plenty of other, arguably more useful, services too.

For example, all branches are open seven days a week, 362 days a year. There’s no requirement to book an appointment, and you’ll be able to pick up your new credit/debit cards right there – rather than wait for them in the post. A simple diversion from the traditional model is that a Metro Bank employee greets everyone who walks through the door, and directs them to the correct department. It feels far friendlier, and you don’t have any of the interminable queues that you see in other banks.

Unlike its competitors, Metro Bank doesn’t just say it “offers great customer service” – or that it aims to “exceed expectations”. It actually does those things.

The bar is low

The fact that “a real-life human answering the phone promptly” is noteworthy says a lot about the state of customer service today. But noteworthy it is – and customers are clamouring to both applaud the bank in public, and recommend it to their friends in private. (It should also be mentioned that all branches have “customer toilets” too – a fact that’s received a worrying amount of adulation.)

When it comes to service, it doesn’t take much effort or even ingenuity for companies to stand apart from the competition. And by simply having this one simple edge over others in their industry, they can win new customers as well as acres of good press.

One of the most famous examples of this is the online shoe retailer Zappos. They don’t try to win fans via silly gimmicks or vague promises. Instead, they simply remain dedicated to going above and beyond for their customers, every single time. In practice, this means sending flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet had been damaged by harsh medical treatments. It means staying on the phone to a customer for 10 hours and 29 minutes – apparently a record. And it means visiting a rival shoe store to buy a specific pair of shoes for someone, when Zappos ran out of stock.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job to make the customer experience a little bit better.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Just Google “Zappos customer service” and you’ll find article upon article about the extraordinary lengths Zappos employees will go to in order to keep their customers happy. This sort of positive press can’t be achieved with expensive ad placements – and it certainly can’t be achieved by simply promising “excellent customer service” on the company homepage. And while your own company might not have the resources available to save a Best Man from going shoeless at a wedding, there’s plenty you can do to delight your customers and make their lives easier.

Take Zen Internet, a UK-based internet service provider. Not only do they offer a genuinely friendly and helpful service, but they also send frequent, informative newsletters to all customers. The newsletters don’t just contain company news and updates – they also include comprehensive analysis of tech news, as well as lots of useful links to stories, apps and products that the Zen customer might enjoy.

Words are cheap

What all these companies have in common is the fact that they’re genuinely providing good customer service, exceeding expectations, and putting customers’ needs first: they’re not just saying it. As a result, customers love them and recommend them, and they get talked about on social media, in the press, on blog posts, and so on.

As for those companies that say, “We provide excellent customer service” in their corporate communications or website, without showing anything to back it up: they get ignored. Because – seriously – who’s going to think: “Oh WOW! This company says they provide excellent customer service. Decision made: I’m going with THEM!”

If you really do have great customer service, show it : you need to explain how you help your customers, because otherwise you’ll get unfairly lumped in with all the other companies that just pretend. Do you offer 24/7 phone support? Do you visit people in their homes? Are you flexible about what time the office closes? Do you offer free returns, no questions asked? Tell us! At the very least, tell us what your company stands for – what sort of experience you want your customers to get out of working with you. Something more thoughtful and less nothingy than “exceed expectations”.

Dog treats aren’t going to save you

A company can’t just announce a bunch of random “extras” or offers and expect to suddenly become adored: it’ll seem incredibly inauthentic and, well, just plain strange.

The reason companies like Zappos and Metro Bank seem genuine in their customer service efforts is because it all stems from something deeper than “desire for good PR”. It’s ingrained in their company ethos, their hiring practices, everything. It’s intrinsic to who they are as a company.

Vernon Hill, the founder of Metro Bank, didn’t suddenly wake up and think, “DOG BISCUITS! That’ll make people love us!” No: his pet-friendly policy is totally in line with his founding mission to provide a bank that leads on service rather than price – a bank that encourages its customers to visit branches, even if they want to bring their dogs with them. Plus, as Hill himself explains, “Customers think that if we take care of their dogs, then we will also take care of them” – unlike his uncaring competitors.

Metro Bank’s commitment to service means that the HR process is markedly different from other banks: emphasis is placed on employing people with a track record of excellent customer service over any sort of banking experience, and all employees take a number of classroom-based training courses each year. If you’ve ever been to one of their branches, the difference in service will immediately become clear.

It starts from the inside

“Commitment to customer service” can be demonstrated in numerous ways, but – in order for it to work – it always needs to be in line with the underlying company ethos and vision. Once you know what your business stands for, it’s easy to figure out how to prove yourself to your customers.

Sofas & Stuff is an excellent example of this. They focus on creating excellent-quality, beautiful, stand-the-test-of-time furniture in England – and they want you to relish the whole experience of buying, using and passing your sofa on to the next generation.

“Courteous treatment will make a customer a walking advertisement.” – James Cash Penney, J.C. Penney

With a TrustPilot rating of 9.4 out of 10 (from 1,163 reviews), they’re clearly experts at delighting their customers – not just saying it. Almost every single reviewer raves about the service, commenting on everything from the employees’ depth of knowledge to the friendly, relaxed atmosphere of the showrooms. Even those who choose not to buy a sofa will leave a review – just to show their appreciation of the level of service they received.

Here’s just one of the company’s many TrustPilot reviews: “From start to finish, the service from Manchester’s Sofas & Stuff team was immaculate… Suzi’s customer service was outstanding – she phoned/emailed several times to discuss a query we had regarding the sofa and really went beyond the extra mile with her thoughtful and caring manner… We love the sofa and have already recommended Sofas & Stuff to friends and family.”

It’s your turn

If you genuinely want to offer “excellent customer service”, you need to decide what “excellent customer service” means to you, and – most importantly – what it means to your potential customers. It all starts with a deeper look inside your company: who it is, what it stands for, who it’s trying to appeal to, and what it wants to be remembered for.

Once those decisions have been made, you’ll know what your customers want – and then you’ll really be able to exceed their expectations. Every single time.