The Secret to Exceptional Service

by Harry Sheff

Really exceptional customer service is rare these days, so when you see it or experience it, you remember it for a long time. It isn’t difficult to give great service, it just takes attention and diligence.

Ironically, it’s when a company screws something up that it can really show how good its service can be. Take the Canadian active/yoga wear retailer Lululemon. The company, which started in Vancouver in 1998, was founded on customer feedback. Yoga instructors helped design the apparel and customers chose the name and logo in a contest. Every item sold online has buyer product reviews, and whenever there’s a negative comment, a Lululemon representative responds publicly. For example, a woman commented on a pullover designed for running on Sunday the 26th. “I absolutely loved this top,” she wrote, “BUT- I wore it in the rain over a white cool racerback and now my racerback has been completely stained hot pink. Kind of frustrating, as the brand shouldn’t be having issues like that.”

A rep (the company calls them “educators”) named Jenna wrote back. “Thanks for submitting your review. I’m sorry to hear your Inspire Pullover bled onto your white Cool Racerback. With any vibrant colors it is best to pre-wash garments before use as there can be residual dye. Try soaking your Cool Raceback to remove the dye, but if it remains, please take both items into your local store and discuss it with an educator as this shouldn’t occur. If you aren’t near a store please contact us [via phone].”

If you take a few minutes to browse the site, you’ll see that customers, particularly women, are very vocal. The negative comments are almost unanimously from big fans who were disappointed by one thing or another—arguably the ones whose loyalty is most important. Simply taking the time to listen to frustrated customers, even if the end result may not be perfect, gives other customers a sense of confidence about the products.

Furthermore, these reviews tell the company when a product doesn’t work, and how it may need to be redesigned. Reviews on the men’s Kahuna pants have been pretty bad. It turns out men tended to buy the Kahuna to wear to the office. But unlike last year’s model, the Kahunas are “not ‘clean’ enough to pass for a business-casual wear, and they aren’t comfy and functional enough to be sportswear or leisure pants.” Out of seven comments, four said they wanted the old version back. “Thanks for the feedback,” wrote Laura, a rep, in response to one customer. “I’ll definitely make sure the design team sees this for when they design next year’s line.”

Online reviews may not work for the independent specialty retailer (the volume would be too small to be helpful), but there are certainly lessons here just the same:

1. Ask your customers for feedback every time. Ask them what they like and what they don’t like.

2. Give everyone an easy, unintimidating way to let you know when things don’t work out.

3. Don’t make excuses, listen. Sometimes customers just need to know someone gives a crap.

Have any customer service advice? Tell me about. Either comment below or e-mail me at