In the latest example of how social media is mightier than the sword when it comes to customer service, a war of words was waged last week by Hasan Syed, a disgruntled British Airways patron who took to Twitter to vent his anger.

After complaints regarding his lost luggage went unanswered by the airline, Syed — who uses the Twitter handle @HVSVN — paid $1,000 to promote tweets berating the company to Twitter users in New York and London. ABC News reports that more than 70,000 people viewed Syed's angry tweets — which included words like "terrible, "horrendous" and "sucks" — and thousands more people heard about the rant on the news.

In an age when one person's opinion can reach thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends in an instant, it only takes one dissatisfied customer to wreak havoc on a company's image.

In his new book, author Shep Hyken spells out just how important customer service is. The book, called "Amaze Every Customer Every Time: 52 Tools for Delivering the Most Amazing Customer Service on the Planet," gives businesses insight into how to keep customers happy and avert public relations disasters like the one being faced by British Airways.

In an email interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Hyken explained why customer service isn't just a department, but a way of doing business.

BusinessNewsDaily: What's your definition of customer service?

Shep Hyken: My definition of customer service doesn't count; it's the customers' definition that counts. They have a preconceived expectation of what customer service should be, and it is up to the company to meet — if not exceed — it. That said, my simple definition would be how a company delivers the product and service that it sells.


BND: How does the management structure of some companies get in the way of customer service?

SH: Management sometimes puts policies and procedures in place that prevent the front line — or other people in the company — from delivering an amazing customer experience. It doesn't surprise me to see in surveys that the companies that are the best at customer service are also the best companies to work for. The best companies empower employees to do what it takes, within reasonable boundaries, to take care of customers. That's why I like the tool from my latest book, "Amaze Every Customer Every Time," called "One to Say Yes and Two to Say No." It is meant to empower employees to come up with solutions that don't require them to go to the manager every time for approval. One of my clients said that implementing this one tool would cut the complaints he sees come across his desk by 80 percent. So, why don't more leaders empower their employees to be more customer-focused?

BND: You use the example of Ace Hardware throughout the book. What's so great about Ace?

SH: The social proof is that Businessweek rated Ace Hardware as a top-10 customer-service brand, and the company has won the J.D. Power and Associates award for highest customer satisfaction in its industry — seven years in a row! Ace Hardware is a David and Goliath story. Its smaller stores go up against big-box stores that are five times larger and outspend them in advertising dollars by 30 times. However, the real proof is in customer feedback. Ace receives an unbelievable amount of fan mail, positive social comments and unprecedented loyalty from its customers. Ace is an amazing role model from which any company, of any size, should want to learn.

BND: What about today's "sexy" companies, like Apple and Southwest Airlines? Are these companies really leaders in terms of customer service?

SH: These "sexy" companies are some of the best in class when it comes to customer service. They are visible and recognized in their industry, by business experts and, most important, by their customers, for delivering amazing service. Herb Kelleher, the former CEO and chairman of Southwest Airlines, figured it out a long time ago. He realized that if you take care of the employees, they will be happy and thereby take care of the customers. And when the customers are happy, they come back. And when they come back, that makes the shareholders happy. That's what the best companies do. The question is, can they sustain it? Look at the companies mentioned as excellent in Tom Peters' amazing book, "In Search of Excellence." While it was written 30 years ago, the 42 companies chosen were "America's best-run companies." Many of those companies are out favor, and worse, out of business. Then, you look at a company like Ace Hardware. Not so much a "sexy" company — hey, it's hardware, tools, and lawn and garden supplies — but considering it has been solid as a rock for almost 90 years, that puts it up there with the "sexiest" of today's companies.

BND: Which of the "52 tools" mentioned in your book are most relevant to today's small businesses?

SH: The simple answer is all of them. For just about any type of business, every one of these tools can be used. However, if you were to ask me where to start, I would say start with the tools in the leadership and culture chapters. That's where it begins. By the way, when I refer to leadership, I'm not necessarily talking about the leaders, management and owners of a business. When it comes to customer service, everyone is a leader. Everyone must step up to do the right thing. Everyone must be a role model. Everyone should implement the first tool in the book, which is to "Act Like You Own the Place."

BND: What are some customer-service tactics that employees can use during one-on-one interactions with customers?

SH: The chapter titled "One-On-One" has 16 tools that are focused on the interactions between people. "Treat Customers the Way They Want to Be Treated." That's a spin on the Golden Rule. My friend Dr. Tony Alessandra calls it the Platinum Rule. Adapt to your customers, rather than making them adapt to you.

Another great tool is to "Focus on the Customer, Not the Money." Not every customer is going to spend a lot of money. Some may not spend any at all. But when you focus on the customer as a person, versus trying to make the sale, you build a relationship of trust and confidence, and eventually, the sale will follow.

Another favorite is "The Customer Is NOT Always Right!" However, they are always customers. So, if they are wrong, let them be wrong with dignity and respect.

BND: Is there one last suggestion you have to help companies amaze every customer every time?

SH: Customer service is not a department. It's a philosophy that has to be embraced by everyone in the company, from the CEO to the most recently hired. To start, hire the right people. Then, train them on both the technical skills of the job, as well as the soft skills, such as customer service. Then, empower them to do their jobs. Let them know when they are doing a good job so they repeat the same behaviors again and again. Get them to recognize when they create a great service experience. The bottom line is this: What's happening on the inside of a business is going to be felt by the customer on the outside.  

For more information visit hyken.com. Follow Shep Hyken on Twitter: @Hyken.

Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.