Customer service is a critical business activity in companies that depend on consumers and businesses that buy goods and services. Offering "good" customer service helps with satisfaction and retention. Offering "exceptional" customer service can distinguish a company's brand from competitors with similar products.

Meeting vs. Exceeding Expectations

Good customer service often centers on delivering or slightly exceeding what customers expect from your company and its solutions. In contrast, exceptional customer service requires that you go above and beyond customer expectations, according to a January 2012 Smashing Magazine article. A good service provider delivers and installs a new appliance in line with its timeline commitment to a household buyer, for instance. An exceptional provider either delivers ahead of schedule, or includes post-installation training and support to the buyer to ensure a high-quality experience. This type of post-installation support can minimize complaints and product returns.

First-Time Resolution Rate

First-time resolution rate is a common metric used in various customer service environments. In a call center, for instance, first-call resolution refers to the percentage of service calls resolved effectively the first time. Good service providers resolve customer problems. Exceptional service providers resolve them the first time, almost every time. One key to quick resolution is employee empowerment, according to a November 2012 Forbes article. Hiring, trading and empowering stellar front line service employees to handle customer complaints leads to more efficient resolutions. Bringing in a manager to handle escalated or more complicated concerns should be a rare exception.

The Total Customer Experience

Companies that deliver good service normally focus on a consistent, customer-friendly approach. If a customer needs help finding a product, for instance, a good service rep asks questions and helps him find the right solution. Exceptional service providers take it a step further. Companies that provide exceptional service have a systemic focus on optimizing the total customer experience. The total customer experience refers to every facet of the customer's interaction with the business across all points of contact. Such providers map the customer experience, conduct surveys, identify problem areas and build in extra value, such as add-on services, free bonus gifts, and highly engaging and personalized consultation.

The Personal Touch

Being friendly with customers, knowing them by name and offering tailored solutions are common to good customer service. These are a baseline for a "personal touch" when it comes to exceptional service. Elite service providers look for opportunities to impress customers with proactive communication and non-business communication. Sending customers handwritten birthday cards or follow-up thank-you notes after a large purchase are examples. Calling a top customer between purchases just to ask how everything is going and see if they have any concerns you could help with is exceptional as well.