The Competitive Advantage of Exquisite Service

May 8th, 2018


When was the last time you experienced exquisite service? Service that made a lasting impression on you that is impossible to forget? In this age of intense competition and uncertain economic conditions, service can be a real differentiator in building a brand and growing your business. Exquisite service forges a strong bond with your clients and customers that is hard for competitors to break even in the toughest of markets if it is consistently delivered.

How can you attain this level of service in your business consistently so that it becomes synonymous with your brand beginning with the first conversation or meeting?

On a recent trip to Venice, our small party treated itself to a lunch at a 5-star hotel on the Grand Canal. We were the only ones on a small terrace. The service was good, the china beautiful, the waiters elegantly attired and the view delightful. Yet the service felt robotic and we felt like we were one of many. After the initial greetings and drinks, they allocated us a new waiter. What a different experience this person made – he was exceptional in the way he cared for us, showed a genuine interest in our party and anticipated our needs. He brought a human touch that had previously been missing. As the French say, he smiled with his eyes, not just his lips. You cannot replicate when someone truly cares and genuinely wants to delight you – in fact it gives them pleasure!



When working with clients to develop exquisite service cultures, I help them distinguish between good and great. Your Net Promoter Score may be positive but, according to a Bain & Co study, 60-80% of customers who describe themselves as “satisfied” do not go back to do more business with that company. I had a great lunch yet I have no reason to return to the hotel since my experience depended on the waiter, not the establishment.

We then look at how exquisite service is based upon a relationship, not a transaction. I recall a colleague who had been diagnosed with an illness and had fallen behind with a payment to her mobile phone provider and received a late payment notice.  On calling to explain the reasons she was surprised and delighted  to receive the next day a bouquet of flowers with a note wishing her well.  That simple gesture has enabled her to become a ‘client for life’ and she has conveyed this story to many people who were equally impressed.

To deliver exquisite service, your people need three things:

1) To have absolute knowledge of your products and services so they can answer any question on it.

2) To understand why people need your product or service so that they can genuinely personalise their approach.

3) To care – to be genuinely concerned about your client and what you have promised. Points 1 and 2 can be trained.  Point 3, as we can see from the example above, is about attitude and is the most important.



Here are the three foundation stones that underpin a culture of exquisite service:

A) Dedicate daily time as a priority to call and meet clients

Many of the professional services clients that I work with know in theory that they should dedicate time to client relationships. But in practice, because they are busy developing and executing new business and managing their teams, often the day runs out and they resort to emails. Genuine care and charisma cannot be felt through emails. I work with clients to ensure people prioritise and dedicate focused   time to making personal contact with new, existing and former clients, even if there appears to be no real immediate ‘return’; and that they give people 100% of their attention – a gift in this world of fragmented thinking of multi-tasking. Showing genuine curiosity about customers’ lives beyond the business in hand is what makes people stand out and retain loyalty.

B) For continual improvement, go to the source

It never fails to surprise me the hours that people spend internally on discussing how to improve their services or debating their USPs to develop their marketing message. Go to the source and you will learn all you need to know. Online surveys have their place but you will only get the true story when you speak to people personally and are able to probe. In a recent programme with a newly formed team they wanted to clarify their difference in the market, I proposed that they initially contact a few current and previous clients directly and ask them some simple questions about what they most remembered about their service, why they chose them, and what would have added even more value.

The insights from these conversations were invaluable and a result the people are now committed to doing this on a regular basis.  

C) Create an informed organisation that cross-sell naturally

There is a tendency for multi-service organisations to work in silos. A client programme recently generated an additional £5 million in revenue, with no marketing spend, because we opened up communication across business divisions, to avoid silo mentality and increase opportunities to cross-sell.  When this is done with grace and generosity, clients appreciate the ease in having a number of trusted advisors in one company rather than having to go to several for different services.



With clients, we then build upon these foundation stones to further build and refine the exquisite service culture.  As CEO, or Manager of a team you set the tone. Here are some examples of strategies you can introduce:

  1. Find out what your current service standard is. Do not do this via online surveys – ask a selection of people to ring your company and see how they are received and dealt with. 20 to 30 calls will tell you what you need to know.
  2. Clarify what service means in your organisation. Service is a word but what does it mean for how your people should act and make decisions day to day? Map out the client/customer journey and identify how you can offer exquisite service at every stage.  In my experience some stages are better than others.  Set standards of excellence and review them regularly as they will evolve.
  3. Ensure your people are experts. Before your people pick up the phone or meet a client, they should ask themselves: how am I going to add value in this conversation? They need to be able to address the evolving problems of their clients with sufficient knowledge to address both current issues and those on the horizon that may not even yet be on the client’s radar. Be your clients’ eyes and ears and they will return your calls first.
  4. Make the most of important moments with clients. It may be when a business deal is signed or it may be something personal in the client’s life that they have mentioned to you. In this age of technology nothing can replace a handwritten note, however short, with something they may find of value. It will be appreciated and remembered.
  5. Co-mentor across generations. Conversations are key to exquisite service cultures yet picking up the phone comes more naturally to baby boomers than millennials. Create co-mentoring teams that can encourage millennials to set aside their keyboards for the phone.  In turn, millennials can show baby boomers how to integrate social media into their strategies to support and enhance these relationships.
  6. Reward and celebrate people’s behaviour based on personalised client feedback. Net Promoter score metrics are useful indicators but if the human touch makes the difference, this needs to be recognised.
  7. Review, review, review. Your people may be superb in their first interactions with clients but six months later are they are doing the same things. As well as setting the standard, you need to continually review.

Exquisite service is about personal investment and a long-term approach. The key question for you and your teams is: do you want to be one of the 95% who provide good service or the 5% that stand out?


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