Customer service is increasingly the key point of difference for retailers.

Customer service is increasingly the key point of difference for retailers.

I’ve been thinking rather a lot about the meaning and importance of service recently.

In a thanksgiving sermon celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the Archbishop of Canterbury praised the Queen for dedicating herself to the service of the nation and hoped that the Jubilee celebrations would trigger a “rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good”.

What the celebrations actually triggered was an uplift in sales at John Lewis, which given the way it runs its business – for the common good of its staff and other stakeholders – is probably the best we could realistically hope for in this day and age.

In our world of retail, where price comparison, product availability and global online ordering can be done from a smartphone in any of our stores, the products that we sell become ever more ubiquitous.

Service is not just one of the things that secures a sale and distinguishes us from our competitors, it is increasingly becoming the only thing.

But as retailers, what are we doing to deliver not just good service but service so amazing that our customers will tell everyone they know?

Zappos.com has a reputation for delivering incredible service.

Its strategy is based around its staff, its values and its culture. Famously it offers new starters $4,000 (£2,550) to quit after their first week of training because it only wants staff who are committed to the values of the business and not just there for the pay check.

Zappos.com also believes that if you want to create a memorable customer experience, you have to fill your company with memorable people.

Delivering a correct order, on time, first time and in quick time is no longer something that distinguishes you from other businesses. If that is what the customer is expecting, you are then reliant on the performance of your (ubiquitous) product to turn that customer into a brand advocate.

One business I know deliberately fails to deliver to some customers.

The risk is that those customers become complainants and stay complainants. But the company seizes this opportunity to turn those disgruntled customers into brand advocates by generously, personally and quickly resolving the situation.

They probably wouldn’t tell their friends how great your product is but they will tell them about how wonderful your service is.

Over the years our monarchy has redefined its “brand” and its value to us all by reinforcing the importance of personal service, most notably through Prince William and Prince Harry’s military service. We could learn much from our royal family: putting service at the top of our collective agendas is probably the most important.