By Jeannette McMurtry December 5, 2006 -- It's not enough to offer high quality service and fair prices to make it in business. In fact, research from Cap Gemini Ernst and Young (CPEY) shows that consumers today don't differentiate retailers by their value propositions (which all typically focus on service, price and quality). Instead, they distinguish the brands they want to do business with as those that treat them with respect and dignity. Most often, respect and dignity, and other feelings that create emotional bonds with brands, result from having a total brand experience that exceeds customer expectations. Contrary to conventional thinking, it does not take an excessive marketing budget to exceed expectations. Grease Monkey, an automotive quick lube service, has figured this out. Not only do they get your car in and out quickly, they vacuum it and clean your windows, inside and out. Its these little touches, and other things like leaving a fresh carnation in your car, that give customers a pleasant and unexpected surprise, and solid reasons to come back for more. Respect, dignity and other feelings that create emotional bonds with brands, result from having a total brand experience that exceeds expectations. As a Grease Monkey customer myself, I have told everyone I know about my first experience. They got me in and out when they said they would, they didn't try to sell me services I didn't need, they provided me objective information that made me feel like an informed and involved customer, and they did the little extras that nobody else does--for free. Number one marketing activity "Customer service is our number one marketing activity," says Grease Monkey president and CEO Rex Ustler. "When customers' have an experience with us that exceeds their expectations, we keep them coming back, and in our business, that is critical to success." Customer service as a marketing strategy is clearly working for Grease Monkey. They open numerous new franchises every year throughout the U.S., and will be in China by the end 2007. They didn't achieve this growth through expensive advertising programs, but rather through a consistent customer experience that exceeds expectations. To assure the Grease Monkey consistently wows its customers, Grease Monkey conducts mystery shopping activities in its various stores nationwide. Each store is rated on multiple variables that cover the quality of the service, turn-around time, friendliness of staff; and so on. Customer Service & Marketing Customer service as a marketing strategy is critical to the success of any business, especially in retail --business to business and business to consumer. Great marketing strategies and campaigns go nowhere if the customers they acquire have a bad experience and choose not to come back for repeat sales. You can pretty much bet on the fact that they will choose to tell friends about their bad experience by the way. Following are some ideas for how you can make Customer Service Marketing work for your business: Create a customer-friendly environment: In addition to having a clean waiting place, make it comfortable and inviting. Leaving interesting reading materials for customers helps make the wait more pleasant as well. Free beverages are also a nice touch and up the customer experience score, suggests Ustler. Hospitality Goes a Long Way: When Grease Monkey scores a store's customer service rating, hospitality plays a big role. Technicians and cashiers are scored by how they interact with customers. Did they acknowledge customers within 20 seconds, did they verbally say welcome to customers; did they refer to them with Ms., Mr., or Mrs.?, did they give customers a wait time, and explain the services and fees ahead of time? And were they friendly and professional at all times? According to Ustler, the stores that rate the highest on their customer experience surveys are typically those that make the highest profits. How to Exceed Customer Expectations 1. Create a customer-friendly environment 2. Hospitality goes a long way 3. Guarantee Satisfaction 4. Build trust Guarantee Satisfaction: Stores that have a "customer is always right" attitude and service policies tend to stand out in their business category. I know that I for one am much more likely to purchase on impulse, purchase more and buy things I normally wouldn't if I know I can take it back anytime for any reason. Creating a high level of purchase comfort for customers is critical to getting their first purchase and subsequent purchases at higher levels. I know I tend to avoid stores with return policies that favor them before me and I highly suspect I am not the only one out there. Build Trust: I can't emphasize this enough, and neither can Ustler. Trust is the key factor that set one brand apart from another. For Ustler, customers need to trust that they will serve them in the time promised; and recommend only services that are necessary to their cars, not what racks up a big bill. This commitment is summed up by their slogan, "Only what you need. Guaranteed." Building trust among customers in the entire Grease Monkey brand is one of Ustler's top priorities. Creating a comfortable selling environment, sales process and post-purchase experience is key to growing any business today in any industry. Customers have too many options to choose from to stay loyal to a brand that doesn't go the extra mile to make them feel valued, appreciated, serviced and treating well. In fact, research by CPEY shows that being treated with respect and dignity is more important to customers than the best quality products and services; or the lowest price.