I normally shy away from Top 10 lists. Besides being subjective, they’re normally out of date as soon as they come off the printing press. In the case of customer service it’s a treacherous exercise. Bitter experience and a fair amount of research have proven that it’s hard to identify well-known marketers or brands said to provide superior service and commitment to the customer in every respect. With that caveat in mind, the following is a current list of those providers that go out of their way to make the customer happy. Only those companies truly national in scope made the list. All have been subject to multiple use on my part, over an extended period of time. Some will be surprised by the fact that Nordstrom didn’t make the list. I’m aware of the piano player and the spectacular selection of women’s shoes, but my multiple experiences with Nordstrom at its downtown San Francisco store left me disappointed. Ditto with another favorite, Home Depot. Until both can provide consistency across all transactions, departments and stores they won’t make the cut. 1. Disney attractions Still the benchmark. A flawless experience in a clean, exciting environment. Variety reigns supreme and overly helpful staff carry a permanent smile as their greeting card. In spite of 25 years of experience, I’ve yet to identify a major customer complaint with the Disney operation. 2. Canyon Ranch It’s the premier health spa in the nation and it’s easy to see why. A 3-to-1 staff to guest ratio with every element of the spa experience packaged and presented in a glorious yet non-intimidating style. Attentive, solicitous staff take pride in caring. Even the grounds and landscaping are a horticultural delight. 3. FedEx Old reliable. Rarely a mistake and, if there is, they’ll hunt it down and dispatch the problem with haste. They’ve gained our trust because they’ve earned it. And, as good as the competition is, FedEx continually strives to do it better. 4. Amazon.com The site could be made easier to navigate, but the enormous selection makes up for that nit-pick. What can you say about a system that confirms the order by e-mail before you log-off? They overload you with delivery instructions, which I like. The amazing thing is that this is a company and a marketing mechanism that is brand new. They’ve gone from start-up to spectacular in no time at all. 5. Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons hotels Both are personal favorites. Who can resist the understated opulence, not to mention the attention to the small things like the TV Guide in the Ritz-Carlton room marked to the same day’s listings? In the Four Seasons, it’s the bowl of imported cherry menthol mouth-freshening pastilles. The list goes on: the always-heard, “my pleasure,” at the Ritz; the made-in-heaven mattresses on the Four Seasons beds. Everything points to a management that is obsessed with making the guest experience unforgettable. 6. Acura/Lexus/Infiniti The Japanese have learned how to market German schtick better than the Germans. The salespeople try not to be pushy. The tasteful showrooms lack the chrome and Formica of their American counterparts. And, the after-sales service has been specifically designed with customer needs and fears in mind. Yet it’s all delivered without the arrogance and hauteur of the Mercedes showroom. 7. Singapore Airlines In a category in which few can get it right, it delivers. Flawless treatment and attention to detail without the fawning attitude. Every passenger concern has been cleverly analyzed and addressed from the menu to the video console, to the impeccably clean bathrooms. In an environment in which everybody flies to the same cities using the same equipment, attitude makes the difference, and it shows at Singapore Airlines. 8. Starbucks Somewhat trendy and certainly overpriced for what you get, but we all know that the customer will pay for consistent quality, particularly when it’s a cup of java. The food offering needs improvement, but the staff is always helpful and I love the fact that there’s a store on every corner. They’ve created a category and maintained their preeminence. That’s hard to do when you’re growing as fast as Starbucks. 9. Blockbuster Video There’s one in every strip center. The selection is broad and recent titles are now rarely out of stock. The stores are clean, bright, well-merchandised, and you always get a greeting as you walk through the door. What can you say about a store that stocks not only my favorite videos but also my favorite movie snack, Jujyfruits? 10. Winbook Corp. This Ohio-based computer manufacturer makes laptops only. Product reliability is not as high as some of the major competitors, but its after-sales service should be copied by the rest. I purchased a laptop that arrived defective and replaced it with another that was also defective. Third time, they got it right. But what could have left a sour taste in my mouth turned out to be the opposite. No hassles on the returns, no long waits on the phone for technical support (less than three minutes in over a dozen calls), always a live, knowledgeable person, willing to be helpful to a neophyte. A highly responsive pick-up and delivery service via FedEx and a simplified tracking and reporting system that kept me posted on the status of my computer by the hour. When it’s time to upgrade, I’m going back to Winbook. The above companies all exhibit superiority in their customer service delivery. All share the same criteria, which help establish that superiority. ? Obsessiveness: If you don’t have it, you won’t last the distance and your staff will never become believers about the value of servicing the customer. ? Consistency: From product to product, service to service, location to location, it must be consistently flawless. Remember, that’s what made Coca-Cola one of the world’s great brands. ? Measurement: You have to seek feedback and constantly gauge your performance. It’s the only way you’ll know when mistakes are being made. ? Training: It’s a non-stop process. Like saying your prayers and brushing your teeth, you continue to do it until you die. Unfortunately, most organizations believe that customer training is a one-time event that they can acquire out of a manual. ? Aesthetics: Appearance is important. A clean, appealing, attractive environment is not only pleasing to the customer, but helps establish the sort of brand imagery associated with the best. Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by fax at (770) 952-7834.