Let’s talk about the headlines that dominated the holidays this year.

There were plenty about wig-dropping stampedes for door-buster sales. But almost all of the biggest stories--although varying in details and concerning a range of disparate companies--were about service.

First, Amazon hijacked Cyber Monday news coverage with an exclusive on CBS’s 60 Minutes about plans to deliver products via flying drones. Sure, maybe they trotted out some half-baked plans as a well-timed publicity stunt, but it worked. The next day America was talking about the prospect of clicking "Checkout" on Amazon and then hearing the whirr of a drone making a delivery 30 minutes later.

Yes, it was a story about an exciting innovation. But more, it was a story about incredible customer service--orders delivered in half an hour!

The next story in the news cycle was a hack that breached the accounts of 40 million Target shoppers. “Whatever money Target thought they were going to get during the holiday season just got flushed down the data-breach toilet,” Forrester analyst and data security expert John Kindervag told The Washington Post. Kindervag estimated that legal and collateral costs of taking care of customers could tally $100 million. The company said on its Facebook page, for instance, that it had tripled its contact center staff to handle inbound calls.

And perhaps the most frequently recurring storyline concerned delayed deliveries. UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service all had their woes. Consumers, expecting an easy, two-day delivery experience through programs like Amazon Prime, found themselves let down.

I certainly expect customer service to grab the spotlight more than ever in 2014. And I hope it's an important part of your 2014 goals. As part of your preparation to provide stellar service, I have a few questions for you to consider.


How easy is it to contact your company?

I know this sounds basic. But if you’re an executive, you should be obsessed with providing an easy path for engaging with customers. A recent consumer survey that my company, StellaService, conducted found the majority of consumers expect to be connected to a live agent on the phone in less than 30 seconds. That's just one answer to the essential questions you need to address for your business (even if they sound a little silly): Where can I find the customer service department’s phone number and e-mail address on your site? How many clicks does it take? If I send the company a tweet, how long should I expect to wait for a reply? 


Are you building a culture of service?

Be sure to think about what others would borrow from your approach. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, for instance, has built his entire company around delivering exceptional service. Zappos has been so successful at empowering employees that the company created a dedicated department, Zappos Insights, to help share the Zappos culture with other businesses through published materials, webinars, speaking engagements, and even a three-day bootcamp. Methods of creating a service culture can take lots of other forms, too--Pro Athlete Inc., the parent company of retail sites JustBats.com and JustBallGloves.com, just built a ballpark-themed contact center


Do you really know if you’re providing great customer service?

Are you responding to customers fast enough? Is your team genuinely helpful and friendly? When customers ask for a refund, how long does it really take for the money to hit their bank account? Your customers are increasingly comparing your service to the experience they have with other companies, regardless of the type of business. So ask them what they consider to be the most important performance metrics, analyze how your competitors handle their service function, and you can become best-in-class in 2014.