Zappos has set a new standard for customer service. It had to because when it started, no one ordered shoes online. Free shipping and returns and great customer service is what won the day for Zappos. There's even a famous story about an employee helping a late-night caller order a pizza.

Not every company provides Zappos-caliber customer relations, but no business intentionally falls short. Everyone knows that keeping your customers happy is the best way to do business. With so many channels, though, things can often fall through the cracks.

The best way to seal those cracks is with an honesty audit.

Whether you talk to a customer over the phone, exchange emails, or interact on Twitter, an honesty audit will provide an overview of how your company interacts with customers. It will also identify service gaps that can crush customer enthusiasm.

The audit should be done annually over a 30-day period. But don't do it during your peak season, such as the fourth quarter for most e-commerce companies. You're just too busy to do it well, and the data could be skewed. The honesty audit needs to evaluate day-to-day interactions.

Once you've picked your audit window, consider these six areas during your honesty audit:

1. Interaction volume: Identify all the channels in which you interact with your customers. Phone, email, social media, review sites, and discussion boards are some places to start. Divide your audit across all channels by how "loud" that channel is for your company.

For example, I suggest looking at 25 phone calls, 25 emails, 50 interactions on social media, 10 review site interactions, and 5 discussion board/forum interactions (third party-owned, not your own community).

You'll notice that social media gets more attention because customer service is now a spectator sport. So tweak the ratio as needed to get an accurate sample of your customer interactions.

2. Tenor: For every interaction you audit, gauge customer tone on a scale--with one being highly negative and five being highly positive. Use this data to measure customer sentiment by channel. Where are customers happiest, and where do they seem to be the most negative? You may not be able to please everyone, but you can shore up weak spots if you know where they are.

3. Speed: Note how long it took your company to respond to a complaint. The faster you can help customers, the better.

Also, note when you didn't respond at all. This often happens on discussion boards and forums, but even one ignored customer can decrease satisfaction with your brand, especially in public venues where many people can see your lack of response.

4. Results: Pay attention to customers' replies, and rate the replies on the same scale as the tenor. This data will show you whether you can turn lemons into lemonade by reminding you of what you did to turn a complaint around.

5. Helpfulness: For each customer interaction analyzed, spend time thinking through what the most helpful response would be to that particular comment or inquiry from the customer. What would be the ideal interaction in that scenario? The objective here is to determine whether you truly assisted and provided value.

6. Transparency: Consider whether your company was as honest, open, and transparent as possible. If you up the game on transparency, you'll find it easier to turn complainers into advocates.

Because you want your honesty audit to reflect the views of the customers, you'll want to have a third party conduct the audit. It's difficult to conduct it internally and remain objective.

Even if you think you have Zappos-level customer service, there's always room to improve. Annual honesty audits will open your eyes to new ways to surprise and delight your customers.

Published on: Apr 29, 2015