If you've ever had anything custom-made, you know how satisfying the experience can be. Whether it's a new house, a bespoke shirt or even a special sandwich, getting exactly what you ordered is gratifying.

That's why I think we should rename customer ­service "custom service."

I have long preached the concept of humanizing your selling strategy. In addition to building a strictly business relationship, you need to get to know your customers as people. Find out what their interests are, learn about their families and discover what you might have in common.

But as I so often say, knowledge does not become power until it is used. This information is a starting point to help you customize every meeting, phone call or e-mail. Let me give you some examples, shared by my readers.

One woman wrote about a practice she used in her years as a customer service rep. Whenever a customer — particularly a new customer — left her a voice mail, she would save the message and listen to it until she could recognize the voice. That would let the customers know that their business mattered.

Establishing that kind of relationship is critical to customizing the sale: It eliminates the formalities and lets the players get down to business.

Another reader described two different encounters she had with people she had hired to work in her home. She was extremely impressed with the person who came to service her air conditioning system. He told her about his commitment to providing exemplary service, educating his employees and developing a business structure that uses technology to improve efficiency and ­quality ­control.

He made sure she was satisfied with the job and guaranteed his work. His attention to detail and consideration for her home were not lost on her. She has recommended his firm repeatedly.

But the carpenter she hired to customize her closet was a major disappointment. He let her know in no uncertain terms that this job was too small to be worth his time.

He ignored her ideas and proceeded to install shelving that was uneven. When she asked him to fix the problem, he instead said he would just give her payment back and quit. She was left with a mess, but was relieved that he was out of her house.

A friend whose company manufactures industrial parts has worked with one supplier for decades, even though other suppliers call on him regularly, often with more competitive pricing. But he stays with that company because of two experiences that proved loyalty.

Years ago, the third shift had an equipment breakdown in the middle of the night, the kind of problem that could idle the factory for days and delay deliveries. His supplier's rep showed up at the factory within hours to offer help tracking down replacement parts or even finding alternate locations for production. Talk about custom service!

Then, when their longtime rep was preparing to retire, the supplier sent the rep and her replacement to spend time at the factory until the new rep was thoroughly familiar with its needs. Instead of relying on files and old orders, they took a very personal interest.

Too often, customer service is anything but. Your customers deserve your best.

Mackay's Moral: If you want to keep your customers, offer custom service.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.