The following article elucidates the four fundamental assumptions that underlie excellence in customer service. Keeping these laws at the center of corporate and personal intention creates and maintains an essential internal attitude of “service to others” that drives behavior without micromanagement. When you look at individuals and companies who are exemplars of outstanding customer service you will inevitably find these four essential attitudes at work.
Dr Bob’s 1st Law of Exceptional Customer Service: Exceptional Customer Service flows from providing value to the customer so that their condition has been improved through each interaction with you and your business.
Frankly if your service or product is not improving the customer’s condition you are not going to be in business very long. The only reason you are entitled to a profit is that you have provided some value. The more value you provide the more you deserve to make a profit. The experience and measure of customer service is the amount of improved condition or value a customer receives on each interaction.
An obvious example of this includes providing knowledgeable assistance with a shopping experience. There is something wonderful about a sales person who really knows his or her products; who then assess your needs so you get the right product for you (not necessarily the most profitable for the store). Another example is correcting problems with ease and grace that does not require intense amount of lobbying from the customer. The more that a customer needs to ask for a manager the less customer service you are providing.
Despite what I am about to say in the paragraph following this, it is not just a positive attitude. It is also competence. A recent tech support call to Dell is a good example. My system crashed. I had bought the new total back up RAID system with every bell and whistle to make sure that I never lost data again. The tech was very nice. He had a wonderful attitude. But, he ended up having me open the computer and do all sorts of things for over an hour. He actually wanted me to take my hard drive to someone else to download the information. I said the entire point of the raid system is to not have to do that. It turned out that a simple solution was always there. Even when he found that one, he gave me the wrong way to do it. In the end, the situation could have been solved in 20 minutes it took 2 hours and I had to lobby for my self and not be talked into a ridiculous fix. In this situation, lack of competence trumps positive attitude.
Many times the improved condition is a bit ephemeral. In today’s world of stress, rushing, rudeness and mediocrity, providing a personal touch of good-natured humanity actually improves a customer’s condition. Southwest Airlines is a good example of this. The main function of any airline is to get you from point A to Point B in a timely and safe manner. Southwest’s culture has included improving the customer’s condition through humor, laughter and playfulness. I remember the first time I flew southwest and the entire trip was peppered with very funny comments from the crew. I not only got a flight at a very reasonable price, I got a comedy show. I looked forward to the next time I would take southwest. My thoughts were, “Who would be performing on this flight?”
The more your business is based on providing comfort and a positive experience (e.g. restaurants, hotels, spas) the more important these human interactions are. (See my final story at the end of this paper as a great example of the importance of improving a clients emotional condition.)
For an example of less than exceptional service, I remember going to a weekend at a hotel in the Poconos. While the food was good, the room was good and the amenities were good, the service was another matter. I will not bore you with some of the problems. I actually was prepared to let all of that go until I checked out. I handed my credit card to the man behind the desk. He ran it through and it did not work. I said please try again. He swiped it and said, I am sorry sir it is not working. At that point I muttered an expletive under my breath. He responded with, “Watch your language sir!” Well that was it. With clenched teeth I said, “Punch the numbers manually.” It worked. I had gone to the Poconos to let go of stress and tension. I left the weekend stressed and annoyed. My condition was not improved. Suffice it to say that the president of the company got a detailed letter of my total experience.
Dr Bob’s 2nd Law of Exceptional Customer Service: The experience of exceptional service always come from the client feeling that you are putting his or her needs & wants first.
Remember the adage that perception is reality. The fact of the matter is that you can create a great customer experience via a customer friendly web site or providing problem free service at a restaurant or in a hotel. This is in fact important and must occur most of the time. The problem is that if you have done your job well the customer may take it for granted. At best, the customer will notice and be pleased.
The problem is that he or she may not really perceive you as putting his or her needs first. So when does that happen? To answer this question I need to relate the moment I became a raving fan of Costco. I had always liked Costco. They had great food and items at excellent prices. One day I decided to buy a computer. It was a few years ago. I bought an IBM Aptiva with a monitor for $999. Two weeks later I came back and the very same computer was $899. I happened to have the receipt from the previous trip because I was returning something. I asked the person at the customer service counter about the issue. Without skipping a beat and flashing a smile she said, “I will just refund you the $100.” I am thinking, “Wow, Costco is taking care of me! They literally took $100 out of their pockets and put it back I mine. I am in love.”
So what is the lesson? The best time to prove to customers that you have their interests at heart is when they have a problem with you or a problem situation that you can possibly influence! Here is the where corporate and personal attitude is everything. You can turn a problem in to a “legend”. The only question is will it be a legend that makes people adore you or avoid you. My legend with Costco is that moment. I tell everyone about it. I use to run conferences and have been a fan of Hyatt hotel for years. One of my legends with them is watching a young man running down the corridor with a walkie-talkie in his hand. He was saying “We have a problem –Scratch that we have an opportunity to excel.” Every great legend of customer service is about taking a problem and turning it into an opportunity to excel. - Excel at what? Excel at putting the client’s needs first!
This means that the company must have policies in place that allow this to happen. People must be trained and empowered to implement those policies. (See rule #4)
The other way you can instill this experience in a customer is going beyond the call of duty, when you do not really have to. I finally cashed in some of my gold member point at Hyatt and went to their hotel on Maui for a family vacation. Without me asking, they upgraded my room to an ocean view suite!! I know it did not cost them more. The room was vacant. But, it sure improved my vacation. I am a raving fan.
When I go to New Orleans I always eat at Commander’s Palace. The food is to die for. They always present the meal to everyone at the table at the exact same moment. They usually come with 8 waiters. Four waiters put the food down and the other four reach in and remove the metal cover keeping your food hot. If that were not enough they usually give you a free dessert for the table.
What can you do for customers go above and beyond the expected or the usual? It does not have to cost your business much. Whatever it costs, it usually provides a huge return on your investment by creating raving fans who return again and again to your business and advertise you for free.
Dr Bob’s 3rd Law of Exceptional Customer Service: Whenever possible make the client reveal his or her the criteria for knowing that you are putting his or her needs & wants first.
This law may seem counter intuitive. As a business, you should anticipate the common wants and needs of customers as well as the common types of solutions that are going to be required to solve the problems that inevitably happen. So at a quality restaurant, most clients want well-prepared food as well as good service. This is a “must have” base line before you can take it to the next level of exceptional service, because that involves moving beyond the general to the personal. And there is no way for you to know what my specific personal needs are at a given moment. Nor can you know for sure what my criteria would be to rate you as giving me exceptional service.
So why not ask me? Here is a surprise. The very act of asking me actually makes you rather exceptional, because no one usually asks. How do you ask? It depends slightly on the situation but the basic formula is simple. “Hello Dr Schwarz. How can I provide you with exceptional service today?” Or, “We are happy you are dining/shopping/spending time with us today, what can we do to make this an outstanding/special/one of a kind experience“ or, I understand you are having a problem Dr Schwarz, what I can do to make you feel totally taken care of.”
Frankly, such an approach will stun many people. So, be prepared to be quiet for a few moments until the person comes up with their criteria. In fact, most people are reasonable, and since you have just been so generous to them, whatever they ask for is likely to be well within your ability to give. Many times it may actually be less than you would be willing to give to fix a situation. But now that they have defined it as exceptional, they will feel you taken care of their needs exceptionally well.
On a deeper level you have invited the customer to partner with you to make them your raving fan. It actually creates less work for you. You do not have to guess. For instance if a waiter at a restaurant says to the customer, “I want to make sure you have a wonderful evening tonight, would you prefer that I give you and your guest more attention or would you prefer to have more quiet moments together?”
The customer is going to be delighted. A good waiter might be able to discern this on her own. But she might be wrong too. The fact that she asks leads to what Tom peters calls a “WOW” experience. (See my final story for another example of this law.)
Dr Bob’s 4 th Law of Exceptional Customer Service: People must be empowered to provide excellence in service at every level of the organization.
This law cannot be overstated enough. All exceptional service organizations empower their employees to actually provide exceptional service. This means they train them and inculcate in them a corporate culture of service. A great example of this is Disney Theme Parks. Every employee down to the level of street cleaner is “part of the show”. At Southwest employees are given a great deal of discretion in how they will use humor and fun as part of the Southwest experience. Employees must be given the power to actually solve problems. Any employee at the Ritz Carlton is empowered to spend up to $2500 to solve a guest’s problems.
Finally, a company must have appropriate systems to reward and reinforce quality service. Even if the intent is to provide quality service, implementation is not always as easy as it may seem. For instance, a company was measuring the quality of service of their complaint line by how many calls were handled per hour. The problem with this system is it put pressure on people to get to the next call. That means both in gross and subtle ways the representative were less interested in thoroughly solving the needs of the customer on the phone. Needless to say customer service of the help line was not rated highly.
At the end of the day, very time you go to a restaurant, the doctor, the store, or call tech support you are a customer. All you need to do is pay attention to when you have experienced great customer service. You will find that at least one of these 4 our rules will stand out in your mind as the thing driving your experience. A recent experience occurred to me when I needed eye surgery at a day treatment facility. To be honest, I was very nervous. On the form they asked was there any issue I wanted them to know about it. (Rule #3) I put down “anxiety”. The nurse saw this and spoke to me about the procedure and allayed a few of my concerns. I actually felt a lot better. I was aware that she told the anesthesiologist that I was anxious. He immediately addressed my needs, by saying, “I see that you are feeling anxious”. I said, “That is right, Doc. I hope you are going to make sure that I am not aware of what is going on or feeling anything when they work on my eye.’ He replied with a twinkle in his eye, “I understand. Don’t worry. I am the best bartender in town.” I smiled and said, “Great make mine a double.” He replied, “Coming right up.” (Laws 1 and 2). From that moment on it was a great experience.
Also See a) a complementary frame of reference for creating high quality customer service- the A.C.E.S. model