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Several months ago, I read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness. The words on the page were comfortable like slipping on a pair of broken-in house shoes. As I have transitioned in my career from a front-line customer contact to a consultant, I have met so many people that consider customer service to be pedestrian and beneath them. Successful businesses, on the other hand, understand the value and priority of exceptional customer service.
In recent weeks, I contrasted customer service experiences good andÂ bad that gave me a platform to discuss customer service. In this conclusion post, I wanted to wrap up some ideas related to those two experiences and provide some thoughts on what it means to be remarkable in customer service.
Based on the stories, I put together a short list of some of the customer service vices and victories illustrated in the two previous posts. This list is not exhaustive, but these are very common issues in all lines of business.
- Who’s Your Customer? So commonly, employees and even businesses misidentify their customers as those that sign their checks (their bosses) or the one that shouts the loudest (investors). In every business there is one true customer that is the primary reason for existence. There may be multiple “customers,” but one is the sole reason for that person or business to have a job. Despite the difficulty of untangling the competing customers, identifying the one true customer provides a lens by which daily decisions should be made: “How does this affect my customer?”
- Last Touch Luster – Retailers know that one of the most critical customer service positions is their cashiers. Whether they always deliver is another question. The cashier is usually the last touch point in the customer experience. If the customer has experienced mediocre customer service, the cashier can usually end the trip on an up note. On the other hand, if you had a delightful shopping experience and then meet long lines only to find a bitchy cashier who’s ready for a smoke break, a perfectly remarkable experience can quickly sour. What is the last touch point in your business? Is it delivering a consistent or enhanced experience?
In both flight experiences, I encountered ticket agents, gate agents, pilots, and flight attendants, but my last touch point was the flight attendant, which colored the experiences.
- To Thine Own Role Be True – Have you ever had a waiter make a management decision? “No sir, we will not re-cook that steak…it is only slightly overcooked.” This phenomena often occurs because of the confusion of the customer (i.e. the first point)–the employee is assuming that their customer is their boss and not the customer that is seated in front of them. The employee should be empowered to make decisions on behalf of their customer, but the employee should never take on more responsibility than they have when telling the customer “no.”
In my experience with the American Airlines flight attendant, he assumed more responsibility than he actually had, which was quickly undermined by the captain of the plane.
- Seek first to understand – Steve Covey said it best but understanding is foundational to communication, and communication is key to service. So often we zoom through listening as part of communication and get right to the point of our assumption. Unfortunately, our assumptions are built on previous experiences that have nothing to do with the present circumstances. Observing and listening the situation can go a long way to making a customer service superstar.
In my experience, the American flight attendant simply didn’t understand the circumstances. Taking two minutes to listen to the situation would have likely yielded very different treatment. Instead, his assumption was that a group of guys in Tijuana Mexico meant a raucous party (not a mission trip). His assumption was wrong and resulted in a miserable experience.
- Admit Your Faults – Finally, two of the most important and often neglected words are “I’m Sorry.” You can’t please everyone, but you can tear down the impenetrable wall of defiance by simply saying, “I screwed up, and I am sorry.” Hopefully, there are few occasions to utter an apology, but there are times that an apology can simply wash away the anxiety and reaction of a negative experience.
Regardless of whether we are discussing the airline industry, hospitality, retail or professional services, we are ALL in the customer service business. It has always been important, and service will be a critical factor of success in business in the future.
Tell me about your recent excellent or dreadful customer service experience.
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