We’re All In the (Customer) Service Business

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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 and  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.

  1. 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?”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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Jeremy Floyd

Jeremy Floyd is the President at FUNYL Commerce. Formerly, he was the CEO and President of Lirio, Bluegill Creative, a marketing and communications firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. In addition to managing the digital strategies, Floyd was an adjunct professor for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga MBA program teaching digital strategies and social media. Floyd blogs at jeremyfloyd.com and tweets under the name @jfloyd. Jeremy is licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from MTSU in English and Philosophy.

  • Best customer service experience in the past bit was a family dinner at Sullivan’s Franklin Square. Our server’s name was Nash and he was amazing. Took great care of us, was genuinely friendly, and made some awesome food recommendations. The service from start to finish was so exceptional I actually called the manager the next day to let them know.

  • That’s great Glenneth. We went there last week and the food was outstanding! The beef tenderloin wrap was the big hit.

    I bet the manager appreciated the call. So often customer calls are to complain. I’m sure it was a ray of light to get a compliment instead.

  • Does one have to be a customer to get service? Is service only an act to get applause, tips, or keep a job? A parent knows when a child misbehaves to get attention. An adult may misbehave to say: Look at me, I am a person too.

    Is there a book out there that teaches parents to raise servers that serve from a pure heart? I nominate Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Thanks Jeremy, you would be the one to write an appetu.

  • Dorry

    A personal connection for me is key in customer service, a recognition of the individual. In March we signed our son up for soccer. A young girl at Dick’s in Alcoa assisted us. Her name was Anastasia. She helped size my sons foot and helped us pick out the least expensive pair of cleats. This turned out to be quite helpful considering he only got out on the field 10% of the short season. We went back to Dick’s a few months later looking for everyone’s favorite shoe: Crocs. Anastasia was our cashier that evening. She remembered my son and asked him about soccer! I was amazed and impressed.
    Another example of a personal connection was with our pediatrician. We had selected one Doctor in a practice of eight (before our first born had arrived…for those of you who know us well this is miraculous). He was helpful and warm. However; while out shopping another doctor in the practice recognized me and my children. He interacted with us outside of the office! The next time we went to the Doctor I asked for him specifically and from then on he has been our pediatrician. My kids adore him. Jeremy thinks I have a crush on him; but that is only 50% of the reason I ask for him! hehe.
    I think David may have it right. If we could add service back into every profession, make it more about the experience rather than the bottom line businesses could soar.

  • Great points David and Dorry. We have a bus analogy at Bluegill, “we’re not as concerned where we are going as much as who’s on the bus while we’re going there.” People make all of the difference.

  • I have been a hairdresser for 15 years and my clients are the greatest! I recently went out on my own and could not have done it without them. I try to treat everybody as a person..not just someone giving me money. A couple of years ago a man came in and as he sat down in my chair he told me that he had just come from one of the new hair salons in town..and he needed someone to fix it. He literally drove directly to my place from the other place. As I finished his re-cut I told him there was no charge. To me, he shouldn’t have to pay for another cut when he should have gotten good service at the other place. I just told him that I hoped he came back to see me. He has been a loyal client ever since. My clients make going to work easy. I think it’s easy to get stuck at a job that doesn’t make you happy and that really comes across to the customer.

  • Erin, what a fantastic story–I love the approach to customer service from the provider side. What is the total marketing investment that you made to gain a life-long customer? 30 minutes? And, what is the ROI? Incredible.