In preparation for a talk entitled Extreme Customer Service I am going to present soon to a local networking group I was ruminating about the kinds of customer service I’ve been exposed to over the years. We’ve all heard (and experienced) the horror stories about really bad service. How often are we exposed to an officious bureaucrat or someone who has had a bad day or the results of ruthless corporate cost-cutting gone mad resulting in jaw-dropping displays of customer disappreciation?
At a Long John Silvers Seafood restaurant the customer ordered a family meal but was given no plates to serve the food to his family. After asking an employee for plates to eat the meal on he was told that it’s their POLICY not to give out plates. Of course this seems utterly stupid but the employees in question are not given latitude to use common sense in applying the rules. Often rules like this have some rationale or history for their existence but then are applied in a manner that results in customer frustration and dismay.
On the other hand, many years ago when I was working for a large German chemical company I was exposed to an amazing act of corporate good-will. After the production plant in Antwerp, Belgium shut down unexpectedly it was decided to contract a 747 jet to bring 250,000 lb of our product (an essential amino acid we produced and sold as a chicken-feed supplement) there from our plant in Mobile, Alabama where we produced it for the North American market. By spending $500,000 to provide our European customers the product, for which we earned $250,000 in revenues, we kept their processes going and maintained our relationships with them. Since it WAS a German company I assumed the pencil-pushers had costed out the cost-benefit ratio and still found it in our favor. Certainly, that was the most mind-boggling customer service display I have ever witnessed.
What I was really thinking about though were the smaller instances of customer service. Negative ones where we unwittingly commit entrepreneurial seppuku because we haven’t really thought out the consequences of our actions. The time when the waitress AND the manager argued with me about my complaint about cold, unappetizing food. The time when my assistant complained to a corporate customer that she wasn’t paying the bill on time, losing a national account for the entire franchise. The time when a vendor kept arguing with me rather than find out what my real concern was and destroyed our working relationship. The times when I have walked into an office and the staffer kept on conversing without acknowledging I was there for five minutes. The time a fellow traveller was trying to confirm reservations late at night but ended up in voicemail hell, unable not just to talk to a person but even to leave a message. The times when I have been too busy or tired or unaware that I was dismissive rather than helpful toward my customers.
There are so many opportunities to distinguish ourselves from the crowd customer service-wise. We all think we are great at customer service and certainly better than the others around us. But, in reality, are we really as aware of what we do to our customer as we think we are? The times when I have received knock-my-socks off, extreme customer service have been extraordinarily rare. The times when I have been slighted, left out, forgotten, dismissed, disregarded or ignored have been too many to count. When I look back on the times when I have had those golden opportunities with my customers I can now see quite clearly how I could have changed the script for the better.
It is not necessarily the obvious events that make the difference. How about when a potential customer calls up and you realize you are not the right business for them? Do you just send them away (politely)? Or do you find a solution to their problem even if it does not benefit you? Take a lesson from Jackie, a Krispy Kreme worker who is relentlessly determined to help Jia Jiang, a customer who actually wants her to turn him down in his “100 Days of Rejection Therapy” video: http://youtu.be/7Ax2CsVbrX0. She would not be denied. How many of us would have turned him down flat or given up part way through the ordeal of trying to help him out?
Here is his follow-up video interviewing Jackie… http://youtu.be/dXiP6Xgt8Hw. Her take on why she helped him is amazing, not that she is so extraordinary but that she is so down-to-earth and humble. She personalizes her customers. They mean something to her. She understands the plight of the parent who wants a special birthday gift for her child and is willing to make sure it happens. She never doubts Jia’s sincerity the first time he shows up with his odd request. She takes him at face value and treats him like she would her very best customers. Note that she also credits her colleagues telling us that she is certain that any one of them would have treated him the same. This is a staff that has permission to do whatever it takes to deliver extreme customer service.
Is this the service you deliver to your customers? If not when will you start?
Alchemy Business Consulting
October 28, 2014