Customer Service as a Way of Life

Why do we call this area of business customer service? Is it a service to have customers wait in long queues at the counter or to dangle endlessly on the line while the phone never gets answered, or to be stranded forever in the voicemail Bermuda Triangle?

Most companies really do believe they are customer focused, but the reality is not in what the companies think, but in what the customers think… and no one ever really asks them. There are too many stupid policies that favor only the business while ignoring the customer’s needs.

For example, go to any discount department store. Go to the dressing room to try on some clothing. Oops! Now you notice that a sign says only three garments allowed at one time. What a stupid policy. Why is this here? Because of shoplifting, of course. But only 3 percent of customers steal, so the store has just inconvenienced and alienated 97 percent of its patrons.

This sort of “no-care attitude” has led me to conduct an intense three-year research study of poor customer service, which will be explored in my upcoming book, Lip Service: 50 Hysterical Stories of Horrible Customer Service.

On the other hand, we always hear great things about great companies: Nordstrom, Lexus, L.L. Bean, Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Motorola, Cooker, Southwest, British Airways, among others. The answer to their success is simple, but we would rather talk about them than do anything ourselves.

The No. 1 secret: non-stop training.
All companies must find good people with good attitudes (the managers must have better attitudes), and reinforce those attitudes every day. The policies must always favor the customer.

The No. 2 secret: have fun.
Here is an example of a good policy at work. The 1990s buzzword “empowerment” means nothing by itself. It needs substance. Ritz-Carlton Hotels has a simple mission statement which reads: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Each person always carries a little plastic card with them that has 20 sayings on it. Saying No. 9 reads: “Any employee who receives a guest complaint ‘owns’ the complaint.” The sentiment alone is not good enough. The first-line employees have the authority to spend up to $2,000 to satisfy a customer, and the managers can spend up to $5,000. Not bad.

Yes, simple training and empowerment together. Can your company do this every day?

© Hal Becker  All Rights Reserved.


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