Do you sometimes feel like the person or organization that you are buying from acts like they are doing you a favor? I do. You go into a store and literally have to tackle someone to help you. You call a company and don’t get a call back for days. You get the distinct impression that you are an inconvenience rather than a customer. We have all had those experiences. Several recent events have caused me to think about this whole area we call “customer service” or the now popular term “customer experience.”
As I sat on a Delta flight headed to work in Atlanta last week something happened to make my day. No I did not get upgraded. That would have been good because we all know you get special treatment in First Class. But this was pretty good. The pilot came into the main cabin and greeted passengers. The lead flight attendant actually came down the aisle and visited with the passengers. Using her hand held device she knew the names of people, thanked us for being a loyal customer and joked with everyone. You may have noticed that even the safety instructions are now delivered with some humor. It all makes the drudgery of travel a little more tolerable.
Next I went on to the Omni Hotel in Atlanta. Here again I noticed that literally everyone was welcoming. You expect the concierge and registration people to be hospitable, it’s their job. But every employee I encountered- even just walking down the hall greeted me. That includes the maintenance person I met in the elevator at 5:00am the next morning on the way to workout. He was appropriately pleasant for that ridiculous hour of the morning and engaged me in conversation. So, why do I bring this up? I think that all business owners could take some cues from these interactions.
Make it Personal
In this world everything is fast paced and everyone is buried in their gadgets. We need to slow down and remember that personal interaction is still valued. In fact, it might be more highly valued. Every person on your team needs to have the same level of commitment to the customer whether at the top of the organization or down in the trenches. How impressed would you be if the CEO or General Manager came out to just say hello to you the next time you visited a company even if you were not meeting with them? How would your customer feel if you stopped into a meeting they were having with your sales staff and said a quick hello? Access is something that makes everyone feel valued. It doesn’t cost anything but it is priceless. In my book Small Business for Big Thinkers, the purchasing agents I interviewed reported that one of the reasons they like to work with small business is access to the owner or manager. I routinely sit in on a phone conference with customers even if I am not scheduled and it is being handled by one of the other members of the team. I am not looking over their shoulder. I am just making contact- just like the maintenance guy in the elevator.
Training is Critical
If you want your staff to be hospitable and engage with your customers it doesn’t just happen. You cannot expect employees to have great communication skills, know how to make people feel welcome or provide service. Yes some will innately know how to interact with customers and what to say. Others need to have a “script” or a model follow. I know business owners who go so far as to write directions on how to interact. That may or may not work for you. I prefer to provide some direction and then let the employee be themselves so that the interaction is sincere. Either way, I do think it is good to have some written directions or policies to help stay on track.
Do the Unexpected
Customers have certain expectations. They expect you to act with integrity. They expect quality and delivery. And, the list goes on. If you want them to have a great customer experience you must do the unexpected- just like the flight attendant noted above. What you do really depends on your business. You need to find something that is creative and provides a value. Perhaps it is some of your time to help them work through a problem. Maybe it is some additional training on your product, a sneak peek at something new you are going to manufacture, or a “shout out” in your company newsletter or blog.
While there is lots of talk about customer service what it really comes down to is this. Great customer service is not about a program or company initiative. It happens because you really appreciate your customers and you focus on showing them that with every small interaction.