Companies that deliver great customer service make delivering great service the center of daily operations. Not the second thing on their list of things to do. Not a ‘good idea’ of many other good ideas but, the center of daily operations.
There are four key facets to delivering effort;
- Quality customer service versus exceptional customer service—most companies don’t know there is a difference between the two and it’s tricky to practice both.
- The role of leadership—what are the things leadership must do to allow management to build a culture of service.
- Managers and the ‘tyranny of the urgent’—how can a manager be both effective and efficient.
- Staff and the ‘extra mile’—effort doesn’t mean working longer days and through your breaks but, there is always something to do just a little bit better.
Quality customer service vs. exceptional customer service
When you take one of my many workshops, you will notice most of them have the word ‘quality’ customer service and not ‘exceptional’ customer service in their titles. What’s the difference? Especially in the US we tend to use the two words interchangeably. You may be driving your car, listening to the radio and you hear a commercial where the announcer says, “Do business with us, our exceptional service will not be surpassed.” And then, while you continue to drive, you hear another commercial and the announcer says, “Do business with us, for the finest in quality customer service.” What’s the difference? Some participants says one is higher than the other, then there is disagreement on which is higher. Some say exceptional is what expected and quality is the best. Some say that quality is the minimum.
How do you define customer service? For us to discuss the difference between the two approaches of service we need a working definition of customer service. The one I like is: Customer service is the sum total experience of us meeting the customers’ intellectual and emotional needs.
There are a few things we need to understand in this definition. The first is ‘sum total experience.’ Studies have proven that our customers are constantly formulating their opinion of us. And that opinion typically can be formed by any number of contact points we have with them. If a customer drives into our parking lot and it’s littered or poorly lit at night, if the receptionist greets them with a poor attitude, if the forms they fill out are difficult to understand or if we speak to them in our jargon, they are formulating an opinion of our level of service.
The good news is that having so many contact points gives us the opportunity to shine, to improve and impact the sum total experience.
Next we need to understand together is ‘intellectual and emotional needs’ and to do that I like to tell this experience I had.
If you get to know me you’ll know I am a big baseball fan—I love my Minnesota Twins. A few years ago I went to a local Best Buy store and purchased a big screen television. I was very excited to watch the games on it. After I got it all set up I went to turn it on and it didn’t work. I tried everything to get it to function. After some time I decided it was the TV that was broken and I had to take it back to Best Buy.
What does Best Buy have to do for me right now? If you’re saying things like fix it, or replace it, or give me my money back. Those actions will meet my intellectual needs. How we know they are intellectual needs is because they are the things we do for the customer. They can see it, they can touch it.
What else does the Best Buy have to do for me? I’m sure you’re thinking they need to say they’re sorry. And that would be meeting my emotional needs. Meeting emotional needs are critical to delivering basic, everyday customer service but, this is the one need we don’t meet. I think we fail to say sorry because when we do it feels like we are accepting blame. Also, many department stores train their employees on the ‘how to’—the intellectual needs and not on the emotional side—there is no manual for it.
In the Best Buy story we’re talking about a bad customer service experience. But we deliver customer service every day and most of those deliveries are positive situations. What if you were going to your bank to make a deposit—hopefully it’s a deposit. What does the bank teller have to do to meet your intellectual and emotional needs? I’m sure some of your answers are handle my transaction quickly and accurately—intellectual need. And smile, make eye contact, ask, “How can I help you?”—emotional need.
With a good definition of customer service, we can now look into quality vs, exceptional service.
When clients ask me where they should put their effort, I say into quality customer service and not exceptional service. The reason is you probably have exceptional service practices in place. Quality customer service, when understood and applied, will have a greater, positive impact on the level of service you provide your current and future customers.
Here’s what I teach about quality in my workshops, you can view this 30 minute webinar recording to see this model unfold.
Ford builds the cars, and they sell the cars to the dealers who in turn sell them to the customer. Now let’s say you’re driving along in your great new Ford and you realize the brakes are in need of repair. So you take the car back to the dealer, they fix it and give it back to you. If they do this while meeting your intellectual and emotional needs, then that’s customer service, no more, no less.
Now let’s say they fix the car in two hours, and they do it for a reasonable price. And, let’s say, before they return the car to you, they wash it and fill the tank with gasoline. What, besides dreamland, would that be? I’m sure most of you are thinking that would be exceptional service, and you would be right. This is the best way to look at something that is exceptional—it’s the things we do for the customer, beyond what is considered basic, everyday customer service.
But, what else can Ford do? For this to be a quality customer service experience, the dealer needs to go back to Ford and tell them they’re building cars with bad brakes—stop doing that please. This is quality, the key aspect is prevention; we are going to prevent this from happening again. Remember, it’s not the mistakes we make that define us, it’s the mistakes we repeat. Companies that have the reputation of delivering poor service repeat the same mistakes, check-out lines are always slow, ringing telephones are repeatedly left unanswered, there’s always a delay at the clinic, and the wait staff is always annoyed
For the things we do well, we want to also remember to practice quality service so we can enhance it, this we want to repeat. When one of your employees acted proactively went the extra mile for the customer—you as a leader must take the time to deliver a ‘public praise’—more about that later.
If you practice exceptional customer service, how many people are you helping? Just the one customer, right? But, when you practice quality customer service, how many people are you helping? Everyone, all of your current customers and any prospect thinking about doing business with you.
I call exceptional customer service the necessary evil; we have to do it, if we don’t our competition will. But there are three problems with exceptional service that we need to be aware of.
The first is this—let’s say I own a dealership and you own a dealership, and we’re competitors. And you find out that before I return the cars to my customers, I’m filling the gas tanks. Can you start filling the tanks for your customers? Sure you can. If I find out that before you return car to your customers, you’re washing their cars. Can I start washing cars for my customers? Sure I can. This is a big problem with exceptional service—it can be duplicated. Plus, you may raise the bar higher by filling the tanks AND washing the cars. Where does it end? And now, to duplicate our competition is easier than ever—I’ll just go to your website and click around. Maybe I’ll see a service I will want to offer? Or maybe I’ll like the way your site looks and copy it?
Here’s another problem with exceptional service. If I’m filling gas tanks and washing cars before I give them back to my customers, can that be expensive? Damn right it can be. And with this never-ending raising of the bar I’m in danger of violating the “Slight Edge” of Economics.
And here’s the third issue I have with exceptional service. If I say to you, “Hey, I just got my car fixed at that Ford dealership. And before they gave it back to me, they washed it for me. Pretty cool huh?” You may say to me, “Well, they ought to with the prices they charge.” This is a big problem with exceptional service, it suffers from a perception problem—what I think is exceptional, you may not agree with me. I have this experience every time my daughters want to go to the movies. They prefer this particular Cineplex because they give free refills of popcorn. I always say, “For the prices they charge, they ought to give us free refills!” For what a movie costs these days they should give me popcorn refills, a beer and a pillow. That last part I don’t say to my girls.
You can see why I called exceptional service the necessary evil; it can be duplicated, it can be expensive and only a few of our customers will perceive it to be exceptional. But, we have to do it, it’s what the customer sees, it’s what they can feel.
Quality doesn’t have these problems. It’s not expensive, the only expense you may have is to train your managers to be good communicators. It’s difficult to duplicate—most of what happens is behind the scenes. And, the customer will perceive your service as great because you will enhance what you do well and prevent what you do ill.
Quality service is not without its’ issues—follow this example.
Years ago I was in Mexico City working for Banorte, one of the largest and oldest bank in Mexico. I was there for a few weeks and I was staying at a Sheraton hotel. Every day I would asked for a 5:00 wake up call. One morning I was sleeping when my phone rang and a human voice said, “Good morning sir, this is your wake up call.” I said thank you but noticed I was very tired. I looked at the clock and saw it was 3:30 in the morning!
Now, thankfully I’m one of those guys who can fall asleep in a dentist chair. So, I rolled over to go back to sleep. Fifteen minutes later my phone rang again, “Sorry sir for disturbing you.” I said, “Which time? You got me twice, now and 15 minutes ago!”
I didn’t complain but, let’s look at what the hotel could do to deliver both exceptional and quality customer service. There’s the Sheraton management and they employ the front desk and the front desk waits on me. Now I go to the front desk and complain about being disturbed at 3:30. The front desk could make eye contact with me, listen to my story and say “We’re very sorry for the inconvenience. We’ll put a note into our computer system to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.” Now that’s basic, every day customer service, correct? They met my intellectual and emotional needs. To make the experience exceptional they could give me a free meal, give me a discount on my room or they could look into their computer and see every night at about 9:00 I would call room service and ask to have a couple of beers sent to me—I would actually prefer that idea. Doing one of those ideas would be exceptional service.
Here’s what I teach about quality in my workshops, you can view this 30 minute webinar recording to see this model unfold.
What does the front desk have to do to deliver quality customer service? They have to go back to management and tell them the hotel is waking people up at 3:30. That’s quality, they are trying to prevent this from happening again.
Here’s some possible pitfalls. What if the front desk doesn’t go to management because they are afraid they will be the ones who get into trouble? Or, what if the front desk doesn’t believe management will do anything about the mistake? Are they likely to go to management? Probably not.
There needs to be a certain relationship between the staff and management. A relationship of trust and openness. This is what Jack Welsh refers to in his book ‘Winning’ as candor. There has to be a level of candor that exists between the staff and the management.
Some of the sources of no candor in your workplace can be blamed on lack of leadership commitment, poorly trained managers and disengaged employees.
In the section on the role of leadership I’ll discuss what is needed for top leadership to begin the process of creating a service culture.
I’m writing a book, “7 Slight Edges to Keeping Your Customers” due in September. If you would like a free copy, please leave a comment and make sure I have your contact info.
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