Why the Best Businesses Provide No “Customer Service”
“Everybody wants to build, but nobody wants to do maintenance.” –Kurt Vonnegut
I will begin today’s sermon by presuming that unless your net worth has more zeros in it than a Star Trek Convention, profitability is still important to you. If it is, then pull up a chair and let’s talk about the Importance of the Mundane.
Every month I either speak to or consult with a wide variety of successful foodservice, hotel and retail companies, helping them re-energize their customer service programs, re-design their training materials for Gen Next, and re-focus their sales strategies. In these roles I’m routinely asked what I think are the most innovative and creative new techniques relative to customer service.
The answer is both quite simple and decidedly unsexy: the best “customer service” comes from operators who simply ignore the concept. Instead of focusing on what they can “do” for customers, they concentrate instead on what they cannot let happen to a customer. They teach and train their customer-facing teams to anticipate every need and eliminate every potential problem a customer might potentially encounter during their visit. The key philosophy here is to focus first on ELIMINATING DISSATISFACTION instead of focusing on “serving” them. Ironically, if you focus on the former, you always achieve the latter.
This unique strategy assures three things: first, that the customer never has to ask for anything, second, that the company eliminates the need to “provide service” since the customer’s experience is exponentially enhanced by the absence of complaints, and third, that eliminating dissatisfaction results in a loyal, frequent, and happier customer. And as Walt Disney famously pointed out: “Happy guests buy more.”
Think of it as “Seamless Service,” hospitality done so naturally well that it’s transparent to the customer. The best service makes customers feel good about each interaction, and they’re not fully unaware of what you’re doing—and not doing–to them (to a customer, the service “basics” are like hair plugs. The less you notice them, the better they are.) The only time customers really notice Service is when it’s inconsistent or non-existent. So write this down first: Habitual Consistency is the Tao and How of Wow. Here’s a short list of service basics:
Service is a philosophy, not a program. The best businesses know that service is the invisible product and they start by creating a culture of kindness betwen their teams and management. Servant leadership comes first: “My customer is anyone who isn’t me.”
Get brilliant at the basics. Service is the cumulative effect of a thousand little things you do ever yday that the customer may not even notice–UNTIL YOU DON’T DO THEM. You and your team members get bored with the basics, but the customer never does. I’m talking about the essentials: a smiling and prompt greeting, Disney-clean facility, making sure silverware and glasses are not spotted, giving friendly and accurate information over the phone, hot food hot, cold food cold, stable tables, clean restrooms, and a host or drive-through order-taker who greets the 300th guest that shift with the same energy and enthusiasm they showed to the first. Mastering those details are harder to pickup than a watermelon seed on a linoleum floor, so work at them every shift. These fundamentals are the “greens fees” of the customer’s service expectations.
Never underestimate the power of an angry customer. You’ve seen the statistics and they’re frightening: an unhappy customer tells an average of 12 people each about their bad experience. Each of those 12 people tell 6 of their friends who tell 3 of their friends each and before you know it, nearly 380 people hear about the bad service experience of just one customer. (Multiply that by 10,000 if they have Facebook, Twitter or Yelp accounts). So do your best to make every customer happy, but also be realistic: someone, somewhere on your team is going to make a mistake and some customer is going to be disappointed. The key is knowing how to resolve the problem quickly so that the guest doesn’t leave with it. “A great restaurant doesn’t distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes,” says Danny Meyer, an owner of Union Square Café in New York City, “but by how well they handle those mistakes.”
Body language and words matter. Teach your team to answer the phone with an apology whenever they can’t answer by the third ring. Smile when you talk on the phone (you sound friendlier). When a customer makes a request, DON’T say “No problem!” since it implies that everything else is. Instead, always use the three magic words, “It’s my pleasure.”
Bring energy and flair to every shift. Manage the energy in your business as well as the customer experience. People want to be somewhere that makes them feel good. Keep the experience energetic and fresh each and every shift for both your employees and guests.
Manage the “Basics” for your employees first. Just as managing the basics for customer every shift results in more repeat business, managing the basics daily for your team members results in better service for their customers. Make sure your asasociates always have the right training, supplies, tools, resources and systems in place that they need to succeed. And be certain to make hiring THE most important decision. Look for the hospitality gene in applicants character and behavior. Ask yourself: Could this person eventually be one of my top three performers in this position? If not, interview’s over. You should be INtolerant of only one thing in business: customer-facing team members who are unaware or unwilling to serve your VIPs (very important pocketbooks). Give these people a job at the competition. Good employees will leave if you keep bad employees in place, and bad employees will stay until you throw them out.
In summary, I offer this classic quote from Stanley Marcus, co-founder of Neiman-Marcus department stores: “The dollar bills the customer gets from the tellers in four banks are the same. What is different are the tellers.”
Jim Sullivan is the CEO of Sullivision.com and a popular consultant, author and speaker at manager conferences worldwide. For more great ideas on service check out our best-selling book Fundamentals at our store.sullivision.com