That’s right – customer service is contagious like the common cold. It can spread faster than pink eye at a day care center. Improved customer service comes from spreading a passion for interactions with our customers. And in today’s hypercompetitive world, customer service can be a true point of competitive advantage (Mike writes about that point constantly). So how do you make service contagious?
I didn’t catch it until I was 16. I was working in a real honest to goodness Mom & Pop store. Murray Logan and his wife Del were the founders of Logan & Sons, a small grocery store specializing in high quality meats and produce and delivering great customer service.
If you are involved in managing customer service you know it gets infinitely more difficult to treat the customer the way they want to be treated when you add employees to your business model. When it’s your store and you are the workforce you don’t have to worry that the customers will get treated well. But from the moment you add your first employee, your work gets much more complicated. Now you have to define excellence, teach it, observe it and re-teach it constantly.
How did the Logans do it? Simple.
Murray Logan was a master and he taught his sons, Murray Jr. and Don who would take over the business and keep his traditions. There are lots of authors out there publishing books on customer service, satisfaction and loyalty that are making tons of money off what Mr. Logan and his boys made to seem easy and natural. But it wasn’t.
I was running the cash register on a busy Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Rowlands, a very loyal and regular customer, was doing her regular grocery run. Her order filled two good sized old-fashioned paper bags. Looking at the line of people, she started hefting her bags. I asked her if she needed help getting to the car and she quickly responded, “No, I’m alright. I can get it.”
The rush died down and Murray came up front and casually asked about how things were going. I responded, “It has been a bit busy, but that’s what we’re here for isn’t it?” Then, just as casually he asked “ I saw Linda Rowland carrying her bags out. Why was that?”
I recounted the fact that even though it was busy, I had asked her if she needed help and she had declined. Using the same questions I’m sure Murray Sr. had used to teach him the business, Murray asked “So, you asked her if it would be OK to give her poor service? Of course she said yes. What else could a kind person do?” I could feel my face turning red with embarrassment.
There was no harshness in Murray’s tone. No anger, even though in one quick second I had jeopardized a relationship his family had worked so hard to cultivate. He pulled a leg up and sat on the counter. The store was empty. As was his style, Murray would never try to correct an employee’s behavior in public.
Murray explained that service was a differentiator in our business. That if people didn’t care about receiving a friendly Hello with their name right behind it, if they didn’t care if their grocer picked a cut of beef for them because he knew they had family in town, if they didn’t mind if they slogged their way through the parking lot carrying their own groceries and fumbling for their keys, then the big fancy impersonal supermarket down the street would be good enough.”
“But that’s not how we work here at our store. Our customers get the best service we can provide.” A great lesson for me then as an employee. A lesson that still rings in my ears today, as I am called on to work with our associates and our customers to teach their workforce “the family business.”
It’s rare today to encounter a small business owner who will take the time to teach and develop their staff the same way my leaders did when I worked at Logan & Sons. That doesn’t mean we can’t inspire our people to deliver legendary service. It just means we have to work harder at it and that we might need help.
Creating the experience your customers want means training some of the skills we might take for granted. Sometimes we romanticize the loss of great customer service skills as a result of changes in our culture. I’d argue that we always had to learn it.
Once you’ve defined your brand and communicated it you have to teach it, check on the quality and coach that great group of people you’ve assembled. You have to tell them what great service means in your “family.” Teach them with examples and model the behavior. Be ever vigilant for coachable moments like the one Murray found for me.
Find your stories and share them. We get caught up in the demands of our jobs and we fail to recognize opportunities happening every day. Start small, keep coaching and soon you’ll see the customer service benchmark rising and rising.
Use stories to define legendary. By telling them we are teaching our people that searching for ways to make experiences better is something we value, something we must do to keep the relationships we’ve worked so hard to build.
How are you making customer service contagious in your organization?
– Ray Taylor is an accomplished sales and customer service leader focused on innovation. He is a brand ambassador for Ethos3, a presentation design and storytelling company. Ray serves on the executive committee of Ohio University’s Sales Centre. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.