I’m fortunate enough to travel to some great places to serve my clients. During those travels I can’t help but have many customer service interactions from which to draw lessons. Today I’ll share how BBQ, airplanes, and coffee can teach you a few things to do (or not do) to create a better experience for your customers.
Last week I was in Chicago and Memphis. In Chicago, I showed up early for a breakfast meeting. I got there 15 minutes before the client team arrived. The restaurant was still setting up the private room for breakfast. The wait staff was running around doing last minute preparations. I decided to stay out of their way and await the arrival of the client.
The hostess was helping set up the room (apparently the team was a little short-staffed that morning). When I arrived, she stopped what she was doing and asked if I would like some coffee. When I eagerly said “Yes!” she set down what she was working on, went and got me a cup of coffee, went back into the kitchen and made a second trip to my table to bring some cream and sugar. Her actions sent a clear message – even though she was busy, her customer was more important than what she was working on in that moment.
How often do your team members stop what they’re working on to help a customer? Do they treat the customer’s arrival as something special and important? Have you created a culture where your team is encouraged to behave that way? Consider doing so. It makes a difference.
When in Memphis, I always visit Corky’s for some great BBQ (www.corkysmemphis.com). As I sat at the bar eating my ribs (which were amazing), the bartender was hustling to take care of his customers. It would have been easy for him to focus on his assigned tasks and in doing so he would have delivered a solid service experience.
Instead, he engaged his customers. He discussed basketball as he poured beers. He talked about movies as he cleared plates. He asked trivia as he brought out food (his trivia question was “Name 8 Division 1 football teams whose names do not include a color or end in the letter ‘s'” – for the answer, check out the bottom of this post). We got to know him as a person. His energy and enthusiasm was tangible. He not only delivered great baseline service – he created an experience.
Are your associates empowered to let their personalities come out or do you encourage conformity? Do your team members engage customers at a personal level or is it all about basic service delivery? Try creating an engaged environment and see how much more your customers talk about your company in a positive way.
I was supposed to be on a 7:20 PM flight home from Memphis. I received an email at 5 PM notifying me my flight would now be departing at 8:30 PM. Kudos to the airlines for communicating in a timely manner with their customer (me) in a manner in which I wanted to hear from them (via email to my BlackBerry).
When I arrived at the airport, the status board changed to 8:45 PM. Okay. No big deal. Then it was 9:00. Then 9:15. As the board continued to change, there wasn’t a gate agent in sight to explain the reason for the changes. The weather was perfect both in Memphis and back home in Columbus. Passengers grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of information. The board changed to 9:30. Then 9:45. Then 10:00. Still no agent. Then came the payoff – “CANCELED” flashed on the screen. Still no agents.
When the agents did arrive, they couldn’t answer questions until the system updated (which was out of their control). Ten minutes later the system told them it was canceled for “weather” reasons (which I still don’t believe). The crowd went wild because that meant there would be no reimbursement for hotel accommodations.
Fortunately the agents themselves were graceful under pressure and got all of us answers on our rebookings as fast and as politely as they were able. They apologized for the inconvenience and helped the customers as best they could.
Two lessons here – the HQ folks making the delay and ultimately cancel decisions seemed to forget there were customers on the other end of those monitors. To us it felt like the big machine in the sky didn’t care about us. It was simply making changes to a system of numbers and letters and forgot the human element. Do your processes incorporate ways to communicate with your customers as PEOPLE when you make decisions “remotely” and at a distance from your customers? All people generally want is a straightforward, honest explanation and usually they’re pretty understanding.
The second lesson – are your people prepared to deal with upset customers? Are they trained on how to handle crises? Have you ensured they understand they are the face of your organization? That they are your “brand delivery mechanism?” Consider giving them the tools and information they need to be able to handle this critical role to the best of their ability.
There you go. BBQ, coffee, and airplanes. Take a hard look at your customers’ experience through these lenses and make changes that ensure your customers’ satisfaction and loyalty. Remember – the customer is the person who ultimately pays your salary…
Oops. Almost forgot… the answer to that trivia question. You can find the team names in the post on our Facebook fan page for my upcoming book. I hope while you’re there you take a few minutes to learn more about the book and like the page so you can get our updates as we move toward publication.
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