“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves” (Steve Jobs).
We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better (Jeff Bezos).
Organizational culture sets the table for customers who come to dine at an organization’s buffet. The people who represent the organization introduce us to: “The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization” Through organizational culture, employees understand “an organization’s expectations, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world, and future expectations” (WebFinance Inc., 2017). Over time the employees introduce customers to the “shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time” as part of the corporate culture” (WebFinance Inc., 2017). However, customer experience and loyalty is developed through a perceived relationship with the customer service representative who meets their needs. Schein (1992), Deal and Kennedy (2000), and Kotter (1992) advanced the idea that organizations often have very differing cultures as well as subcultures, as each subculture is linked to a different management team.
Successful organizations know that in order to be successful they must invest in customer service training for their employees who are on the front lines. According to the Miller Heiman Group, US brands lose 41 billion dollars annually due to poor service alone. They also earn 1 billion dollars for only a 10% increase in customer service. Furthermore, it costs a company 7 times more to acquire a new customer than to retain their customer base (Miller Heiman, 2017). Organizations as they expand, young or old, must be aware that “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” (Bill Gates). In most organizations, new employees attend orientation and then undergo customer service training. Oftentimes, this is a manual that has lessons outlined in modules ranging from building customer loyalty, strengthening customer connections and mastering conversation essentials, to exploring digital communications and navigating challenging situations. At the end of it all, employees are tasked with simply satisfying the customer’s request.
But what if a customer shows up with a special request? The job description for the employee outlines what their duties and responsibilities will be and also the hours during which those duties will be performed. However, what does an employee do when they are called to meet a special request by a customer that will undoubtedly require that they work beyond their scheduled hours, that they travel for longer distances than they committed to, and that they be innovative enough with the tools on hand to get the job done? Training must underscore that, “For a company to be truly customer-focused, an employee must understand how important customer service is to the company, how service fits into the culture and how he or she plays a role in it (Hyken, 2017).
But there is much more to the customer service experience than training. Training will only go so far. Beyond training, it is the personality, the work ethic, the commitment to getting the job done, and the diligence to finishing well that reveals the emotional intelligence of the organization’s representative. This emotional intelligence is the difference between satisfactory and exceptional. In a time when poor customer service is expected, here are several examples that I have had of exceptional service lately.
Recently, I needed to get a new cell phone. When we got to the Cricket store, we were shown all the phones that were available and allowed to make a selection. Then we chose a plan that would allow me to do all that I needed to do. The employee suggested an option to us for maximize our benefits, minimize our costs, and even waived certain fees for us so that we would feel like highly valued customers. So, when we needed to connect another phone, we returned to the same Cricket store. This time, the manager of the store was the only one there and was just closing up when we arrived. But, we had an urgent special request! Instead of leaving immediately, the manager took us in, suggested the best options available to us for service, and proceeded to connect us to service. He told us up front that he did not have a specific tool that he needed to get something installed on the phone, but if we were willing to wait, he would improvise and still get it done. We waited and he did it! We were there for almost an hour and a half after closing time! But we were not the only ones. A potential customer wandered in with a special request as she had just moved into town. He multitasked and assisted her while appropriately managing our needs! Thanks Jay (name changed) for such exceptional service!
On another occasion, I had to attend an event that ended pretty late. I called a friend to get me, but she was unable to leave where she was at that time. What was the solution? Take an Uber. We called for Uber at close to 2am, true to their advertised efficiency, within minutes a car arrived to pick us up. The ride was easy as we all made conversation. Eventually, my colleague seated in the front fell asleep and woke up just after we passed the turnoff to his destination. The Uber driver did not get upset or frazzled, he simply stopped and waited on the situation to be made clear. Apparently that stop had not been programmed into the request when the car was ordered. So, we now had a special request at 2am in the morning! Without arguing, he turned the car around and proceeded to take my colleague home. Unfortunately, we realized that we had been heading in the wrong direction and had to turn around again. The driver did not get upset, but quietly and professionally met all our special requests. As soon as we dropped my colleague off, he must have realized the situation and asked me if we were from the islands? He must have heard the accents underlying our speech. I answered yes. Then he proceeded to share his experiences with working with some Trinidadians, and other Caribbean people. As we drove through the dark, lonely streets, he told the story of having a gift of being sensitive to what was going on around him and an inner prompting to take action. Eventually, he shared how he had worked in a bar and began to feel very disturbed about working there. He could not shake the feeling and decided to leave the job. Soon after he left, one of his regular customers was stabbed and killed at the bar. Talk about empathy! Talk about service beyond the call of duty. I relaxed and as we talked, he discovered that I taught psychology and he shared that his cousin was working on her PhD in Psychology. He wanted to connect us. So, I offered him the link to this blog and contact info. Miles (name changed) thanks for going the extra mile! I had an exceptional experience!
The last experience that I will share demonstrates how leaders emerge to represent the organization when you make a special request. I called the Marriot Hotels trying to reserve a block of rooms, but with some special requests for location to a Conference venue and the types of rooms within a particular price range. I was greeted with the usual script, and transferred to the requested personnel in the hotel. When they had assisted me as far as they could go, I was transferred to another agent. As I continued to make additions to my request it became clear that my request was a special request given the amount of time and the special conditions that our organization required. I had to be willing to wait, while they had to be willing to work on my request. So, I waited while they checked several venues in their group and determined what would best meet our needs based on the Conference schedule. Then I had to work with the agent to make my request fit with their protocols for requisition and approval. Some of the steps were easy, and some more challenging as I only had a partial knowledge of the information that he needed and had to be getting additional information from a third party. However, Angelo (name changed) never got upset. He simply waited patiently until he got enough details to assist me with my special request. At the end of the process, although we told him that we would be confirming the arrangements with another manager, he still offered his contact details and said that the other manager can e-mail him to confirm the booking. That’s excellent service! When senior managers get on the frontlines and face customers without having to announce that the buck stops with them, it reveals an organizational culture that has an eye for talent, but one that equally guards the exceptional worker. Thanks Angelo for such exceptional service! There’s no doubt in my mind why your customers keep coming back.
In closing, organizations who have a vested interest in guarding their exceptional brand or building an exceptional brand, must never forget that the customers come to them always seeking to satisfy a special request. Always remember that “The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but legendary” (Sam Walton).