Customer Service is Key

July 25, 2006

Customer Service is Not a Four-Letter Word

By: Gregory P. Smith

What word pops into your mind about a recent customer service experience? Was it good, or was it bad? Customer service in this country seems to be headed in the same direction as the Titanic.

Why? One reason is most Americans feel customer service jobs are beneath them and of little importance. Secondly, many organizations have eliminated the human element, replacing it with a lower-cost, impersonal conglomeration of voice mail, email, and online request forms. For many shortsighted service companies, it is about cutting costs, cutting corners, and driving up profits.

The Ritz-Carlton hotels makes customer service an art form. Unlike other places, they know if you treat your customers well and make a special effort to please them guess what? They come back, tell their friends, and maintain a long lasting relationship of loyalty.

My wife and I recently stayed at the Reynolds Plantation Ritz-Carlton at Lake Oconee, Georgia. Upon checking in, we dropped off our bags and took a seat in the lobby to enjoy the view of the lake. A few minutes later a service person named Susan introduced herself, beginning a friendly conversation.

She asked us why we were staying at the hotel. I said, “We are here for our wedding anniversary.” With a very big smile she told us, “Congratulations. Let me go get you some champaign.” Wow! This was the first of two episodes at this hotel that would capture my loyalty as a guest of Ritz-Carlton.

Later that evening a knock at the door caught us by surprise. Greeting us again was Susan. This time she surprised us with a luscious piece of cake carefully presented on a plate. In icing was this inscription, “Happy Anniversary.” Wow!

It was not a stroke of luck we stumbled across Susan. She, as well as other Ritz Carlton employees, are carefully selected and thoroughly trained on how to identify guest’s unspoken requests. They follow a process called the “Three Steps of Service.”

Step 1 - Warm welcome
Step 2 Anticipation and compliance
Step 3 Fond farewell


It is during Step 2 where staff members seek out and discover guest’s needs or wishes. Then they present it in a way to create a “moment of truth.” In our case, it was the champaign and the anniversary cake.

Now, let me make an important point to the critics. I know many of you are saying, “I expect to be treated well at fine hotels, it is what I pay for.” Let’s consider this. The same principles and standards of behavior demonstrated at the Ritz-Carlton can also be applied at your local car dealership, bank, or any business, can’t they?

A Gallup survey found over a one month period a customer “emotionally connected” to the organization spent 46% more money than a customer that was satisfied, but not emotionally bonded with the company.

Just imagine going to your car repair shop with your car. Within sixty minutes they fix it right the first time, and deliver it to your door cleaner than when you dropped it off. How many people would you tell about it? Surely, the proprietor of the car repair shop would see exponential growth. The additional profits and the revenue would outweigh the added time and expense spent exceeding customers expectations.

In today's competitive economy, all businesses have to make a choice, to either become exceptional, or just remain the same--average. It goes without saying; it is easier and less expensive to be average. However, examples abound of both large and small businesses exterminated by the competition because they refused or were unable to change.

To help keep your service businesses competitive, consider the following four steps of exceptional service.

Step 1 - Select the right people. Successful businesses realize the front-line customer service person is critical to the success of the business. So they spend more time recruiting and hiring the right people.

Step 2 - Set performance standards. Design and develop how employees are supposed to act and respond to customer needs and requests.

Step 3 - Sustain on-going training and reinforcement. Good customer service skills do not come naturally. Successful businesses reinforce and train their staff continuously.

Step 4 - Specify consequences for behaviors. You must hold people accountable. Reward those who exceed the standards and develop those who do not.


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Greg Smith is a nationally recognized speaker, author, and business performance consultant. He has written numerous books and featured on television programs such as Bloomberg News, PBS television, and in publications including Business Week, Kiplingers, President and CEO, and the Christian Science Monitor. He is the President and "Captain of the Ship" of a management-consulting firm, Chart Your Course International, located in Atlanta, Georgia. Phone him at 770-860-9464. More articles available: http://www.chartcourse.com


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