There are three things your customers want. First, they want a product or service or other output with no defects. Let’s say you’re selling them a bottle of water. They want the water to be absolutely pure—no little “floaties” swimming around. They also want the bottle to be leak-proof. They want to know they can trust this purchase 100 percent.
Second, the people we serve want timeliness. They don’t want to have to stand or sit around waiting for you. If they’re eating in a restaurant and their meal comes out absolutely perfect and tasty (no defects), but it took forty-five minutes to be served, they’re going to be unhappy, regardless of how delicious the meal is. If someone calls your customer service line and is put on hold for ten minutes, it won’t matter if the agent is totally smart and competent to solve their issue. The customer is going to be so ticked off that they will hardly notice.
Finally, they want the person with whom they’re dealing to be nice to them. They want to sense a caring attitude. In fact, this third desire is greater than the first two combined. It can atone for other shortfalls
Two New Universals
No matter what your standard product may be, people these days seem to be more and more interested in individualization and personalization.
Individualization. People want to be able to tweak a product to their own likes—which makes it challenging for any of us who aspire to serve large numbers of people. But customers don’t think about that. They just know they don’t want to be locked into a fixed menu. The Subway sandwich chain has risen to the top of its market by letting folks decide how much lettuce, black olives, grated cheese, and jalapeños go on their particular sandwich, and they’re allowed to watch the assembly process every step of the way. The car industry has known for a long time that the more options and gadgets it offers, the more new cars it sells.
Personalization. No sound on earth is as sweet to a person’s ears as their own name. They don’t want to be “Account Number W49836Q7.” They want to be called by name; it’s a recognition of their worth. In the hotel business, we train doormen to check the luggage tags on the suitcases they’re unloading from the taxi so that as soon as the guest finishes paying the driver and steps out, the doorman can say, “Welcome, Mr. Johnson!”
Customer Service Is Everybody’s Job
If you think customer service is merely a desk in the back corner of the store, you have sorely shortchanged the concept. Too many people think customer service starts after a complaint has been voiced. Somebody has gotten upset about something, and the point of customer service is to try to calm them down.
But that’s far from the truth. Customer service starts the instant you make contact with an individual.
Step 1. Greet
Customer service starts at the front door or with the first ring of the phone. The first step of service is offering a great welcome. You show immediately that you are glad the person has chosen to come your way—even if they haven’t bought anything so far and you’re not sure if they even want to.
Step 2. Comply
The second step is complying with the customer’s wishes. The focus here is not on your agenda, but theirs. Yes, you want to make a sale. But what is most important is what is on their mind.
Step 3. Goodbye
Now comes the final part of customer service, which is saying good-bye. It’s always important to say, “Thank you for coming in today,” or “Thank you for allowing us to serve you.” NBC’s José Díaz-Balart has a good closer for his weekend broadcasts: “Thank you for the privilege of your time.” In this he recognizes that, even though he’s a nationally famous and well-paid journalist, viewers did not have to watch his show. They did so voluntarily, and he is truly grateful for their time
Attending to Details
Many of the smallest things we do have an impact on customers. They listen to how we talk, for instance. Horst hired high school dropouts from the inner city to come work for the Ritz-Carlton—and do their work elegantly and excellently! How did he accomplish that, you ask?
Horst writes, I instructed my new hires that when they greeted a guest, they were not to say, “Hi!” or “Whassup?” Instead they needed to say, “Good morning, sir!” or “Good morning, ma’am!” And when a guest asked for something, they were not to say, “Okay” or “Cool” or “Got it.” They needed to say, “Certainly—my pleasure. I’m happy to help you.”
They were not to call our guests “guys” or “folks.” They needed to refer to them as “sir” or “ma’am” or “ladies” or “gentlemen.” Why this style? Because we know that guests want to feel honored, even important. “Hi, guys” doesn’t accomplish that.
When an organization builds a reputation for quality service, it creates a unique reputation. If the person out front consistently greets customers with genuine warmth, shows respect, makes sure everything is right, makes the person feel good, and thanks them for the privilege of serving them, the customer will assume the maid, the cook, the bookkeeper, the custodian, and everyone else will be just as pleasant. And if the day comes when any of those employees go out looking for a different job, if they say, “I’ve worked the past x number of years for such and such a company,” they will likely get hired faster due to that organization’s prevailing reputation.
Four Supreme Objectives
Serving the public successfully is not always simple. Customers can indeed be grouchy and demanding. Some of them are a royal pain in the neck. It is understandable to get frustrated at times with trying to keep them happy.
But even these people do not give us an excuse to stop being ladies and gentlemen. That is who we are and must continue to be, whether others appreciate it or not. We must not be distracted from the four supreme objectives of any organization that wants to succeed:
- Keep the customer.
- Get new customers.
- Encourage the customers to spend as much as possible!—but without sabotaging Objective Number One.
- In all of the above, keep working toward more and more efficiency.
Whatever your line of endeavor—manufacturing, retail, finance, education, or ministry—this is your assignment. You must never lose sight of these things, no matter how noisy the world around you becomes, no matter how busy you get. You must keep on trying.
You may be saying to yourself about now, But some people truly are impossible. You just can’t hope to please them.
Well, if what the customer wants is illegal, then, yes, you must call the authorities. Pleasing the customer is out of the question in that case! Short of that exception, however, there are a number of creative ways to proceed if we simply give it some thought.
Horst writes, Once in a great while, we in the hotel business have a guest who is so obnoxious that we’re tempted to give up. I made a policy across the entire chain of fifty-some Ritz-Carlton hotels worldwide that the only person who could decide to evict a guest was me. I would not delegate that decision.
One day, my manager in Atlanta called to say, “Horst, we have a guest who’s been here ten nights already. Every morning he comes to my office complaining about multiple things. Whatever we try to do for him is never right. And on top of that, he’s staying up on the club level—where he has pinched a couple of women! Naturally, they’re very upset. Can I please get rid of him?”
We didn’t have enough hard evidence to call the cops and file a charge of battery against this man. We hadn’t actually seen the outrage ourselves and didn’t have security video. But this was serious. We weren’t going to just wave this off.
So I replied to my manager, “Okay, here’s what you do. One, go double-lock his door while he’s away so he can’t get back into his room. Two, make a reservation for him at another first-class hotel here in the city. Three, get a limousine lined up and waiting for him. When he comes storming into your office again, say, ‘Mr. Jones, for ten days you’ve been complaining about everything. We are here to try to please every guest. So now I’m going to try another way to please you! We’re going to move you to another fine hotel. I’ve already made the reservation; the limo is waiting for you. We truly want you to be happy.’”
The manager followed my orders. And of course, the guy was on the phone to me within minutes, absolutely furious.
“Yes, I know,” I interrupted. “I told the manager what to do in this situation. This is all my doing.”
“I’m going to sue you!” he screeched.
“Mr. Jones,” I calmly replied, “if you sue me, just understand that the ladies you pinched will be with me on court.”
The Fine Art of Handling Complaints
Many business leaders seem to think that stonewalling is the best option in sticky moments. They fail to realize that in well over 90 percent of the cases, the customers just want to get rid of their frustration. They often don’t want anything as tangible as compensation. They just want to be heard. They simply long to hear the words, “I’m so sorry about that.”
#1 Never downplay a complaint.
Never try to laugh it off. Or crack a joke, no matter how ridiculous the complainer sounds to you. Guard even your facial expression. This is dead serious to the person in front of you.
#2 If you get a complaint, own it.
Immediately say, “I’m so sorry.” It doesn’t matter whether you personally caused the problem or not. In that moment, you are the face of the organization, and you speak on its behalf.
#3 Don’t say “they” or “them”.
instead, say “I.” It does no good to say, “Hmmm, it looks like they messed up.” That just frustrates the already agitated person. Instead, take ownership of the mistake or misunderstanding
#4 Ask for forgiveness.
Go ahead and spit out the words “please forgive me.” Notice, you say “me,” not “us.” Take the sins onto your own shoulders. This goes a very long way in calming the emotions. After all, what is the complainer going to say—”No, I refuse to forgive you”? Are they going to punch you in the jaw? Hardly.
#5 Don’t appeal to the policy manual.
As in “Well, our guidelines say that . . .” The upset person couldn’t care less what policy 14, section 8, paragraph 3 says.
#6 Don’t try to parade your expertise
As in, “Well, the reason this happened is because the system is set up to recognize certain signals and blah blah blah . . .” The person doesn’t care what you know or how your system is designed; they want to know whether you feel their pain or not.
#7Don’t assume that the complainer wants money.
Most of the time, they just want to be heard. They want to get rid of the bad feeling inside. They want their viewpoint to be respected. Once that happens, their blood pressure will come way down
Managers Push, Leaders Inspire
Employees are not usually inspired to work hard for someone else’s purpose—for example, to drive up the yearly dividend or to make the boss look good to his or her superiors. What really gets them going is their own purpose. If that purpose aligns with what the organization cares about, then it’s a win-win for everyone.
Sure, money plays a role in employee motivation. You can’t get by if you pay workers fifty cents an hour less than your competition. But this isn’t the biggest factor. More important is being part of a worthwhile dream. When it comes right down to it, the vast majority of people in this world want to excel at something. They just need a context in which to do so. They look to us as leaders to provide that setting.
Inspiring people to rise to excellence can be complicated at times, because individuals are not all alike. James Autry says it well: Good management is largely a matter of love. Or if you’re uncomfortable with that word, call it caring, because proper management involves caring for people, not manipulating them.
Why Vision Statements Matter
Slogans and vision statements on the wall don’t work. Belief systems work. Culture works. The slogan or statement must be simply an interpretation of the real meaning and life within an organization. At the core, you have decided to be a certain kind of operation. It is in your DNA. And you need to distill that essence into a set of words.
You have to remind yourself and others of these words constantly. They have to be alive inside your soul. You don’t mind repeating them again and again—at the start of meetings, in casual conversations on the shop floor, in the office, in the break room—because they’re so important. You say it because you and your people are living it
And besides, the constant repetition holds you accountable to yourself.
Horst writes, Every time I verbalize the Capella Hotel Group’s commitment to “fulfill individual customer expectations,” I have to ask myself, Are we still doing that? Is that actually happening this week? When I say the phrase about having “respected and empowered employees who work in an environment of belonging and purpose,” it brings me face-to-face with how the workplace environment is actually doing these days. Is it healthy, or is it deteriorating—and if it is deteriorating, what should I be doing differently?
What to Measure
Now we come to the biggest question of all: What should a leader measure?
Here are “the Big Three” as far as Horst is concerned. You may want to add one or two of your own, as long as they are significant benchmarks.
#1 Customer satisfaction/loyalty.
You can’t guess at this; you have to ask them through regular surveys (paper or online) what they’re thinking. The most telling questions are these: “How likely are you to come back again?” and “How likely are you to recommend us to your friends?”
#2 Employee satisfaction.
Just as vital to the health of an organization is what the people who work there think of their environment. Again, you can’t assume everybody is a happy camper except for one or two complainers. You must ask for their assessment on a recurring schedule. If you just go by what you happen to hear, you will be misled. Formal measurement tells you what is really on their minds. If eight employees say they’re short of equipment, that’s significant. If just one employee says it, you can lay it aside until more evidence arises.
#3 Leading indicators.
This third vital measurement looks to the future. It wants to know how the landscape is going to be six months or a year down the road. Are people coming our way for service at the same rate as they always have, or are they slacking off? Is the customer population getting older, younger, or staying the same? Are they spending the same as they always have, or less?
There’s an old saying that goes, You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.
Horst’s version of that is this: You won’t accomplish what you don’t measure. Results don’t come from hiding ourselves from reality. They emerge as we measure our realities and make adjustments, and then measure again and keep adjusting. No matter how good you are, you keep looking for hidden defects, and you keep moving a little closer to true excellence.
The commitment to measuring and adjusting is not a luxury. It is essential to responsible leadership.