A good friend of mine was telling me a story the other day that I could not help but pass along. It is a shining example of the service that we all look to provide for our clients, but also identifies an important component for delivering excellent customer service. It goes like this: A gentleman was ordering a pizza for takeout at a local pizzeria. He had frequented this particular restaurant for years because they routinely honored his special request. He ordered a family size pie; one side pineapple and Canadian bacon, and the other pepperoni and black olive, to make sure everyone in the family had what they wanted. On this night, however, he had a special request. Because they were having a guest for dinner, he would need the pizza divided into thirds to accommodate the tastes of his guest. Upon hearing his special request at the restaurant, the high school aged employee at the counter responded “I do not know if we can do that, I’ll have to ask the owner”. She then summoned the proprietor. The uneasy silence that ensued was broken when a cheerful man in a cooks’ apron came bursting through the swinging doors and exclaimed “The answer is yes! Now what is the question?”
The answer is yes, what is the question – music to the ears of anyone who has waited 20 minutes on hold to hear “no”, has stood in a line a mile long to hear “no”, or has needed a special favor from an organization only to hear “no”. And although the example above does not seem like a heavily challenging service opportunity, it is that culture of service that shines through even in a mundane situation. So how do we replicate that culture in our organizations, so that it moves from a mission statement hanging on the wall and into the very DNA of the people who interface our clients every day?
Leadership: The first building block required is leadership from the top, by example. That is done in two ways. First, by setting the example, employees see the customer service commitment in action – they see what is expected of them by observing the service delivered by you. Next, you must build specific guidelines as to what is expected in the deliverance of world class service. This can be as basic as effectively answering incoming calls (you can tell a lot about how an employee feels about their job by how they answer the phone), to the turnaround time in resolving a problem once it is identified. Clear guidelines are essential to building a culture of service in any organization. Once the guidelines are in place and expectations are defined, turn them loose…..
Empowerment: Everyone operates at their best when they have a stake in the outcome. It is this ownership of the result that incents individuals to go above and beyond to please our clients. You may have had the opportunity to enjoy the “Ritz Carlton” experience – they deliver best in class service by adhering to a “let me take you there” mentality. When you ask a Ritz Carlton employee where the business center is, for example, you will not be told where it is, you will be personally taken there by the employee that you asked. What many do not know about the Ritz Carlton service experience is that each employee has a “budget” that they control and can use to fix a guests’ problem. They decide how and who to spend it on. It is the ability to make these decisions unilaterally that empowers an employee to resolve problems on their own and take ownership of the service experience.
We must also empower our team to take the initiative to own and solve client issues. I have found that empowerment is rarely grabbed by the employee, it must be granted to them. We started this process with my team by asking one simple question when they come to me with a problem “what do YOU think we should do?” The answer may be completely off the wall, but I am able to begin to instill the process that makes them think about the situation and contemplate solutions. They become part of the process, not just a mouthpiece to communicate problems up the ladder. As I coach them toward a realistic solution, they begin to understand how to THINK about service, and are far more likely to begin solving issues that arise instead of always asking for direction. This is liberating for the employees, and allows you to build a team that thinks for themselves and solves problems independently.
Accountability: Even if your team has achieved the delivery of world class service, you must continually provide feedback and guidance. If you identify a situation where service could have been delivered at a higher level, you are obligated to review the situation with the employee and then offer specific suggestions for improvement. Allow them to buy in by getting them to understand the situation from the customer’s point of view. Remember, if our customers perceive a situation to be something, they are right. We must be able to “pivot” into their position and see the situation from their side. If you have an employee who is constantly requiring coaching in this respect, they are in the wrong job.
Additionally, it is very important to publically reward employees for delivering exceptional service. It does not have to be a grand production, but a quick mention of the situation, how it was handled, and what made it exceptional service will go a long way to instill these values in others. Everyone wants to be recognized by their peers, and those who observe this recognition will work to emulate the behaviors that are rewarded.
In closing, the delivery of a superior customer experience is like many of life’s undertakings – it is a journey, not a destination. In an environment that is not only becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy demanding customers, but also becoming difficult to find employees capable of delivering world class service, one must remain diligent in their efforts. It is a constant process of training, empowering, and providing feedback that keeps the process fresh and employees inspired. So next time a client comes to you with a request, really blow them away by simply exclaiming “The answer is yes, what is the question?”
- What Happens When You Really Meet People’s Needs (blogs.hbr.org)
- Melanie Nayer: The Luxury of Hotel Loyalty Programs (huffingtonpost.com)
- Ritz-Carlton to Offer Rewards (online.wsj.com)
- Your Well-Being Is A Serious Business Matter (forbes.com)
- Employing company vision in customer service training (customerthink.com)