Customer service is not an activity or a department, but an attitude and series of decisions. You can take steps in your business to provide exceptional customer service and you may find that this is one of the lowest cost and highest impact changes that you can make in your business.
Often, great service is simply the result of how you do something rather than what you do. When you understand this, you know that great service is all about a decision to speak or act deliberately.
The other day I was at the airport in Chicago getting ready for a flight to Portland. The captain stepped up to the microphone in the boarding area. My first thought was that this is not going to be good news. I have heard pilots in the boarding area only about 2 other times and each was bad news. To my surprise the pilot welcomed us to the flight and thanked us for flying United Airlines. He continued to tell us about the flight and then said that he looked forward to flying with us that evening. I was surprised to hear good rather than bad news. When I stepped on the plane the flight attendant was in her typical place at the door of the airplane and the pilot was standing right next to her welcoming everyone on board and handing out a card that had information about the 757 that we were flying on that evening. Due to my frequent flyer status I was upgraded to first class on the flight that evening. During the flight each of the flyers in my cabin was handed a business card from the pilot with a personal thank you note written on the back. Near the end of the flight there was an announcement from the purser about the cards that were handed out when we entered the plane. She asked us to look at the cards and if there was a particular mark on the card, those two people should ring their call buttons and the attendant would deliver a bottle of wine to take home, compliments of the captain.
When I returned home I decided to send a thank you email to Captain Flanagan, since I was holding his business card. I was surprised that not only did he return a message, but he also visited our company website and made some personal comments about the business that my father and I had built. I was struck by this attention by someone that comes into contact with so many customers, every day. Once again, I sent a follow up note to express my surprise at his attention and to say thank you. I received another letter with his thoughts and philosophy on customer service.
This is an interesting story and when you look at the details, there are a couple of really salient points to be taken from this series of events. The first thing that comes to mind is that if the pilots on every plane took the same time and effort to appreciate their clients it could make a huge difference to the company. Another thing that I noticed was that this set of events cost very little, if any, money or time. This pilot did not spend any more time to deliver exceptional customer service, rather he made deliberate decisions on how to spend his time. At this point you should realize that this example of great service was simply a personal decision to deliver great service.
Since my flight I have seen Captain Flanagan featured in the Wall Street Journal, several email updates, and a book. What would be the impact if the airline could harness this effort and embark on a companywide campaign to deliver exceptional service on every flight? I suspect that this would be an incredible undertaking, but perhaps might be worth the effort – this low cost, high impact campaign could transform an airline. At the same time, this engagement would need to be genuine rather than scripted.
What can you do in your business that empowers and challenges your front line staff to dramatically exceed your customer’s expectations? You may be lucky and have a couple of motivated people that will perform exceptionally well, but that will not often happen without your guidance. Your challenge is to create a company culture that causes your employees to make a decision and take steps to deliver their service in a deliberate and exceptional manner – it could transform your business.
I had a great employee working for me about 15 years ago. I knew that he had a desire to create cheerleader clients on every project. I would challenge him in the morning before going to a new job to come back with a letter of recommendation. He came back one day and told me that we would definitely get a letter from this client. Several days later we received a glowing recommendation. After the letter arrived, I started to wonder what he had done to get the letter. Brian explained that the customer took a lot of interest in what he was doing and would watch his work and talk. She mentioned that she was having a problem with her interior doors sticking. He said that he adjusted the doors so they would all shut properly. After congratulating him for the great work, it crossed my mind that this must have taken a lot of time and perhaps I had to do a better job of defining boundaries in serving our customers. He told me that it was a quick fix and took about fifteen minutes. Since he usually only takes a fifteen minute lunch, he took care of the doors during his break. Brian and the crew that we had working with us at that time consistently delivered exceptional customer service. Our company was recognized for consistently delivering great service. This became a competitive advantage for our company and helped us excel in our market.
Both of the situations outlined above were similar since it was a decision to exceed the customer’s expectation, rather than a program, campaign or department. In some cases you may be lucky to have great employees that are driven to excel. In most situations you have great staff members that will take the extra step when challenged or directed. As a leader in your business, it is your job to provide an environment where your employees will flourish and take initiative. Customer service is a decision not a department. Provide a foundation with training on customer service, define the client’s baseline expectations, and then create an environment where your staff is motivated, encouraged and rewarded to exceed these expectations. When you take these steps, you are well on your way to transforming your business and creating a sustainable competitive advantage for your business.
Below is a copy of the email correspondence from Captain Flannigan that he has given me permission to reprint. There are several great customer service ideas here and it provides a great example of how exceptional service can be delivered with an attention to detail and changing the way in which you approach a job, not the time or money spent to exceed expectations.
I was given permission to use his thoughts in exchange for posting Captain Flanagan’s email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. Please reply to him if you have any thoughts or questions regarding great customer service.
In the service business the recipe for success is quite easy. Choose your attitude for the day, anticipate your customer’s needs and exceed their expectations. I have a few work philosophies and they have proved effective over the years;
— I believe that each customer deserves a good travel experience whether on United, American, Continental………train, bus, taxi or with your best friend in his car. You deserve a safe and comfortable ride.
–Treat each customer as if it is their first flight and have no expectations. ….I lead by example and this helps motivate the crew to do a better job. When they see me stow bags, assist moms with strollers and answer questions as if it is the first time I heard it, they are brought back to their new hire days.
–It is easier to keep the customers you have than to find new ones….United has a devoted sales team to find new customers and it is time consuming and expensive but necessary. My job is somewhat easier and less expensive and that is to provide a safe and customer-oriented service. If I do my job then the folks in the sales department will have less pressure on themselves.
Phillip, I Googled your name and business and was quite impressed what you and your dad have put together. I practice one customer at a time but would love to make a bigger impact. I was on the front page of the WSJ and on the morning shows of CBS, ABC and NBC. If you can use me as an example in your business feel free to do so. It would be nice to know that I have a hand in making this world a better place to live.
Phillip, thanks for flying “The Friendly Skies” of United Airlines. Your business is greatly appreciated. If you are ever on one of my flights again stop up to the cockpit and say hello. If we have time I will go out and buy us a ( cup of coffee).