While waiting for my oil change at the car dealership, I reached into my messenger bag to grab a pen. As I began to write, I discovered major pen smears all over the palm of my hand and a pen stain on my messenger bag. Holding the pen in my fingertips to avoid further damage, I headed for the restroom.
Right next to the restroom was the dealership’s maintenance man. He was standing by an open cleaning supply closest. Johnny had registered on my, “How people show up” radar screen. He is a smallish, stocky gentleman who radiates friendliness and good cheer in a quiet, understated way.
Because I consult on customer service, I’m hyper-aware of the service I receive and the ambience both individuals and businesses create. Thus, I couldn’t help but notice the “vibe” that Johnny gave off as he went about his work among the dealership’s customers. Not only did his kindly presence contribute to the dealership’s friendly atmosphere, it made him much more approachable.
I didn’t have a second thought about asking him for help.
Do all your employees make it easy to do business with you?
This is an important point that can’t be ignored by any business wanting to be as customer-friendly as possible.
You don’t want customers or potential customers weighing the pros and cons of asking for help as they eye an indifferent or grouchy-looking employee. If your employees don’t make it clear through their words, voice tone, facial expressions, and body language that they are eager to help, people are likely to go elsewhere to get their questions answered — and to get the products or services they need.
I’ll take my business where I’m not seen as an inconvenience
For instance, I recently found myself deciding to switch from using a particular big box store’s photo printing services to using mail order, because I’d grown tired of dealing with disinterested employees who act like you’re inconveniencing them by asking for your photos.
So back to Johnny…
As always, Johnny looked friendly and easy going, so I approached him and asked if he had anything with alcohol that might take the ink off my hands. He smiled and said he had something that would do the trick. He reached into the supply closet and handed me a spray bottle.
I took it into the men’s room and sprayed some on my ink smear. It washed off like I had never seen ink wash off before.
I put some on a paper towel for my messenger bag’s ink spot, walked out, handed Johny the bottle, told him it rocked, thanked him, and returned to my table. I took my cleaner-soaked paper towel and worked on the messenger bag.
Creating a “Tell others about what happened to me” experience
About a minute later, Johnny came over with the bottle and a rag and started working away on my bag! When he was done, we talked a bit about the miracle product.
I thanked him again and told him how blown away I was by his going above and beyond, and he went on his way.
Wanting to let the general manager know about my experience, I asked his name from the lady to whom I paid my bill. She told me and, smiling, commented on what a wonderful person he is.
As if I wasn’t impressed enough by the thoughtfulness and graciousness of an employee whose job wasn’t to directly interface with customers, I got one more dose of great customer service while walking to my car: A young man who changes the oil said, “Have a great day, sir!”
I found myself smiling as I got into my car and left.
It wasn’t simply because of the positive interactions I had at the dealership. While that felt nice, what made it even more of an upper was because it is such a pleasure — and a rarity — to find businesses that seem to “get it” that there are NO bit parts when it comes to customer service.
There are no “extras” no “bit players” when it comes to customer service and when it comes to your brand. Customer service is truly an ensemble act. Everybody plays an important role in your brand, in what people think, and how they feel, about your business.
As Scott Bedbury, former brand manager at Nike and Starbucks writes about in It’s a New Brand World: “Everything Matters” when it comes to your brand. Every interaction with the public matters in fashioning what people think about — and how they feel about — your brand.
In the auto business, all it takes is a gruff technician or disinterested service counter rep to taint an otherwise positive experience and impression.
What about your team: Is everybody playing their role?
As you scan your team, can you say that everybody represents your brand and delivers on your brand promise?
If not, here’s what you need to do:
Make sure you know how to describe what your brand looks and sounds like in real life — for each position. In my experience working with managers, most have great room for improvement in communicating this vision. (Note: It’s not meant as a slam against managers, most people have trouble communicating in concrete, “create a movie in the listener’s minds” way, and instead stick to abstract characterizations like, “I want you to make the customer feel important” or “I want you to WOW the customer.” While that’s fine as a start, it then needs to be followed by “So, what I mean by that…” or “So for example…” and then followed by detailed examples and scenarios.)
Acknowledge awesome with specificity. When you see examples of employees providing great customer service and delivering on your brand promise in an exceptional way, be sure to let them know you noticed and specifically what you appreciated.
Make constructive feedback immediate, specific, and collaborative. When you see someone falling short, let them know as soon as possible. Waiting makes it so much harder for the person to reflect insightfully on what they did, as many of the nuances of the situation are lost over time. Before you give your feedback, ask them to assess how they handled the situation. If they accurately assess they didn’t handle it well, ask them how they would recommend handling it in the future. This helps them feel more like they are being treated as an adult — like an elite athlete talking with their coach — rather than a child being scolded. This increases the likelihood of them being open to your feedback and learning.
Capture stories of your brand promise in action like Ritz Carlton does. Stories of employees demonstrating customer service excellence and your brand promise in action achieve two important results:
- First, they inspire other employees to raise their standards. Excellence inspires.
- Second, they provide a highly usable teachable moment. Stories told well are like virtual reality training videos. As you describe the scenario, listeners can see it unfold in their mind, almost like they’re watching a training video on great customer service. As Chip and Dan Heath of Made to Stick fame described so perfectly, “Stories provide both inspiration and simulation.”
Use lots of stories illustrating your brand promise in action in your new hire orientation. Let your new hires know from the outset what you expect and what you are promising the public they will experience when they do business with you.
Ask employees to be on the lookout for great examples of both internal and external customer service and to share them with a “Keeper of the Stories.” This accomplishes several important goals. It helps employees heighten their awareness of great customer service and what your brand promise looks like. Because it does this, it makes their work more interesting and, because they are sharing it with a Keeper of the Stories, it shows that they get to use their brains in a way that directly affects your business’s success. Both learning and growing on the job and seeing that your input matters are two major sources of motivation and employee engagement. The Keeper of the Stories should archive them in a searchable keyword database (I just use a two column Word document) so they can be easily found and used.
Use these stories in all aspects of attracting, recruiting, hiring, and the employee experience. Use these stories to show job candidates “This is the quality of people you get to work with here”, “This is the quality of person we are looking for” and “This is a glimpse into our culture.” Include these stories in your team meetings, as Ritz Carlton does. In fact they have brief huddles each day which include “Wow Stories.”
Share this article with your managers and your individual contributors. Help them help you help your business. Help them understand that everybody matters and involve them in implementing these recommendations and generating others that can help each and every employee deliver your brand promise.