Monday, February 23, 2009

Extreme Customer Service

The third annual ranking of Customer Service Champs by Business Week ( was recently published. It is always interesting to see who gets recognition and why. Many familiar names are on are the list, Amazon at #1, Zappos at #7 and Marriott at #25. This issue devoted to customer service answers how customer service is relevant in this shrinking economy. I think these thoughts will help you see the reason certain organizations are deemed champs.

Ace Vice President John Venhuizen says, “During tough times there are plenty of other pressures customers face. We don’t want customer service to be what makes them blow their cork.”

Simon Cooper, COO of Ritz Carlton, noted that with occupancy rates falling, “you have to better because you are forced to.” I find that comment so enlightening as most organizations use a slowdown in business to only make excuses about their lousy customer service.

Zappos continues to innovate especially for their best customers. CEO Tony Hsieh has decided to invest more in their most loyal customers. They are offering a VIP service for them – a special website that offers early access to sales and new products as well as overnight shipping. Hsieh understands the repeat customer deserves special treatment.

How refreshing to see some companies do know today’s customer wants an experience and needs to feel valued. As Business Week reports, ”the best performers are actually doing more to safeguard service in this recession.”

What is your mindset? How do you rank among the top performers? When we do come out of this recession, will your customers remember that you put them first?

Make something good happen today.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Your Attitude Is Showing

In this marketplace, you can not afford to have a poor attitude showing to your customers. What are your employees saying when you are not listening?

I have to admit my jaw dropped when I heard this on a recent flight. This was a ComAir (operated as a Delta codeshare) flight out of Cincinnati. I was getting settled in my seat and it was nearing departure time. Some passengers were starting to switch seats for more comfort as it appeared all the passengers had boarded. Then all of a sudden a large group of passengers arrived late and started to board. Well you can see the confusion as their assigned seat had someone in it. The flight attendant was called over to help. At that point, the late arrivals started to say they had been at the gate and waiting for the announcement to board, then questioned the agent who did not know this flight had been called. It sounded like they had every right to defend their late arrival.

However the flight attendant decided to show her frustration to her customers. Here was her announcement over the PA system – “As you can tell, the gate agents here have no idea what they are doing so I recommend you write Delta. They always welcome your comments and you may get a $75 voucher. Let them know about this lovely experience.”

I can understand her irritation as she and the crew are trying to get a flight out on time. However her professionalism and judgment were sorely lacking. Employees are the face of your organization. What “face” will show up today and represent you? Do you know what is going on when you are not there? It is time to be more vigilant.

Make something good happen today.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Magic of Chick fil A

What is the magic?
Chick fil A just reported their system-wide sales numbers for 2008. It is their 16th year of straight year of double digit growth. Now I know you are thinking in this economy fast food is one of the few companies reporting profits. But the 16 year figure and same store sales up by 4.6 percent indicates this is not a company simply benefiting from people watching their dollars. And how did they accomplish this?

Customer service seems to be their trump card. They are rolling out an initiative called “second mile” service. The first mile is already solidly in place. This includes basics such as a clean parking lot, smiling faces and great food. Employees also say “it’s my pleasure” when responding to a customer thank you. That is a lot better than what I mostly hear when I say thank you and the most common response is “no problem”.

So what can a fast food restaurant do to go the second mile? The second mile is teaching staff more etiquette and encouraging a walk through the dining room to check on guest’s needs. I was recently approached and asked, “May I refresh your beverage?”, now that was a surprise. Truett Cathy, the founder and owner of this 63 year old business, says they are always tweaking and refining. He poses these 2 questions, how do you stay relevant with the customer? And how do you continue to reshape and retool the business?

Now is a good time to ask those questions for your own business. Think for a moment, this is fast food – a business with limited face time with the customers yet they have figured out how to create very loyal customers. What have you done lately to create second mile service? This stuff works. I even have my favorite Chick fil A where I love to be served by Sair at the drive through and am hugely disappointed when he is not there – that is fierce customer loyalty.

Make something good happen today.