For anyone who’s lived outside of the country, it is pretty obvious that the definition of customer service is not universal. Once, while waiting to be seated at a beautiful café on the shores of the Mediterranean, another patron cut in line and was promptly shown to a table by the hostess. I gave the hostess an inquiring look and she told me in no uncertain terms that if I wanted a seat I needed to make sure I was at the front of the line. This experience was typical of the customer service I received during my time abroad. These memories stand in sharp contrast with another experience from the same business trip. On my return flight, I had a small layover in JFK, and decided to indulge in that most American of traditions; a Dunkin donut. The line was orderly and efficient, and when I reached the front I was greeted by a smiling, happy (by all appearance), Dunkin Donuts employee who kindly welcomed me to the establishment and asked me what I would like to order. Once she’d taken my order, she then proceeded to smile at my jokes and in remarkably short order, served up a delicious Bavarian Crème donut and orange juice. The experience was painless, and all the more remarkable when I realize the best customer service I had received in the past three months was at a Dunkin Donuts in a dirty New York City airport, at 6:30 in the morning.
Customer service does not have to be elaborate. I believe effective customer service is founded on remarkably simple principles, and is all the more meaningful because of it. Good customer service boils down to four simple principles; be polite, listen to your customer, make a record of what your customer is asking for, and deliver what you said you would in a timely manner.
- Be polite: My pregnant wife had a terrible experience at a tire shop. I called the proprietor to discuss the issue, and ended up speaking with the on-call manager. He made no effort to apologize, and indicated the reason my wife was treated in such a way was because they were the busiest tire shop in town. I understand busy, and would have accepted that as an answer if the manager had been polite when he relayed the message. The owner of the establishment contacted me after overhearing the last few seconds of the manager’s call to apologize. I appreciated the follow up by the owner, but the tire shop is now less “busy” by one customer. Be polite to your customers. We have a saying at Property Solutions: Be Excellent to Each Other. Treat your residents, co-workers, employees and vendors with the same respect you would expect, and you’ll be amazed at the results.
- Listen: Once, while living in Taiwan, I stopped at what might have been the most amazing beef noodle shop in the world. The food was outstanding, the service was not. I indicated I wanted less hot sauce in my soup, and was promptly told that I would like it better “this way.” I did not. Listen to your customers. If you really understand what your customer wants, you are more than halfway to delivering it.
- Record: Thomas Edison is said to have kept over four thousand different note books. If the guy who invented the lightbulb found value in taking notes, I’m confident it can help improve our ability to assist our customers. It may sound simple, but one of the most important keys to ensuring your customer is satisfied with their experience is to make a record of your interaction with them. This record may be simple; a one word note indicating a desire for a Bavarian Crème donut, or it may be complex; like a comprehensive lead tracking software. The important part is keeping a record so you are able to remember exactly what your customer wants, and can then deliver on their request.
- Deliver: My wife and I recently baby sat two little nieces and a nephew. With our daughter, there were four children under the age of four running wild in a small house. I suggested pizza, because what little kid doesn’t love pizza? We called the local pizza shop, and were promised delivery in thirty minutes or less. An hour and a half later, the pizza finally arrived. Five hungry kids (I am including myself) waiting ninety minutes for pizza is not a recipe for fun. When you commit to a customer, deliver what you say you will, when you say you will. If you can’t get me a pizza in thirty minutes, don’t tell me you can. If you promise your resident you are going to have their sink fixed tomorrow, make sure their sink is fixed tomorrow. Delivering what you promise in a timely manner is the most difficult piece of the customer service puzzle. However, the principle is simple; if you’ve committed to a customer, move heaven and earth in order to deliver.
Be polite, listen, record and deliver; four simple steps which can serve as very real differentiators for you and your organization’s customer service. I do not pretend to have a silver bullet which will immediately destroy any impediments to creating and establishing the perfect customer service apparatus, however, I do know that customer service does not have to be complicated. Honestly, it boils down to treating people the way you would like to be treated, and not the way an angry beef noodle chef from Taipei would treat them.