Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Customer Service Secret #109: Make Your Clients Feel Important.

Good customer service starts by getting inside your customer's head.There is something to be said for being a known entity.

There I was, walking into my favorite Starbucks shop on Vista Way. The sun was out for a change, the wind had died down, and my mind was wandering amongst the 7 different things that I needed to accomplish today. As I walked in, there were a few people in the shop sitting at the various tables, but no one was standing in line. That is when I noticed Sarah standing behind the counter sliding a large (venti) coffee forward.

As I got to the counter, I looked at the coffee, looked at her and said, “This isn’t for me, is it?”

“Yes it is.” She replied with a smile. “I saw you coming across the parking lot.”

Not a big event, but it did stand out in my mind.

Can we call this customer service?

Yes!

And it was a very different experience.

Over a year ago, Time-Warner Cable took over the assets of Adelphia. In the process, they launched an ad campaign that focused on changing the perceptions of the customer base. I’m making an educated guess here, but in my opinion, the message they were intending to deliver was that there was a new sheriff in town and they were going to put the ”customer” back in “customer service”. The television ad that got the lion share of the airtime, however, sent another message. Again, this is only my opinion based on my observations.

This particular ad had one of their women customer service reps going through her normal everyday life. In every encounter she had with another person, she asked questions that just did not fit the circumstance. I do not know about you, but when I am in the grocery checkout lane, I don’t say to the cashier, “How may I help you?” When I answer the door to greet a smiling Girl Scout selling her cookies, I don’t say, “I’ll need to verify your account. What is your mother’s maiden name?”

So, what’s the message I got out of all of this?

“Our people are inflexible and incapable of independent thought. They do everything we tell them to do and we do everything by the book. We can’t do anything outside of normal established procedure and you, dear customer, are all the same to us.”

As I sit back and reflect on these events, my thoughts turn back to something I read, or rather heard, in Tom Peter’s book, Re-Imagine. According to Peters’:

“The quality of everything is terrific. Things that work are not usual. Things that don’t work are unusual. We are afloat, awash, adrift in a sea of sameness. High quality sameness, but sameness none-the-less. …”

He goes on to say:

“The surplus society has a surplus of similar companies employing similar people with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas producing similar things with similar prices and similar quality. I call all this the 10x 10 phenomenon. 10 times better, 10 times less different.”

And finally:

“… to succeed we must stop being so normal. In a winner-take-all world, normal equals nothing.”

The point being here is that there are plenty of corporate people out there chasing after common definitions established by the experts. Customer service in particular is defined as “service with a smile”, “the customer is always right”, “saying please and thank you”, and “making the customer feel welcome”. Not that there is anything wrong with these ideals, but there’s nothing special about them either: everybody does them. They are the norm.

Here is what I find remarkable about the Starbucks stores. They don’t play by the book, at least not by the standardized customer support book that most other organizations use. Their people make up the rules as they go along and in the process, they make their customers feel special. They make me feel special every time I go into one of their stores. It doesn’t matter which store I visit. I could be up in Willoughby where a partner once remarked, “We haven’t seen you in a month. I’m glad your back.” Or I could be down in ValleyView where a partner went out of her way to find me a discontinued venti travel cup because I wanted to “go green” with 20 oz of java instead of the usual 16 oz.

Doesn’t matter where I go. The crew takes time to know their clients—to make them known quantities, and provide them with outstanding, individualized, personalized service, making their clients feel important in the process.

Everybody wants to feel important. In spite of all of the rhetoric about being treated equally, people want to be recognized for their individuality. In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie’s 9th principle states that we should, “Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.” He didn’t write, “Make other people feel important”, nor did he write, “Make everybody feel important”. He wrote, “Make the other person feel important”. This principle is very specific in its application. The specificity is the secret sauce that makes the most impact.

Take the time to know your clients. Turn them into known quantities. And by providing them with individualized, personalized service, you will succeed in making them feel important.

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