After an unplanned hiatus from much airline travel, I have recently begun once again frequenting the “friendly skies.” As with many service businesses, I am struck by the wide variance in customer service among the airlines. While some companies acted like they were doing me a favor to let me travel with them, others actually made traveling fun. Having been involved with service businesses for almost twenty years, I am fascinated by how some companies seem to make customer service look so easy while most others glaringly fall short.
Shining examples of stellar service include Chic-fil-A, Southwest, and, of course, Disney. In fact, a friend recently shared with me a classic Disney experience. After several tense minutes at the front desk trying to check into their room, they were shocked to find out that they had been randomly picked to be upgraded to a luxurious suite for their weeklong stay. That’s service! No telling how many people they have shared that positive Disney experience with.
What’s the secret? Why do some companies just seem to do it better than others? On individual basis, it obviously starts with great people. I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about an airline pilot who displays exemplary customer service. Capt. Flanagan routinely takes pictures of stowed pets to let the owners know they are on board and safe; calls the parents of children traveling alone to reassure them; and writes notes on his business card to first class passengers to thank them for their business. In fact, when storms detour his flights to unplanned destinations, he will often call ahead and order food for his weary passengers. If only the rest of United Airlines’ pilots shared his passion they would dominate the market.
John Dijulius in his book Secret Service gives us some great practical guidance. Dijulius has studied many of the great customer service companies and applied their best practices in his multi-location spa/salon business located outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Using practical illustrations, he examines what truly allows some companies to excel. He describes how every company has their own customer experience cycle. For example, how does a prospective customer first interact with your business? How is your product or service delivered? What follow up occurs with each customer? Diagramming this process will allow you to see what your particular business’ customer experience cycle looks like and who plays the critical roles in its success. Only then can you design a world class customer experience cycle that you can implement in your business.
Creating the Experience
Almost every business can benefit from enhancing their customer’s experience. Think about your own interactions as a customer. Where was the last place that made you say Wow! Where did you last stop and take note of the outstanding service that was being provided? Was it at your physician’s office or car repair shop? Was it maybe during your last dining experience or retail excursion? Think further about who consistently Wow’s you. Where can you go time and time again and feel like you are truly appreciated and taken care of as a customer? Disappointingly, in my experience, there are too few of these. The key for business owners is creating a quality and repeatable customer experience.
Moving Past Good Intentions
Most business owners I know want to please their customers. They know that their customers are the lifeblood of their business. The problem is that great customer service is great in theory but tremendously difficult to consistently execute on. I see many companies that start off with high aspirations and great intentions regarding customer service. However, for many business owners, the day to day demands of payroll, rent, and staffing tend to overshadow proactive customer service activities. Before losing hope, remember that it can happen – you really can have great customer service. The key is to put yourself in the shoes of your customers and truly understand your company’s unique customer experience cycle. Once you design a great customer experience, then it takes good hiring, lots of training, and accountability systems to make this a reality. Customer service can’t be left up to chance but must become a non-negotiable systemic part of your business. Applying these and other customer service best practices will help you create a competitive edge in the marketplace.