Tag Archives | customer service

Rules of Engagement: 3 Disciplines of Exceptional Customer Service

For most of my 32-year business career, I have been a student of customer service. I’ve read numerous books, listened to countless podcasts and recently attended a workshop entitled “Memorable Customer Service” by Ritz Carlton, one of the world’s top customer service organizations.

In distilling all the content I’ve consumed together with the real world experience of operating our automobile dealerships, I’ve discovered there are three key ingredients–three solid pillars upon which exceptional customer service is built. Regardless of size and scale, from “solopreneurs” to multinational corporations, creating a true customer-driven organization rests on these foundations.

1) Conspicuous Hospitality. Have you ever walked into a place of business–perhaps your favorite restaurant, grocery store or cafe–and immediately felt like you were at the home of some close friends? As I shared in a recent post, there’s a difference between service and hospitality. Good service has become a consumer expectation, but hospitality goes much farther by making an emotional connection with customers. Conspicuous hospitality sends the signal that says, “We are so glad you’re here,” laying the groundwork for a lifetime relationship. World class restauranteur Danny Meyer goes so far as to describe his eateries as “hospitality boxes.” “We’re not selling food,” he says. “We’re selling happiness and emotional comfort.” That’s conspicuous hospitality.

2) Genuine Curiosity. I recall a well-known sales trainer saying,“The most interesting person in the world is the one who makes you think you’re the most interesting person in the world.” That’s a great description of curiosity. Genuine curiosity begins with looking outward verses inward. Psychologists refer to this as “social awareness,” or the ability to sense the feelings and perspectives of others. One of the most important examples of genuine curiosity is simply noticing things. In my business, it’s the service advisor who, while checking his customer’s car, notices a bumper sticker or another detail that indicates the customer has children in dance, is a military veteran, loves to fly fish, etc. Or it’s the salesperson who remembers the dream vacation her customers were planning the month after they picked up their car—and calls to see how it went. The best way to measure your own level of genuine curiosity? After your next social engagement, compare the amount of time you spend talking verses listening. (That can be very convicting for most of us!)

3) Radical Responsiveness. How many times have you been on the receiving end of broken promises or unmet expectations from service providers? From missed deadlines or unreturned phone calls to a feeling of indifference you often sense from untrained customer service reps, a lack of responsiveness can sabotage even the most loyal customer connections. True customer service pros, however, give off a perceptible but subtle sense of urgency in their communication, sending the signal, “I know how important this is to you, and you can count on me to do what I say I will do.” Radical responsiveness is keeping your customers consistently informed, checking in unexpectedly, and anticipating your customer’s unexpressed needs.

Great customer service organizations have an intuitive understanding of these three behavioral attributes. One of the best in the world is Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom who built their iconic brand around amazing stories of customer service heroics. Check out the Nordstrom video and as you watch, notice how each of these three customer service skills are displayed.

How would you rate your business–or yourself–in practicing these three skills of great customer service? What would it mean to your success to radically improve the level of customer service you currently provide?

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5 Key Practices of Great Hospitalians

Having spent countless hours researching, training, and championing customer service in our 300+ employee company for the past decade, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is the vast difference between service and hospitality.

Most people view them as interchangeable. They’re not. There’s a big difference  between the two and knowing the difference can give you a huge advantage in building both your business and your personal brand.

Service is what you do for somebody.

Service at a restaurant or hotel is hot food on warm plates, valet parking, or 24-hour on-call concierge. In my business, it’s fixing your car right the first time, having it ready when we said it would be ready, or offering free pickup and delivery within the city limits. Excellent service is important, but it’s not enough.

Hospitality is how you make people feel.

Hospitality goes well beyond service. It is impacting the way a customer experiences the interaction, delivering the emotional connection you make with your customers. Renowned restauranteur Danny Meyer describes it like this:

“If a waiter puts a spoon on the left side of the table I’m sitting at, this is service. But if a waiter remembers that I didn’t like the big spoon with my soup last time I was at their restaurant, that’s hospitality. Service is a monologue. Hospitality is a dialogue.”

In my business, it’s the service advisor who, while checking in her customer’s vehicle, notices a bumper sticker or something else in the car that indicates the customer has children in dance, or is a military veteran or a fly fisherman, etc. Or the salesperson who remembers the dream vacation his customers were planning the month after they picked up their car—and then calls to see how their trip went.

Great customer service doesn’t always feel good. But great hospitality AND customer service always feels good.

In the digital age, as more and more customer service becomes commoditized, hospitality is a powerful strategy to differentiate your business from the competition. It’s also the most effective way to build your personal brand. High hospitality people practice the following habits with passionate consistency:
1. They are curious, always asking probing questions and demonstrating genuine interest in others.
2. They are high in emotional intelligence, starting with self -awareness.
3. They consistently display optimism and kindness.
4. They demonstrate a high level of empathy.
5. They have a growth mindset, always willing to put themselves out there to learn new skills and make new connections.

Perhaps the best attribute of hospitality is that it can be employed by any business or individual, anywhere. Although it may seem simple, it’s not easy. Authentic hospitality requires the consistent practice of presence; of looking out verses looking inward, taking the focus off yourself. Danny Meyer could not have said it better:

“You may think, as I once did, that I’m primarily in the business of serving good food. Actually, though, food is secondary to something that matters even more. In the end, what’s most meaningful is creating positive, uplifting outcomes for human experiences and human relationships. Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard.”

With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s a great time to start thinking about how being a “hospitalian” means presenting the best version of yourself; thinking of yourself less and putting others first, even family members who may get on our last nerve during holiday gatherings!

How can you put aside your need for affirmation and gratitude and commit to becoming a “hospitalian”? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

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Power Talking: Get Those “Buts” Out Of Your Mouth

I’m always looking for new customer service training ideas. Whenever I’m out in the marketplace–in restaurants, retail stores, community events, etc.–I’ve got my radar on for real life examples (both good and bad) that I can use for future sessions. And one of the simple behavior patterns I’ve noticed that separates exceptional customer service practitioners from their mediocre counterparts is vocabulary.

True customer service pros are what I call “power talkers.” They deliberately refrain from using weak, indecisive words and phrases and instead respond to customers with language that injects clarity, focus, and positive expectations into their conversations.

Words have power | Power talking

For example, consider how one simple, everyday word can weaken communication:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon, BUT we won’t have it done until tomorrow.”

“We received your request BUT the person who handles your account isn’t here today.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, BUT his computer skills are weak.”

Notice how the word “but” negates everything that was said before it. This weak word saps all the energy from the conversation. How many times have you heard, “Yes, but…” and felt deflated knowing that your idea or comment is about to get a rebuttal?

Words have power | Power talking

A more powerful and energetic alternative is to replace the word “but” with “and.” Notice how it changes things:

“We can schedule your car for service this afternoon AND we will have that for you by noon tomorrow.”

“We received your request AND I will have the person who handles your account call you when she returns tomorrow.”

“Robert is an excellent communicator, AND he is developing his computer skills.”

If you’re seriously committed to building a strong personal brand, delivering exceptional customer service, and continually sharpening your leadership skills, the words you use matter. “Power Talking” is based on this simple but powerful truth: The words we use shape the outcomes we create in serving customers–and in everyday life.

Try it: I guarantee these simple changes in language will add substance and impact to the perceptions you create.

“Power Talking” is based on three principles of human communication:

1. People judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases you use in your everyday communication. Consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will cause people to respond more positively to you.

2. The people you want to influence–your customers, co-workers, children, etc.–take cues from your language when deciding whether or not they will cooperate with you. While some words or phrases unconsciously sabotage our efforts to work with other people, others are extremely effective.

3. The words you use when talking to and about yourself help to shape your own self-image and they translate to your actions and behaviors.

Here are some examples of each of these principles from my own experiences:

At a recent auto retailing conference, one of the presenters–a successful car dealer–opened by saying, “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not much of a public speaker.” Can you guess how his presentation went? It was awful.

Overhearing a phone call from an employee to a late-paying customer, she said, “I was wondering if you could send in your payment sometime soon.” A better way to get cooperation would be to simply ask, “When may I expect your payment?”

Responding to a “When will my car be done?” inquiry from an anxious customer, a service advisor said, “It should be done sometime tomorrow afternoon.” Instead of projecting such an unclear expectation, a better response would have been: “It will be done by 3pm tomorrow.” (Then have it done by noon and exceed the customer’s expectations.)

Although each of these examples seem simple, becoming a “power talker” is not easy. Years of cultural conditioning can weaken our diction, corrupt our clarity, and suck the life blood out of our communication.

Words have power | Power talking

Finally, together with “But,” here are five more popular powerless words and phrases to eliminate from your vocabulary:

1. Try. Known as “the king of wimpy,” try carries with it no commitment at all. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Try, no. Do, or do not. There is no try.” Instead, be clear…and be firm. Candor and honesty will go much farther to build trust with your customer than “trying” ever will.

2. Have to. In customer service, saying “I’ll have to…” implies that serving your customer is going to be a burden, as in “I’ll have to check the availability and call you back.” Replace this negative line with the hospitable phrase, “I’ll be glad to…”

3. Basically. Together with “like,” “you know,” “well,” and a host of others, “basically” is what I call a “filler word” that serves no purpose; eliminate it–just say what you plan to say.

4. To be honest with you. When you hear this from someone, doesn’t it make you wonder, “Does this mean he is usually not honest?” Remove it–and simply say what you’re planning to say.

5. Should. When someone in customer service tells you, “I should have it done by…” how confident are you in such a weak commitment? Be decisive–say, “I will have it done by…” then over-deliver on your promise.

Remember, people judge you–and you judge them–based on the words and phrases used in your everyday communication. Regardless of your line of work, consciously eliminating negative, powerless expressions and projecting a more positive, resourceful image will welcome people to respond more positively to you.

Which powerless words and phrases do you encounter most often?

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Change Your Smile… Change Your Life

Recently, I came across a 2011 Ted Talk by Ron Gutman called The Hidden Impact of Smiling, he shares some fascinating research on this most basic human expression. Consider these findings:

  • A 30-year University of California study found that, by measuring the length of students’ smiles in a 1950’s high school yearbook, they could predict the duration of their marriages as well as how well they would score in standardized tests of happiness and self fulfillment.
  • A 2010 Wayne State University study of pre-1950’s Major League Baseball cards found that players who smiled in their photo lived an average of eight years longer than those who didn’t smile.
  • According to British researchers, smiling produces the same neurological stimulation as receiving up to $16 lbs sterling in cash. (approximately $25,000).
  • The simple act of smiling has been found to measurably reduce the amount of stress-producing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline while increasing brain-enhancing endorphins.

Last spring, in an article titled Smiling for Dollars in Dealer Magazine, automotive marketing expert Jim Boldebook described a study conducted by a psychology professor at a university in upstate New York involving three Albany, NY auto dealerships. The study focused exclusively on exploring what the professor termed the “smile factor” of sales consultants in influencing transactions. The results revealed that the sales consultants who smiled the most had a 20% higher conversion rate and 10% higher average gross profit per transaction than those who smiled the least.

While it’s self evident that smiling is associated with happiness and a greater sense of well being, this research goes much further; namely, that smiling more means living longer, having stronger relationships — even earning more income.

So how’s your “smile IQ?”

via MOMcircle

For example, of the sixteen-plus hours you spend awake every day, how much of that time do you spend smiling? When you approach a stranger walking down the street, do you wait for them to smile first before smiling back, or do you initiate the exchange of smiles? Does it matter?

If you believe even half of Gutman’s findings, it not only matters, it has life-changing potential.

Based on these surprising facts, what would it mean to the quality of your life if you smiled more frequently? Here’s a challenge: Change your smile… Change your life. Take ten minutes every day during the next week to intentionally focus on smiling, wherever you are — even if you’re alone (researchers have found that smiling enhances your mood). Then let me know how it goes!

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