By Ron Kaufman, author of “Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet”
We love receiving great customer service. That’s no surprise. But did you know that great service can actually elicit a physical reaction? Well, it can! A recent American Express Service Study found that 63 percent of its 1,620 respondents said they felt an increased heart rate when they just thought about great service. And for 53 percent of those studied, great service caused them to have the same cerebral response that results from feeling loved. The trick, of course, is developing a customer service team that has the skills to provide such an overwhelming reaction amongst your customers.
The truth is, in many of today’s industries and many of the world’s biggest companies, service can be downright disappointing. We spend hours on hold when we just need an answer to a simple question. Store clerks seem angry with us when we tell them a mistake was made. And the list could go on and on.
If you want to combat this at your business, you have to make providing great service a point of pride for your employees. Service is taking action to create value for someone else—and when that is the driving force for your staff and your organization, everyone will be happier.
What can you do right now to strengthen your service team? Read on for some tips from Kaufman:
1. Give them the leeway to make in-the-moment decisions.
“Empowerment” is a buzzword in business, and in theory, we all understand that improved service is unlikely to happen inside or outside of an organization without it. Yet many leaders and employees seem to fear it. If a leader is not confident in her people, she doesn’t want to empower them with greater authority or a larger budget. And if an employee is not confident in his abilities and decisions, he often does not want the responsibility of being empowered.
Don’t overcomplicate service. Work with your employees to switch their focus from ‘What should I do?’ to ‘Who am I serving and what do they value?’ And then let them know you trust them to make the right decision so that they feel empowered to act. If an employee feels a customer should get a discount, either because a mistake was made or because they’re a great and loyal customer, then let them. You can monitor this system by reviewing situations with your team to ensure that in-the-moment decisions lead to the result everyone wants: happy and loyal customers, confident staff, and a successful organization.
2. Have mistake meet-ups.
Another big part of empowerment is demystifying the fear that comes along with making a mistake.
Have a meeting and say, ‘We want learning from mistakes to be part of our culture’. Have your leaders kick off the meeting by saying, ‘I’ll go first. Here’s the biggest mistake I made last week. Here’s what I learned from it. What can I learn from you?’ Then, everyone shares in that way, and, boy, does that make them feel safer. It gives them the freedom to try new ideas and to take new actions.
3. Eradicate cumbersome policies and procedures.
In my book “Uplifting Service“, I wrote about an experience I had while dining at a luxury resort in California. The waiter explained that there was a special menu that night, spotlighting several of the chef’s signature dishes. But my guests were vegetarians and had nothing to choose from on the menu, and I had been craving a particular salmon salad. So we asked to order from the regular menu. Obviously uncomfortable, the waiter whispered, “If you go back to your room and order room service, then you can order the salmon salad or anything else on the [room service] menu, but I can’t serve you those choices here tonight.
In trying to spotlight the chef’s menu, the restaurant had created a major roadblock for the people who worked there — the waiter wasn’t given permission to serve! Like this waiter, most frontline staff members are taught to follow policies and procedures and are hesitant to ‘break the rules.’ Yet some rules should be broken, changed, or at least seriously bent from time to time.
4. Acknowledge achievements.
Compliments are highly motivating and inspire employees to keep coming up with newer and better service ideas. That’s why you should a) actively solicit feedback from customers, and b) regularly share positive comments with employees. The great thing about acknowledging achievements is that you can get a big impact out of simple actions. For example, simply saying, “Thank you!” to an employee who handled a customer well or tweeting a message about the employee of the week can go a long way.
LUX* Resorts excels at acknowledging employee achievements. This group of hotels and resorts located in the Indian Ocean has a STAR Program. Through the program, each month, one team member from each resort wins and is awarded. Then, at a companywide gathering at the end of the year, the STARs are honored, and each hotel awards a STAR Team Member of the Year. It is all part of CEO Paul Jones’s firm belief in cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
In addition to this great program, LUX* Maldives implemented an Instant Recognition Program. When a team member goes above and beyond the call of duty, they have the opportunity to receive a STAR CARD, which can be redeemed at one of the resort’s team tuck shops or cafes. Both programs have been very well received by LUX* employees and have played a role in the hotel group’s ability to rocket to service success in recent years.
5. Educate and inspire them to serve each other.
When most companies set out to fix their service issues, they start with customer-facing employees. Big mistake. The fact is, frontline service people cannot give better service when they themselves aren’t being served internally.
When I worked with Air Mauritius to kick off its service revolution, they started by addressing the communication problems in its dysfunctional culture, which manifested as bickering, finger-pointing, withholding information, etc.
First they had to realize that everyone on staff either directly serves the customer or serves those who serve the customer. Everyone had to embrace the service improvement mindset — engineering, ground staff, the technical crew, registration and sales, people at the counters, people at the gate area, people on the aircraft. That meant they had to serve each other as well as the customer.
6. Teach them to solicit customer feedback at various points of contact.
Asking, “Is there anything we can do better for you the next time?” accomplishes two important objectives. First, you gather valuable ideas. Second, you get the customer thinking about doing repeat business… the next time.
Even if a customer doesn’t have a recommendation, trust that they’ll be glad your employee cared enough to ask. When an employee engages a customer in this way, it’s yet another way to say, ‘We value you. We want to provide you with the best possible service and we would be delighted to serve you again.’ It also shows your customers that you aren’t afraid of improvement. It shows just how dedicated you are to delivering on your promise of uplifting service.
7. Help them find ways to UP service.
Imagine you are going up a ski lift and accidentally drop one of your gloves or ski poles into the woods below. At Deer Valley Ski Resort in Utah, the staff help you find the missing item and then give you a coupon for a free hot chocolate. Ski on! A new Italian restaurant announced their grand opening with great fanfare in the press. Every table was reserved weeks in advance. On opening night, the ovens broke down and could not be restarted! The restaurant served an elegant buffet of cold dishes and plenty of wine. All free!
And here’s an example from my own personal experience. I had a bad experience on an international airline many years ago. I wrote in to complain. They sent me back a very nice letter with a $50 voucher attached! Is that a crazy waste of money? Not at all. It cost me hundreds more to buy a ticket and use the voucher. Plus, they got me back on board another flight to give the airline another chance. Today, years later, I am still a frequent flyer.
These are great examples of businesses going the extra mile for their customers, and it’s important that you help your employees develop this kind of thinking. In your next staff meeting, review a few customer service recovery interactions, even those that went well. Then, have your staff brainstorm ways the recovery could have been improved.
8. Train them to tell customers what they will do.
When there is a mistake or mishap, explain what steps you will take and when you will get back in touch with the results. Thank them for giving you the opportunity to set things right.
Of course, the first step when a mistake has been made, or even just when a customer perceives that a mistake was made, is to apologize. Once you’ve apologized, provide any useful information you can about what will happen next. Ask them if they have any questions and answer them to the best of your ability. If you don’t have an answer, let them know what steps you’re going to take to find it.
And finally, show you are sincere about your commitment to do well in the areas the customer values. At the very least, you can say, ‘I’m going to make sure everyone in the company hears your story. We don’t want this to happen again.’ When you express the company’s desire to improve, you start on the path to rebuilding its credibility with the customer.
9. Encourage them to develop their own signature service touch.
Sometimes small service touches can have a big impact. Here’s a fundamental truth of service: Small changes can lead to big leaps in customer perception — and they don’t have to be costly at all.
For example, Air Mauritius had captains to start greeting passengers as they board the plane. This small gesture creates a huge impression of welcome and respect for passengers. It also asked captains to provide memorable information as they fly over certain areas — like descriptions of cities, landmarks, volcanoes, and so forth. This literally turned flights into uniquely guided tours. Passengers loved these changes.
10. Provide a weekly service thought.
Post or email a message about the importance of service or how to improve service each week. It can be as simple as an inspiring quote or a link to an article with an example of great service.
This is something that LUX* Maldives has done very successfully. At the resort, every Monday morning the Training and QA Teams share a ‘weekly service thought,’ which highlights the importance of service or an idea around how to improve service. Not only does the weekly thought inspire employees, it also gets everyone on the same page and discussing the same service ideas.
The resort also sends out a daily quote. And they’ve become so popular that if the resort manager misses a day, he gets calls from his staff members asking where the daily quote is. They value getting this daily motivation on how to be better and serve others better.
11. Emphasize service with new hires.
Unfortunately, many company orientation programs are far from uplifting. Often they are little more than robotic introductions: This is your desk; this is your password; those are your colleagues; these are the tools, systems, and processes we use; I am your boss; and if you have any questions, ask. Welcome to the organization. Now get to work. These basic introductions and inductions are important, but they don’t connect new employees to the company or the service culture in a welcoming and motivating way.
LUX* Maldives structures its orientation program around service. They don’t waste time boring new hires with policies and procedures. Instead, 60 percent of new hire orientation is about service and providing a quality guest experience. And orientation is just the beginning of a LUX* employee’s service education. In 2014-2015, LUX* provided an average of 75 service training hours to its employees. And of course, as employee training has improved, so have guest satisfaction scores. LUX* Resorts & Hotels has a Market Matrix Guest Satisfaction Percentage group average of 90.9 percent.
Developing service-minded, service-driven employees will be worth every ounce of energy you put into it. When you take steps to build a strong service team, everyone is fully engaged, encouraging each other, improving the customer experience, and making the company more successful.
Ron Kaufman is the author of ”Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet“. He is the world’s premiere thought leader, educator, and motivator for uplifting customer service and building service cultures in many of the world’s largest and most respected organizations, including Singapore Airlines, Nokia Siemens Networks, Citibank, Microsoft, and Xerox. He is the founder of UP! Your Service, a global service education and management consultancy firm with offices in the United States and Singapore.