Customer Service Polarities

How often are you positively WOW’ed by the customer service you experience? According to Tempkin’s new customer service ratings, the best service providers include USAA in banking, credit cards, and insurance categories, Chick-Fil-A in the fast food category, and Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and Publix in the supermarket category.

This week brought examples of great and not so great customer service. Customer service is mediocre at best in our day to day experiences. It typically takes something really amazingly good and on target for us to be impressed at the service experience.

And, it typically takes something amazingly bad and off target for us to notice how awful the service experience is.

The great service experience was shared by Marsha Collier, best selling author and radio host. Marsha’s daughter Susan Dickman was born on August 7. Marsha, her husband Curt, and Susan celebrated Susan’s birthday at Morton’s, a steakhouse outside of LA.

Morton’s restaurants around the USA are renowned for great food, great ambiance, and great service. Marsha posted a picture (at right) of the menu the wait staff provided to their group. Boldly printed across the top: “Happy Birthday, Susan!”

That effort is one of many ways Morton’s creates service excellence. For this restaurant, it was a simple, inexpensive customization of that night’s menu for that one table. For Marsha, Curt, and Susan, it was a personal, caring touch that helped make their customer experience awesome.

The challenge that service providers like Morton’s face is that one slip-up can undermine the aligned behavior of a dozen colleagues. If the meal wasn’t perfectly prepared or of top quality or the wait staff interactions weren’t kind or if the chefs began arguing loudly in the open kitchen, that personalized menu alone would not have saved the day.

On the same evening, at about the same time, three states away, a very different service experience was found in a remote mountain community.

Our client had booked six rooms for band members at an independently run motel in town. After setting up our gear and completing our sound check, four of us rushed over to check in, change clothes, and head back for the Friday show.

One of my bandmates engaged the lone staff member at the registration counter in the lobby. The receptionist was remarkably, casually, completely rude and dismissive.

She was disturbed that we didn’t have a confirmation number, even after told that our client didn’t provide it to us.

When I attempted to engage with her, she said calmly, “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to him.”

My bandmate was pleasant yet persistent. We got five rooms (better than nothing during the town’s major tourist event). When got my key card, I asked the receptionist to direct me to my room. She said, “I already told him (pointing to my bandmate).”

Other guests were waiting in line to check in. They observed her behavior and knew they’d get more of the same.

The rooms were dated but quiet and comfortable. The band had stayed in much lesser quality lodging during the past nine years of performing together. We all agreed, though, that we’d never seen a receptionist that treated guests – us – so completely badly. It was world class awful.

The challenge that service providers like this local motel face is that one bad hire – that “gatekeeper” receptionist – can undermine the aligned behavior of a dozen colleagues. It didn’t matter that the rooms were quiet and comfortable – the damage had been done.

The second night we stayed at a B&B that was booked solid on Friday. The owner was delighted to host the band and wished she’d had room for us our first night in town (especially after we told her of our experience at the motel).

Two completely opposite customer experiences happened, one great, one lousy. The stories of both experiences get told and repeated far and wide.

Customer service matters. Your business will thrive if you’re able to align every player, every practice, and every interaction to service values.

What is your experience? How much attention is paid in your organization to the customer experience? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Marsha Collier. All rights reserved.

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