(Sir) Richard Branson gets it. That’s why he’s been more successful at starting, growing, and profiting from his businesses than you, me, and hundreds of our most successful friends and associates put together. Here “it” is, in his own words:
Making customer service key to your company will keep your employees motivated and your customers happy. This in turn ensures enduring loyalty, business success, and a better experience for everyone.
Who can argue with this simple truism? No matter your business, make customer service the key focus. I’d say doing this has worked pretty well for Richard Branson.
The waiter at Fore Street restaurant in Portland, Maine was just doing his job. I ordered my Bombay Sapphire martini a little dirty, just as I had hundreds of times before at hundreds of other bars and restaurants. As we waited for our drinks to be delivered, my wife and I took in the workman rustic yet urban chic decor of the place located a block off the Portland waterfront. The menu looked appetizing, the servers appeared to be attentive, our bar area conversational seating was comfortable, and our overall impression of the restaurant was very good. But we’d been to very good places before, and, as much as Fore Street had going for it, we would likely park it in our memory as one along the way of hundreds of similar-yet-different very good places to spend some time.
And then our waiter returned with our drinks. I immediately noticed the olive in mine. One single olive, in all its natural olive-ness. Not stuffed, not pitted. And, it still had a stem on it. Call me sheltered, but up until that moment I had never seen an olive with a stem on it. I asked the waiter about it and he replied that when someone ordered a drink as specifically as I had, he assumed they would appreciate a genuine olive, including a stem. He said it wasn’t easy to find an olive with a stem since most of theirs came without one, but he figured it was worth the little extra trouble to add the subtle touch.
While the olive stem certainly caught my attention, it was the extra effort taken by the waiter — on his own initiative — that left the real impression on me. And out of the dozen or so restaurants we had patronized on our trip to Portland, Fore Street jumped to the head of the pack as a direct result. That small gesture by that waiter became a key differentiating touch point for the Fore Street brand.
Your front line people — sometimes the lowest paid of your staff — are the face of your brand every day. The delivery person, cashier, stocking clerk, waiter, technician, etc. They’re your real brand ambassadors and can make or break your brand — and your business — with a single action.
Do they know what your brand identity is and how, specifically, they are supposed to deliver it with every customer or prospect interaction they have? Even more importantly, do YOU know what your brand identity is? Something to think about over your next martini.
My daughter had a recent interaction with no-frills Spirit Airlines. It didn’t go well. The short story: Tampa to Chicago by way of Dallas. Mechanical delay in Dallas, very poor communications to waiting passengers at the gate, eventual cancellation of the flight after further delays, and a sorry-for-your-trouble $7 airport meal voucher and offer to refund airfare and return passengers to their originating point. Huh?
Now I don’t know for sure, but I imagine Spirit Airlines is in the business of generating a profit by efficiently and safely moving passengers from point A to point B. If they had done so in this case, all would be right in the world for those 100+ would-be passengers and they’d likely be repeat customers. Spirit Airlines customers no doubt understand the “no-frills” part of their agreement with the carrier when they buy their cheap ticket. So, nothing was really expected of the airline beyond getting those customers from place to place. But, even given the expectation for only that most basic service, Spirit failed. And considering all the other customer service-related opportunities they botched in this one small incident, management (I”m talking to you, Mr. Sr VP/COO hanging out at the Miramar FL headquarters) should be ashamed.
Which led me to this simple truth for any business: if you just do what you’re supposed to do — even at its most basic level — you’re well on your way to business success. Sounds simple, but many of your competitors — and maybe even your own business — could do a better job of this. And then, when you add small things that make a customer’s experience with your basic product or service even better, you’ll be king of the hill.
I recently stopped by a local restaurant for a late Friday night dinner. The hours posted on the front door indicated they closed at 10pm. I was in good shape as it was only 9:15. Wrong. As I tried to open the door, a staff member inside the place just stared at me through the door and waved me off, pointing to her watch as she did so. The last thing I wanted was to force the issue and have someone add an unpleasant secret ingredient to my meal, so I shrugged and moved on.
Become a master at what you’re in business to do, at its most basic form. You’ll be surprised how much further ahead you’ll be, how customer loyalty increases, how referral business grows, and how easy it is to layer in differentiating features and services to what you do.
Sadly, there are many companies like Spirit Airlines and they come and go all the time. Learn from their shameful actions and your business will be around for the long haul.
Are they versed in the decisive, differentiated advantage your brand delivers compared to competitive offerings (your brand position)? Do they know the nuances of the benefits your brand provides to your customers (your brand value proposition)? Can they speak to the big picture of what your brand stands for (the brand vision and values statements)?
If they do know all of this, are they actively and correctly living and breathing it in the way they deliver the brand experience?
If you’re not sure, you should find out (ask your employees about it all). If things aren’t hunky-dory, you need to get everyone on board, singing from the same page in the same hymnal. And (gasp!) if you haven’t thought through all of these things yourself and proactively developed and strategically crafted your brand identity, now’s the time. Because the very success of your business depends on it.
After all, isn’t that success why you show up to bust your butt at work every day?
Called a seldom-used vendor the other day to request a quote on a small project. Auto-attendant prompted me to dial my party’s extension if I knew it (I didn’t) or the department I wished to speak with (I picked one from the choices provided). Was placed in a call queue as all representatives were currently busy with other customers, but, I was assured, my call would be answered as soon as someone became available. A few seconds later, I was greeted with “Steve” so-and so’s voice mail. Steve’s voice sounded pleasant enough on the phone so I planned to leave a message for him to call me back. Except immediately after the beep prompt, another recorded voice came on the line and said, “That mail box is full. Goodbye.”
And that was the end of the call. Not by my choice, but by theirs. Humph.
I immediately went to another vendor who gladly took my order (and my money).
Have you tried calling your own customer service lines lately? You just might find yourself in your own version of phone hell. If so, fix it. Fix it fast as if your business depended on it. Because it does.