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Monday, June 29, 2009

World-Class Customer Service -- is it about YOU or the SERVICE?

Several times during my previous careers, I was instructed to set realistic expectations for my customers:
~In the Army, when we set up equipment in support of the Division Headquarters, and we were being evaluated, we were supposed to do so efficiently and effectively. However, when my guys pre-positioned some items (way out of the ordinary) to make our setup time even faster, my boss, who was also observing, said "way to you've just set an unrealistic expectation that you're going to have to meet every time now...".

~In the temporary services business, one time when the owner was taking an order over the phone, I had just had the perfect temp leave the office so I called her immediately and filled the order over the phone before the owner even finished getting all the details. I yelled "filled" whiled she was still on the phone. She shot me a dirty look and I was confused. When she got off the phone she said, "you were lucky this time and you know it often takes a lot longer to find a good temp for our customers. If you let the customers know how quickly you can fill an order...when everything works out've set the expectation that you can fill them all that fast."
I took lessons, like those above, very seriously. In later years, when my staff would come to me asking to do something out of the ordinary for a customer, I would often agree because I wanted our customers to have the best. BUT, I would always say, "make sure they know you're doing them a favor." That way the customers weren't given unrealistic expectations and it made us look like we were giving the customers something special.

RECENTLY, however, I listened to a speaker and author named John DiJulius ( who really confused me. He asked a theoretical question to the group:


1. Tell the customer that he or she is in the office at the wrong time and offer to reschedule them.
2. Tell the customer that he or she is in the office at the wrong time, but that you value them so you tell them that you'll work them in.
3. Welcome the customer just as if this was the time they were supposed to be in your office and never let them know they had made any mistakes.
Well, the answer, according to Mr. DiJulius, is #3, provide your customer the best experience possible and never let on about anything. But, how will they know the hoops you jumped through? How will they know you've done extra for them? This was hard for me because it's not the answer I would have picked. I would have picked #2 and felt really good about it. The thing is, by choosing numbers 1 or 2, I've let my customer know that he or she messed up...that they were wrong. That doesn't sound so good.

I wonder if I have been missing the point. Have I been looking at these types of situations as opportunities focused on solely on world-class service or have I really been focused on making my team and me look good?

The more I think about it, the more I'm sure John DiJulius is right. It's about service...plain and simple. I guess I can kind of equate it to "if you help your people succeed, you don't have to worry about making yourself look good, because you're peoples' success will make you look good, too."

So maybe we can apply the same with service. If we just worry about providing the absolute best service we can (which includes making others feel good about themselves), we don't have to worry about making ourselves look good. That will be a natural by-product of our positive actions.

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