So much is written about customer service -- books, magazine articles, white papers and, of course, posts on blogs, including this one.
We talk about listening, how to get and evaluate feedback, and encouraging conversation with customers. But today, unexpectedly, I heard The Secret for outstanding customer service.
I wasn't at a seminar, nor was I talking to a customer service guru or a B-school professor. I heard The Secret from a friend who doesn't have an MBA. He didn't go to college. In fact, he didn't finish high school.
My friend Eric has been serving customers all of his working life. For many years, he was a successful salesman for large commercial printers. When the printing business dried up in New York, he became the night manager for a gas station, For the past dozen years, he's been the night manager at a busy all-night diner in rural Putnam County, about 60 miles north of New York City.
Eric stopped by my house to visit today, and he was talking about happenings at his diner. As I listened to him explaining how he instructs his staff to treat customers, and how he deals with customer relations problems that arise from time to time, I realized I was hearing wisdom from a very astute customer relations person.
And I realized that The Secret is as obvious as the nose on your face. Yet, so many companies get it totally wrong, including many of the biggest businesses around. Like me, you can probably count on one hand how many businesses do an outstanding job in serving their customers. And it's the rare company that can take a service problem and transform it into a positive customer experience that both solves the problem and creates a loyal customer who can become an advocate for that business.
Treat the customer just the way you would like to be treated.
It's so obvious and simple that it's almost laughable. The business version of the Golden Rule.
Why, then, do so many organizations get it so wrong? Why can't they train their employees to put themselves into the customer's place?
Maybe they're too hung up with process. Or profits. Or cost-containment. All are important, of course, but without good customer service, you don't really have much to offer.
Perhaps a good training program for new employees would be to put them through a typical customer experience at that company. If it's a retail store or a restaurant, have them shop or dine. If it's a company's incoming call center to place orders or get help, have them make some calls and see how they're treated. Then, review the customer service experience with them and ask how, under ideal circumstances, they'd like to be treated.
Their answer is what they should strive for on the job all the time. Companies that realize The Secret and try to adhere to it stand a better chance at offering good service and profiting in the long run.
Think about it, and thank my friend Eric. He's there behind the cash register most late nights at the diner in Lake Carmel, NY.