The Secret To Extraordinary Customer Service Revealed [Essay]

 

20090921162049It’s always tough coming back from summer holiday.  It takes a few days to get back into gear and out of the all powerful “holiday mode.”  Well, after a few days of reluctant adjustment I’m happy to report that I’m fully back in “work mode.”

But it wasn’t easy, especially after being pampered for three weeks at the glorious JW Marriott Mau Khao resort in Phuket.  This is the fourth time we’ve been there in the past 6 years, and I have to say I’ve never experienced customer service better than in this resort, and I’ve had the privilege of staying in many hotels and resorts around the world.

The JW (and the Ritz-Carlton, owned by Marriott) have always been my heroes when it came to customer service, and I’ve always tried to immolate them in the businesses I’ve started over the years. Judging by the feedback I’ve gotten from our customers over the years, I would say that I’ve been successful most of the time.

So what’s the secret to providing great customer service? Harken unto me and I shall reveal the secret.

It All Starts with Hiring The Right People

If there is one activity that is hugely undervalued here in the Middle East it’s the hiring process.  Too many people hire the first person that walks through the door.  Companies like the JW, Ritz-Carlton, Zappos etc. conduct very many interviews just to hire one person.  I’ve often had to interview 20 people to hire that one gem.

So what should you look for?  You should look for people who enjoy interacting with, and serving others.  You hire “people people” that have a natural tendency to smile.  By conducting two to four interviews per candidate, carried out by different members of your team, you will be able to identify the service-oriented people.  I’ve been telling my Team for years that we look for dolphins not sharks.  Dolphins are social and stay in groups, whereas sharks work alone and are ruthless.  You cannot turn sharks into dolphins, so you’ve got to make sure you hire right.  Make sense?

 

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This amazing beach is part of the JW Phuket’s remarkable customer experience.

You Cannot Separate Customer Experience From Employee Experience

I’ve seen it way too many times, business owners are frustrated by the poor level of customer service their employees provide, so they end up chastising them or trying to intimidate them into providing good customer service (which pretty much summarises most of the businesses in the Middle East).

They’ve got it all wrong, the simple secret is to treat team members like gold, and they in turn will treat the customer like gold.  I’ve always looked at my team as my most valuable asset, and it’s always paid off in multiples.  Having happy employees is the biggest secret to providing amazing customer service.

Training Training And More Training!

Though having happy employees is vital, what’s the point of having happy people if they’re not trained?  They need several types of training.  First, they need to be trained on your culture and values.  It’s important to set expectations from Day One.  Second, they need specific training to do their job.  Third, you need to provide ongoing training, forever!  This should also include scenario training.  I’ve always conducted weekly internal training sessions using our manuals in my B2C businesses, here in Falak Consulting we’re doing monthly and quarterly training. Lastly, you need to provide external training once or twice a year.

Training should never be seen as a cost but rather a competitive advantage.  Like I said, I’ve been going back to the JW in Phuket over and over and spending money there because of the amazing customer service.

Subtle beauty wherever you happen to look.

Subtle beauty wherever you happen to look.

Map Out And Plan All Customer Touch Points

Let’s say you own a restaurant, you need to map out what the customer will experience when they first walk in.  How will they be greeted?  Should the first thing the employee says really be “do you have a reservation?”  How is the customer taken to the table and by whom?  What happens next?  This process separates the world-class companies from all the rest.  Some years ago, while my Team and I were conducting an operations review, we debated for over an hour on whether our Team Member should stand up or remain seated when a customer walks in!  That’s how seriously we took this process.

The JW excels at this and nothing is left to chance.  Your five senses are always positively stimulated and wherever you look there is a vase with fresh flowers sitting in the corner, and there is always someone ready to serve.

Empowerment

This is the final piece of the puzzle.  In order to really provide amazing customer experiences your team needs to be empowered to make decisions.   The Ritz-Carlton is the only hotel group to have won the prestigious, world-renowned Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice.

Each employee at a Ritz-Carlton hotel can spend up to $2,000 a day per guest to solve problems and not just satisfy their guests, but to wow them with “legendary” service.

According to TalentPlus.com:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s excellent reputation for customer service and its low employee turnover rate compared with other organizations in the hospitality industry is renowned. Its phenomenal success can be summed up in three phrases: a comprehensive employee screening process, significant employee orientation and ongoing training, and a high level of respect and trust in staff that leads to employee empowerment.

In his report, Making Employee Empowerment a Reality at Your Club, author Ed Rehkopf says:

A few companies have truly embraced the concept of empowerment and have discovered the immense power and synergy that can be unleashed when employees participate more fully in their operations. Any employee at a Ritz-Carlton hotel can spend up to $2,000 a day per guest to solve problems and not just satisfy their guests, but to wow them with “legendary” service.

Further, highly successful companies who engage their employees in developing work processes and continual process improvement have discovered that these empowered employees make indispensable partners in delivering service. Not only do they have a greater stake in the enterprise and are more fully committed to and responsible for their work, they actually equate their purpose and success with that of their company.

Motivation and morale in such companies is sky-high without gimmicks or periodic campaigns by management. These employees are energized by their involvement and sense of contribution. Again, we point to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, whose employees are passionate about their service to guests and fellow employees and whose loyalty to their employer is as legendary as their service.

Conclusion: 

Great customer service is about hiring great people, training them, treating them well and empowering them to take action.  Do this and you’ll be way ahead of your competition.

Thanks for reading and talk soon.

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