December 03, 2008

Excellent Customer Service?

Consider for a moment the organizations that are known to have some of the best customer service in their industries. These might include Southwest airlines, where flying is an experience, not just a means to get you from point A to B, Starbucks, or Walt Disney World. Whenever I hear stories about customer service that goes above and beyond the expected or anticipated, I try to identify why it is the case.

Is it because these organizations dictate a consistent customer service model to the front-line staff, ensuring that every customer experience follows a rigid protocol that is the same every single time? Or, could it be that these organizations cultivate in their employees and volunteers the importance that doing the right thing for the customer is far greater than maintaining the status-quo? Are the companies and non-profits (yes, you have customers too) that are providing the greatest service seeking empowerment of their employees, allowing them to react to the unique needs of each customer, as opposed to enforcing the dogmatic corporate culture of the organization?

My thought is that the organizations that are consistently delivering outstanding customer service are those that understand that people, regardless of who they are, have value. Each individual that comes through the doors (or visits a website), possess their own unique passion, gifts, and mission. However, as much as these organizations value the paying customer, they value the customer that they are paying no less. Everyone from the janitor to the highest paid executives has a customer that they are there each day to support and serve. Not only do they realize and understand that the customer is valued and important, they actually believe it. When it comes down to it, serving others is the key.

If we are truly going to deliver the best service possible to our customers, we must empower those that are getting it done to deliver that unique customer experience, even when it directly opposes the written laws of the enterprise. Sure, we can place strict guidelines in place, saying that every customer should be greeted by name, and every customer should be given some indication that they have entered the establishment within a certain number of seconds. However, the key to excellent customer service comes down to people. Treating people with dignity and respect. In reality, it is not so much a corporate thing as it is a human thing.

I respect you, not because you are going to give me money in exchange for a good or service, but because you are a person, just like me. I provide you service that is out of this world, not because you are an employee that deserves great benefits for the work that you do, but because you are a person who is giving your own time and energy to my cause, and as such, you deserve to be compensated. Treating people with respect and dignity. That is what customer service is in the long run.

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