Customer Service Champions Outserve And Outlast The Competition

“It is not your customer’s job to remember you. It is your responsibility to make sure they don’t have the chance to forget you.”
Alan Zimmerman

When I ask my audiences to name the companies that provide some of the best service in the country, their lists are remarkably similar. People seem to know where they can expect exceptional service and they also seem to know where they’ll get mediocre service. After all, people ALWAYS talk about the service they receive.

That being the case … wouldn’t you want to know what it takes to give exceptional service day after day after day? Of course, you would. You’ll find some of the answers from a unique person I recently interviewed and you’ll find the rest of the answers in my book, “The Service Payoff: How Customer Service Champions Outserve And Outlast The Competition.”

This special, unique person I’m talking about works for one of those companies that is always listed as one of the very best in customer service. But he didn’t start out there, in some glamorous company.

He started out in a regular job, just like most people do. He began his work life as a cook for Pizza Hut but he was so skilled that the company promoted him to the position of supervisor in less than three months. From there he went on to a career with the New York Department of Transportation, starting out as an hourly employee but he was soon promoted to the position of Regional Supervisor. From there he made major career changes, from working with Amway to managing a farm. Today you’ll find him in the position of a world renowned massage therapist at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Indeed, at the Ritz, out of their hundreds and thousands of employees, he was selected as the “Five-Star Employee Of The Year,” and during the last 11 years, he has been nominated four more times for the same award. In fact, at their recent awards ceremony, one of the executives referred to Herb Torres as their “resident nominee,” because he has been nominated or selected as the very best in customer service more than almost anyone else.

So I sat down with Herb Torres to learn some of the “secrets” of a world-class customer service champion at a world-class company like the Ritz Carlton. I wanted to know what he does to become the most requested massage therapist, with the highest sales per month, and the highest customer retention. I knew some of his secrets would apply to your work as well. This is what Herb told me.

1. Being good is not good enough.

There are a lot of “good” customer service providers out there. But in today’s highly competitive market place, the only way to rise to the top is to be exceptional.

So Herb is continually reading to improve not only his craft (massage) but his communication (people skills).

Now it would be easy to think that a person of his caliber, who has won so much recognition for his customer service, could sit back and take it easy. Why would HE need to keep on going to classes and reading books?

Because he is extremely humble … like all true customer service champions. As Herb put it, when he is nominated time after time for employee of the year, “I am uncomfortable because I know that I am nowhere near where I ought to be.”

In other words, he knows that there’s always so much more to learn and so much room for improvement. And he diligently pursues that. Could the same thing be said about you and the service you provide?

I hope so. Customer service champions are inevitably humble and forever improving.

By contrast, I’ve noticed that service providers … who are NOT service champions … often have a distorted view of themselves and the service they provide. When they get a customer complaint, they’ll say something as stupid as “What right does that customer have to complain about the work I do? I’ve been doing this job for years. What does he know about this anyway?”

Instead of working on getting better at the service he provides, the non-service champion simply defends what he’s doing by saying that’s the way he’s always done his job.

To be a service champion, Herb quoted the Bible that says, “Study to show yourself approved.” You may never be perfect, but you can always make progress … if you keep on reading and learning about customer service and all the skills attached to that noble profession.

2. First impressions count, and last impressions last.

They count BIG TIME. Herb says when he first encounters a customer, he knows he’s got 5 to 10 seconds to make a great impression. He’s got 5 to 10 seconds during which his customer will decide whether or not he likes and accepts him. And he’s got 30 seconds as he walks the customer into the room where he/she will receive the massage … 30 seconds to establish a bond of trust and comfort.

That’s a lot to accomplish in a very short period of time. So I asked Herb how he accomplished all of that in a few precious seconds. He said there are several things you can do.

Immediately welcome the customer. He doesn’t wait for the customer to come to him while he leans against the wall or sits behind the counter. No, he walks over to the customer, greets him, and escorts him to the massage room. Contrast that to the service you get in some stores where the clerk waits for you to come to him or says what you’re looking for is over there, as he points nonchalantly.

Use your body language to show real interest. Stand erect rather than slouch. Look the customer in the eye instead of looking at the floor, your computer screen, or whatever else that has captured your attention. Let your entire body say, “I’m here to serve you and nothing right now at this very moment is more important than helping you.”

Listen. Really listen. In Herb’s case, he listens for every ache, pain, and stress that has led his customer to seek out massage therapy. And then, like a true professional, he formulates a plan of treatment that addresses those EXACT needs. He tells his customer what he plans to do during the massage and why he will be using certain techniques.

When they’re all finished, Herb reiterates what the client told him in the beginning and how this particular massage session was customized for those very issues. This review builds a tremendous bond of trust with the customer. He/she goes away feeling like this is one service provider who truly listened, truly cared, and truly delivered. Perhaps that’s why Herb is the most requested massage therapist at the Ritz Carlton.

The good news is … none of these “secrets” revealed by Herb are unique to Herb. In other words, he’s doing things that anybody can do and should be doing. The result is a huge payoff. That’s why I called my book “The Service Payoff: How Customer Service Champions Outserve And Outlast The Competition.” I suggest you get a copy for yourself and everybody else on your team.

3. Never take rejection personally.

Herb said there have been several times when people have come into the spa to get a massage but they’ll tell the spa director they don’t want a male masseur, or they don’t a Hispanic, or they don’t want Herb, for whatever unknown reason. A person could take that personally … which leads to a fear of rejection … which turns into the fear of failure … which inevitably leads to failure.

Not Herb. He simply tells himself the customer’s rejection has nothing to do with him. The customer might prefer a female masseuse, or a different massage therapist, or a person who takes a different approach. It doesn’t matter. The customer is not rejecting Herb personally; she has simply got her own agenda or her mind made up in a different way. So he lets it go. He doesn’t let his/her rejection tone down his enthusiasm, his self-esteem, or his professionalism.

And the same thing should be said about you. No matter what job you hold and no matter what type of customers you encounter internally or externally, there will be times the customer rejects you. So be it. Just don’t take it personally.

In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret of mine along these lines … a little secret that has preserved my attitude and my effectiveness year after year … and works like magic in a mere second. When I call on a prospective customer and he/she has no interest in one of my programs for one of their meetings, when a customer tells me “no,” I just tell myself the magic word “Next.” I don’t wallow in self-pity and wonder what’s wrong with me. I just tell myself “Next” and go on to the next prospect that will find value in what I do.

Try it. It’s a great technique.

Herb Torres is a world class customer service champion. And you can be one also … if you do the same three things Herb is doing. But you’ve GOT to do these things … not just know these things.

When we came to the end of the interview, I asked Herb to summarize all of his years of experience as a service provider and what it takes to become a service champion and remain a service champion. He said it could be summarized in two words … “aggressive hospitality.”

Action:  What are you doing … or could you do … to be aggressively hospitable in the service you offer?