Treat Customers Like Family

Everyone has a customer. The question is–are you in the customer service business or the customer processing business?

Just like everybody else on this earth, you are in the customer service business. You make your living selling something to someone, whether it is goods or services. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO, a retail sales clerk, or a stay-at-home Dad, you’ve got a customer somewhere. In fact you may have several customers inside and outside the organization you’re working in.

Unfortunately, customer service is more the exception than the rule. We’ve gotten used to a clerk waiting on us when she gets around to it, and we’ve come to expect airline announcements about “short delays” to be nothing more than a lie. No wonder you and I say “Wow” when we encounter an individual who really understands and delivers quality customer service.

The very fact that you’re reading this tells me you want to serve customers. You want to do more than just process customers, going from one to the next as quickly and impersonally as possible.

That being the case, you need to remember that customer service starts in your head. CUSTOMER SERVICE IS NOT A DEPARTMENT; IT’S AN ATTITUDE. In other words, you need to see every customer as a guest in your home, not as a pest in your department.

Lots of people don’t even get past this first step. They’ve got a lousy attitude. I remember the sign I saw hanging in a restaurant that read, “I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow is not looking good either.” I’m sure they meant it as a joke, but it’s not funny. That’s exactly how lots of employees feel, and that’s exactly how lots of customers are treated.

People with this attitude try to do as little as possible. They wouldn’t want to be inconvenienced. They’ll stand around talking to their coworkers, for example, instead of waiting on the customer browsing through the store. If you ask me, people like that, people who don’t do more than they’re paid to do aren’t worth what they’re being paid to do.

Presuming you have the right attitude, you’ve then got to take the right actions. I can’t go into all of them right now. That’s what my 275-page book discusses, but let’s start with a few things.

First, TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS LIKE YOU’D TREAT YOUR FAMILY. That’s what Kent Williams, Senior Vice President at the USAA Insurance Company, does. As an example, he tells about the time an elderly Mrs. Lawless called. She was sick and without her medicine, and she was freezing in her New York home amidst a winter storm.

She got Stephanie Valadez, one of the reps at USAA on the phone. Mrs. Lawless said, “My husband told me that if I ever had a problem and didn’t know where else to turn, I should call USAA. He said you would take care of me.” Valadez put the woman on hold, got the Red Cross on the line, and made sure Mrs. Lawless got some help.

But here’s the wonderful thing. When Mrs. Lawless phoned in and Valadez called up her computer file, she found that Mr. Lawless had passed away, leaving no policy in force. A lot of companies would have hung up on Mrs. Lawless at that point, but hanging up is not the way you treat your family. As Kent Williams says, “That’s what we mean when we say customer service is a relationship, not a transaction.”

Second, MAKE LIFE A BIT EASIER FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS. Afterall, your customers came to you to get their problems solved, not to have you give them more problems. So think before you react. Will your actions, your policies, your responses make life better or worse for your customers?

Danny Meyer, President of the Union Square Hospitality Group, is in the restaurant business. He says you go beyond customer service to hospitality if the customers leave there feeling the staff is “on their side.” It could be as simple as noticing a customer debating over a veal or lamb entree, and you bring a small taste of each to help her decide.

And Tony Fujta, Vice President of Parts and Service Customer Satisfaction Training at Lexus, has found a unique way to make life easier for Lexus customers. Because there are fewer than 200 dealers in the United States, many of their customers must drive hundreds of miles to buy a Lexus. When they need routine service, they don’t want to drive all the way back to the original dealer. So Mr. Fujita started a new service. They converted some of their trailers into mobile service stations they can roll into a customer’s driveway.

Finally, COMMUNICATE CONSTANTLY. Never leave a customer wondering what’s happening. Communicate every step of the way. Even if you have nothing more to report than the fact there will be a delay, communicate that. Remember, almost any response is better than no response. The very fact you’re communicating says you care and they’re important. As Yap Kim Wah, the Senior Vice President of Singapore Airlines, says, “That kind of personal attention makes all the difference in the world.” And he should know, because Singapore Airlines has been rated the number one airline in the world, year after year after year.

Action:  For one day, have everyone on your team take on the reverse-Clint Eastwood challenge. Instead of looking for someone to make your day, devote an entire eight hours doing things that will make your customer’s day. Then get together as a team and have each person report one good thing that happened. I guarantee it will be a fun, uplifting meeting.