BY SUSAN ROSEThis past summer, I was excited to be among the first to dine at the newest location of a restaurant that my family enjoys, one that we frequent because they accommodate those with various dietary preferences and restrictions through small menu modifications. Trust me, that’s not an easy feat when my party includes a vegan and a gluten-intolerant individual dining at the same table. The evening was going to be a pleasant one, free of surprises, a no-brainer.
But it wasn’t. Because management was eager to extend the same atmosphere and service that the original eatery was famous for, the training of the new team was rigid and intense—and it showed. The wait staff, while extremely pleasant and attentive, were somewhat inflexible in accepting our minor special requests. They weren’t rude—quite the contrary—but resolute to their “no substitutions” policy even when involving a supervisor. The adjustments would cost them nothing except an extra dish or two to wash. It was also toward the end of the night so the kitchen wasn’t overwhelmed with orders so much that our asks would be a burden. Most of us left unsatisfied, and months later we have returned to neither the original nor the new location.
While customer service in a restaurant isn’t exactly the same as what our industry delivers, it’s an equivalent principle: Your company really is only as good as your last meal—or ride. You likely already know that customers are fickle. Why haven’t we returned? Because that positive, fun environment that we anticipated and, frankly, took for granted was interrupted. Why did it take us months to reach out to the manager who knew our family for years? Because it felt like work and was uncomfortable for some of us to address. No one really wanted to speak badly about what was already a nerve-racking gamble for business owners we respect. The conversation (on the phone) was hard but worth it—it was a miscommunication during training—and they have since clarified their guidelines with staff. Who knows how many customers didn’t return because of something so simple like that.
That’s why it really is a gift when a longtime customer complains: You then have an immediate chance to fix it. In this case, the customer service was OK; the customer experience, however, was impacted. What’s the difference?
Customer service is a lot like falling in love: It means something different to everyone, you’ll have to try things with numerous people, and you’ll discard plenty of potentials who did everything right but just weren’t the best fit. In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to apply to your company, but once you found what clicks with each customer, they tend to be loyal while always expecting that level of attention. They will, however, stray if another offers them something better. Things like consistency, reliability, transparency, expedience, trust, and respect are all vital here because you are building that foundation. It’s the benchmark that all companies within the industry should be meeting.
Customer experience, on the other hand, is the spark that keeps them coming back, or what makes your company unique. It’s the warm feeling they get when thinking about your brand, the pride they have when happily recommending you, and the reassurance they feel when dealing with your business. Customer service is the server (who can range from meh to fantastic), while customer experience is the exception to the “no substitutions” policy.
Know Thy Customer
In the case of a transportation company, it’s not just the trip that makes the experience but (in most cases) the total package that you deliver, from the reservations process to the final bill. More than that, it’s understanding your customer and anticipating their needs in every aspect of your company, not just in the back of the vehicle. Yes, your reservationists should know as much about the client as the chauffeur, through meticulous files. It’s knowing their deal-breakers and addressing shortfalls quickly. It’s empowering your staff to quickly calm a customer when the inevitable problem does arise (we’re human, after all). Speed is critical to recovery, so you should give your staff the maximum delegation of authority or have a system in place so that it is resolved as efficiently as possible. Time has become extremely critical in these days of instant gratification.
Think about the companies that consistently rate high or come to mind when someone asks for a suggestion. You can probably name a handful, even local businesses. Companies that often come to mind are Amazon, Apple, and Costco, because they connect well with their ideal customers on a visceral level. Target and Wal-Mart have a lot of crossover when it comes to products, but Target has branded itself well as a youthful, cooler place to shop. Wal-Mart hasn’t quite shed its image of being a purely budget retailer.
Seek Feedback, Concisely
You’ve known for years that post-trip surveys help improve not just your overall service but, more importantly, the relationship you have with that particular customer. Everyone’s pain points are different because every person’s needs are different, so conducting those brief surveys can build a picture of what that customer wants and needs. Most of all, if a client actually does complete it, pay attention to them, and make those changes!
Everyone Sells, But...
The “customer experience” concept is an extension of the “everyone sells” idea. While each department within your organization may not be directly related to traditional sales, each touchpoint is an opportunity for the customer to fall further in love with your service. However, if you think hard selling is the job of everyone from your chauffeur to your accounting manager, you may be turning off more customers than capturing additional business.
“Customer experience is the spark that keeps them coming back, or what makes your company unique. It’s the warm feeling they get when thinking about your brand, the pride they have when happily recommending you, and the reassurance they feel when dealing with your business.”
Consider my recent trip to a vehicle service facility. I was treated like a queen when I arrived. The door was opened for me, I received a discount off the special advertised price (which is what got me in the door in the first place), and they were within walking distance of my office. There were some subtle suggestions for additional services, but nothing excessive. The hard sell came later when I was called about picking up my car: The attendant grew ruder as I declined services he thought were necessary because of the mileage, not knowing they were recently done. My pain point, in this case, was the runaround with a service center—a leftover from my days as a poor college student keeping a jalopy running. Much to my surprise, the facility took the phone survey I completed to heart and sent me a personalized letter apologizing for their behavior along with a coupon for a second chance at winning me over. Customer service was sending a follow-up coupon; the customer experience was the personal letter acknowledging my issues and thanking me for bringing them to their attention.
Flexibility With Consistency
Imbuing your staff with a level of authority when it comes to customer requests is normally a good thing—unless you fail to update your client’s file. John, your star chauffeur, may be most requested, but what happens when he’s out for back surgery? Will Pete, another superstar, be rated lower because he didn’t know that Mrs. Jones prefers her water to be room temperature rather than the traditional cold? Or that John receives high marks because he hands out free vouchers for a client’s theater, against your company rules? Make sure that your extension of customer service is reasonable and easily achievable for each member of your team—but most of all, that it’s documented and communicated with anyone who works with that client!
Of course, there are those customers who will never, ever be satisfied with anything you do—while continuing to use your service. That’s when some handy acting skills can help. It’s tough to plaster a smile on your face and fight back spouting some choice words when dealing with an impetuous customer, but giving in to their manipulative behavior is just what they want. With some patience and preparation, you can teach your staff some coping mechanisms to remain professional despite a cranky passenger. [CD1117]