Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category


Scenography: A Ritz-Carlton Secret For Creating A Magical Customer Experience

A frustration I have as a customer service consultant is the difficulty of convincing business leaders I work with to think in a less transactional, less fractured manner about the customer experience, to correct their misconception that improving independent pieces of the customer experience in isolation is sufficient, as if customers will logically tally up every aspect of working with their company and then dispassionately rate it.

This, of course, isn’t how the customer mind–the human mind–operates. Instead, a customer either decides that she enjoys being your customer or decides that she doesn’t. Your challenge in business, therefore, is to create this state of enjoyment for your customers: to envision what pleasure looks like for your customer and then­–and only then–get to work on the individual pieces that will make up this whole.

One approach I’ve had success with in getting this through the heads of leaders is to ask them to think of directing a movie with their customer as the star.  Once you decide to direct such a movie, and to put the customer (rather than your business, its processes, its internal org chart) in the starring role, we can get to work creating a tremendous customer experience.

Scenography at the Ritz-Carlton

There’s nothing more potentially interchangeable than a hotel room. Rectangular, built to particular safety standards, available at a particular price point.  What infuses a hotel room, and the surrounding property, with life is the experience of the guests within it.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company works every day to escape the commodity rut by taking the idea of moviemaking seriously, to the point of set design, music, lighting, and the rest. In Ritz-Carlton lingo, their approach is called “scenography.”

What “scenography” consists of is a little bit soft-focus, gauzy, hard to pin down.  And that’s the magic of it.  Scenography isn’t about features. Spec sheets. Room upgrades, and other easily-copied competitive advantages.  It’s about creating a feeling.

Scenography involves creating a property-wide theme and supporting it with accompanying design elements, lighting, cast participation and so forth (I think you get the theatrical metaphor here, so I won’t belabor it).

This overarching theme supports the specific hotel or resort’s “sense of place,” its uniqueness, even its quirkiness, something that has been an important change in the Ritz-Carlton brand's identity from its earlier, more cookie-cutter incarnation.
bagpipper

For example, Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, perched as it is above the Pacific Ocean, has adopted a theme related to sunset:  Candles.  S’mores or wine around the firepits. A bagpiper who plays each night as the sun falls into the sea.

Or look at (listen to, really) what’s going on at Ritz-Carlton’s Dove Mountain Resort, in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Guests having cocktails outside its Ignite bar will suddenly hear melodies played on a handmade wood flute by a Native American musician (pictured below) who is perched on a hill some ways away from the hotel–played in a way that makes use of the answering echoes from the opposing mountains. Giving an auditory guide, in a sense, to the local landscape.

sonoran desert

The thing is, I’m laying out these component elements for you individually because, well, it’s my job as a customer service consultant to break things down into their individual components to see how a “whole” has been created.  But in practice, if you ask a Ritz-Carlton guest what they loved about their visit to, for example, Half Moon Bay, the answer is by and large “it was great,” not “the bagpiper played a modal air for eight repetitions before retiring for the evening.” Because the elements are designed and executed in a way that lets the guest, the “star,” go about their activities, but with critical enhancements that they wouldn’t necessarily notice on their own but would miss if the elements were absent.

To succeed with scenography requires first and foremost creativity on the part of the hotel staff.  This creativity has to reach all the way up to the traditionally RevPar (revenue per available room)-obsessed General Manager and throughout the ranks of the employees to make the program a success. Rather than there being a list of “ten rules for successful scenography,” the rules that matter are more like the following, to paraphrase Fred Dust from Ideo, a creative firm that was involved in the creation of scenography. “1.  Leaders, be more creative!” and 2. “Empower your employees to be more creative as well.”

The Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to scenography is such that they’ve written into their business plans that every year each individual hotel GM has to deliver three unique scenes as part of this scenography. Let me say that again: this fluffy, fuzzy idea of scenography is required now as part of each property’s business plan, to lay out that “these are the scenes we are going to be working on this year, and here’s the date that we’ll put them into motion.”

The thing about the creativity requirement is that it’s not just required to create these scenarios. The requirement for staff creativity continues to be important in implementation, in keeping each hotel property from becoming a slave to its pre-determined theme. Because every guest is unique, and the concept of creating, directing, supporting scenes needs to be modified, sometimes on the fly, based on the nature of the guest and the visit. For example: If you’re not much of a drinker, you can count on Half Moon Bay’s empathetic staff to pick up on this and not force their “red wine by the firepit” theme down your throat.

Ditto for smaller touchpoints, each instance of which may require adjustment for each guest: A stressed and jetlagged exec arriving at two in the morning needs one “scene” while   leisurely lovers arriving midday need another, and so forth.   The same approaches apply: preparing for likely scenarios (such as these two) and throwing out the script if something even more unusual is called for.  Creativity, again, carries the day.


Doing Away With Customer Service Scripts

4-3 no script smallCustomers today are looking for genuine customer service, for the authentic customer experience of one human being assisting another. So it’s time, in most business contexts, to do away with word-for-word scripts while retaining a “punch list” of points that need to be covered in the course of a customer conversation. (Life-and-death settings such as healthcare and pharmaceutical delivery are important exceptions to this rule, as are interactions with privacy or security implications.)

For example, let's look at Drybar, the blow-dry-and-style salon phenomenon that has transformed the hair care landscape in just a couple of years. The Drybar customer experience is extraordinarily well thought out, made up of hundreds of carefully created touchpoints that make the experience memorable for its customers.

And it all happens without a script. At no point in its operation, explains cofounder Michael Landau, does Drybar “train to a script, though in our contact center we give [agents] a lot of prompts they should hit on the phone—to ask about [the customer’s] hair length and other such details,” because checking in about these details directly improves the experience once the customer arrives at Drybar. “Because our growth has been so fast”—when I first became aware of Drybar in 2010, it had four shops, all in Southern California; as of this writing it’s up to nearly 40 salons across the U.S., with London coming soon—“we think a lot about how, as we grow, we will manage to convey ­to customers and to employees that they are part of a business with the spirit of a smaller, more flexible company.” The refusal to script allows Drybar to maintain this flexible, genuine feeling in two ways: It provides a less stilted experience, and it builds more empowered and flexible employees to serve customers, thanks to the leeway that Drybar is providing these employees.

Drybar isn’t providing or enforcing a script, but its leaders have laid out guidelines that its contact center employees need to heed to ensure a successful booking and blowout session, in other words a carefully plotted framework for ensuring their customers are properly cared for. While training and monitoring are needed to ensure these intakes are executed properly, this isn’t scripting.

And it couldn’t be successfully scripted because high-quality service requires employees to tailor their approach to the quirks of a particular customer in a given context. Scripting, on the other hand, is “dependent on your customer following a script himself!” as contact-center expert Colin Taylor puts it; it only works if customers behave in an expected pattern to which you can respond with a predetermined line. But customer concerns come in infinite varieties, with infinite moods, paces and nuances. So instead of training to a script, the best thing an organization can do is teach its people to deal with situations, both good and difficult. Give them the tools to recognize behaviors and respond appropriately and effectively.

Or as Doug Carr of FRHI Hotels & Resorts (Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel are their brands) puts it, “The things that matter can’t be scripted. You can build scenarios for your staff, but you need to couple this with encouragement and training for your staff on how to read the customer, and then doing what’s right and what’s appropriate.”

Sara Kearney of Hyatt puts it like this: “It takes an awful lot of practice to come across as completely unscripted.” Kearney continues: “We don’t script [at Hyatt’s innovative new luxury brand, Andaz], but we do an awful lot of role plays and dress rehearsals to help people understand their role in bringing the brand experience to life.”

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Departing from formula isn’t easy. ("Easy" is prescribing specific words for an unempowered employee to read.) But the results are worth it, and the impact will be clear in the flexible, nuanced, genuine brand of service you offer.


A Look At The Omnichannel Retail Customer Experience

4-3 retail experience smallToday’s newest retail customers have come of age lacking the sense of limitations in commerce that their elders have long been forced to accept. They don’t see why commerce needs to take place on one channel to the exclusion of another. They will be sure to Yelp your business a new one if you don’t honor your online pricing in your store (or vice versa), or if you refuse to honor a gift card in your store that someone sent the customer by email.

What they want is what’s called—jargon alert—omnichannel. To put it simply, omnichannel is the future of just about everything that involves extracting money from a customer in a way that they actually enjoy having it extracted.

So what does–should–omnichannel look like? Let’s take a peek.

Meghan Millennial’s Omnichannel Shopping Spree

On a late, bright Thursday morning, Meghan Millennial is walking down a Washington, DC, sidewalk when her phone buzzes, inviting her into an adjacent store for a cupcake in a flavor she’s enjoyed there before. Having just eaten brunch (one of the most important meals of the day), she keeps walking, but mentally files the text for later.

Half a block later, a Patagonia store catches her eye and she steps in. As she enters the foyer, her phone buzzes again with a coupon for 20% off for the next two hours on dresses. Meghan likes the offer and works with a salesperson to find the right dress. However, the store doesn’t have it in her size. No biggie: The salesperson locates it in another store and offers to drop-ship it to Meghan’s house.

But wait! Meghan now wants two of the dresses, and Patagonia’s other location only has one. The salesperson locates one dress in that store and one in a store in Ohio, coordinates the drop-shipping for both, and gives her the BOGO (buy one, get one) discount she deserves (better, after all, than the 20% off that tempted her initially), even though both dresses come from different stores, and neither from the store in which she’s standing.

That afternoon, back at home, Meghan finds that three shoeboxes from Macy’s have arrived. Two of the pairs fit her perfectly; the third is too tight. Needing that third style for the weekend, yet dreading the time it’ll take to hunt for the item in person, Meghan opens Macy’s mobile website on her phone before setting out. She finds the shoes in a better-fitting size and orders them for in-store pickup the next morning, which suits her schedule better than waiting at home.

The pickup is ready when she comes in, and with the proximity functionality on her phone, the store’s employees are able to recognize her arrival, stop folding clothes and other low-value tasks, and hurry to meet Meghan at the front door—handy, since in grand DC tradition, she’s double-parked—where they hand her the package and accept her exchange, wishing her well with an e-coupon to return.

All of the channel-melding that our hypothetical Meghan has just enjoyed can currently be accomplished in retail. It isn’t easy for a business to pull off, but customers want and are starting to expect exactly this. Furthermore, customers have little to no understanding of or sympathy for your difficulties in pulling off omnichannel retailing, even though these difficulties are assuredly significant.

Your inventory systems and databases need to be connected. Your return procedures and order histories need to be synchronized. While none of this is easy to accomplish, it’s easier now than it used to be. Companies like Micros, recently acquired by Oracle, specialize in building systems and technology that allow this coordination: When a customer returns a dress via any channel (ships it back, drops it off in-store, etc.) the merchant’s general ledger is adjusted, order history is appended and inventory is updated. So a phone call or Web interaction, even moments after an in-store return, for example, can be based on up-to-the-minute information.

New technology also offers merchants the opportunity to expand inventory beyond what’s in front of the customer: Small retailers can use systems such as the Lightspeed solution, while larger retailers (such as Macy’s) can use the more elaborate systems that Micros and others offer that provide a “show-and-tell” feature with enhanced-resolution photos from multiple angles. This feature allows a customer, still interacting with a salesperson in-store, to examine in detail items that aren’t found on the showroom floor. This, in effect, expands the store’s inventory without requiring the store to commit valuable real estate. And it puts to bed the perennial frustration customers have after schlepping across town to a store only to learn that the desired item is unavailable in the right size/color/fabric.

When this experience becomes truly seamless, truly centered on the customer and her perspective, you’ve achieved true omnichannel.  And the benefit to you is more than the pleasant experience you’ll be providing your customers, although that’s a big part of it. This approach makes sales seamless and almost invisible to boot, and by removing barriers to buying you will likely spur customers to purchase more. When you lower the barrier to returning items, perhaps a few more items get returned, but again, you increase present and future sales due to greater customer comfort with the returns process. When you lower the barrier to reaching your company through any possible channel, you’ll hear from the customer more—and more often with an open pocketbook.


7 Conversation Starters to Never Use (and What to Say Instead)

Senior male and female executives chatting with city views in backgroundEvery customer relationship starts somewhere. Classic "in person" questions like “so, what do you do?” rarely lead to memorable conversations that can get the small business leaders noticed. Some awkward questions can even lead to making a bad first impression that ends the relationship even before it starts.

Here are 7 conversation starters you should avoid and what to say instead:

1. Did you hit heavy traffic on the way here?

Talking about traffic does not put anyone in a good mood. The lesson here is to not just ask any question. Put some effort into thinking about ones that will start a meaningful conversation that will give a relationship a chance.

Instead try: What inspired you to come here? Find out what they are hoping to get out of the event. Maybe you can help each other out right now!

2. Where do you live?

This question can be too personal when initially meeting.

Instead try: Where are you from originally? followed by What was your favorite part about growing up there? This gets them to start sharing immediately on a deeper level which builds the relationship.

3. How about this weather lately? So much (snow, rain, heat) right?

It doesn’t get any more cliché than this. You don’t want someone thinking “Wow, really? That’s all you’ve got?” This sounds like elevator talk.

Instead try: What are you most excited about for the (Spring, Summer)? Put a twist on the weather question by using it to learn more about someone. This question gives them a chance to talk about upcoming events they’re attending or their favorite hobbies outside of work.

4. How boring is this (speaker, event, job)?

Complaining about anything and negativity in general absolutely ruins a first impression. Even if your statements are valid (and they are thinking the same thing), never start a relationship over a negative. Keep the tone positive.

Instead try: What have you found most helpful in the (speakers presentation, the event, the job)? Asking people to reflect on what they have just heard or experienced and how it will help their business gives insight.

5. I am looking to try a new diet. Do you know of any good ones?

Generally, health topics will make people feel uncomfortable. They make think you are making a statement about their weight or appearance which is dangerous.

Instead try: Im looking for a new book to read. What business books have you read lately? This is a great go-to question for someone without getting too personal.

6. Did you hear about that guy who went to jail for ___?

Just like health topics, creepy topics (criminals, for example) can make people really uncomfortable or can lead to a discussion about politics! (always a topic to avoid).

Instead try: Did you see what happened on the last episode of ___? Television series and pop culture topics are usually a safer bet! Figure out a show you both watch and share what you think about its latest developments.

7. I can't seem to get anything done. I feel like I dont have five minutes for myself. Do you feel that way?

Don’t make people think of their long to-do lists back at the office. Connect in the moment.

Instead try: Im planning to a vacation soon. Do you have any fun trips coming up soon? Most people have a trip on the horizon or will at least enjoy talking about the last one they took. Ask for recommendations for places to travel!

What is your best conversation starter?


Using Adventure, Even Danger, To Improve The Customer Experience

Adveturer man sitting on a rock with his feet dangling on natural landscape. Adventure travelCustomers of all ages, from older “bucket-listers” to the young and increasingly important Millennial generation of customers, crave adventures and discoveries, whether epic or everyday. The more stimulating and surprising an environment, an experience, a “movie” you can create for your customers to engage with, the more your customers will want to text, Facebook, and talk about your business.

Virgin America: Consciously Creating a Tweetworthy Airline

This is a powerful phenomenon.  Think about how much people love to tell/tweet/FB their friends that they’re flying Virgin America, because the airline is intentionally providing an experience that’s worth talking about.

The details crafted by Virgin America offer a story that people want to retell: purple lighting, wildly catchy dance-based safety videos, abundant TV options, leather seats, great waiting rooms and the “Here on Biz” app that lets you meet other passengers with similar interests. These details make people talk, tweet, post and write about Virgin, because of the distinction and immersion of the experience the airline has created for them.

Smart Hospitality Operators Are Learning This Lesson

The more forward-thinking operators in the hospitality and travel industries have, perhaps not surprisingly, embraced this message more quickly than have other industries. For example, Dove Mountain Resort, a new and relaxed Ritz-Carlton property in the Sonoran desert outside Tucson, where adventures range from those you can engage in while seated to those that challenge all of your muscle groups and mental acuity. 

The adventure starts, in a sense, with the design of the hotel, a conscious effort to bring guests outdoors through large windows and doors that invite them to wander everywhere without interruption from visible and obtrusive barriers.

As the sun starts to set, guests hear a Native American musician playing wooden flute on a nearby hill, playing modal melodies that echo off the surrounding mountains in a way that gives you an auditory impression of the unique landscape in which the hotel is sited.      

In the morning, guests are challenged to pick their adventure: trail riding or Addle Addle lessons (addle addle is an ancient form of projecting arrows that predates the invention of bows) or a hike to learn about the prehistoric petroglyphs in the land trust property through which the resort and its guests have a protected right of way.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like it applies directly to your business, your entrepreneurial pursuits, but I suspect you’re wrong.  This craving for adventure, even for “danger” (more about that in a moment) can be made use of in many, if not most, industries and business niches.

When shopping, for example, many customers (including the majority of younger customers — the millennial generation) prefer what’s known as an “experiential lifestyle environment”_ (a retail environment where shopping is not just a transaction and the pleasure of being in the store isn’t limited to the goods customers take home). And when dining out, more people than ever before are looking for something exotic, adventuresome, memorable or new to explore during their dining experience. Especially among younger food enthusiasts, this has helped transform cuisine searches (“tastespotting”) into an adventure—and food truck-following (a concept sure to evoke fears of stomachache in some of their elders) into its own culture. 

Many customers — primarily younger — even say that they are are willing “to encounter danger in pursuit of excitement,” according to research by Barkley. This may sound irrelevant to you as a businessperson if you don’t sell bungee ropes or the like, but consider the idea of “danger” more broadly than actual risk to life or limb. For a customer, “embracing danger” can mean traveling across the city for artisanal cupcakes, knowing that there’s a high risk of disappointment since the bakery famously sells out each day before 10 a.m., or shopping, as a lark, at a popup store with no history and nothing but word of mouth to recommend it.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are You Really Satisfying Your Customers?

3-24 Customer Satisfaction smallWhile consumers’ expectations of customer service are rising, very few brands are keeping pace, a new study by Accenture reveals. Mobile, social and digital are converging with traditional channels of doing business, and customers are eager to take advantage of this omnichannel world. But only 11 percent think companies are doing a good job of melding digital, mobile, social and traditional channels, Accenture’s latest Global Consumer Pulse Research found.

Instead, customers are still suffering from the same customer service issues they’ve been reporting for the past several years of the survey. For instance, customer satisfaction with companies’ ability to resolve problems quickly has remained flat for the past six years. Dissatisfaction with resolution time is the number-one reason customers switch from one business to another.

Specifically, 86 percent of customers are frustrated by companies that can’t resolve a problem in the first customer service interaction; 85 percent are frustrated by lengthy hold times and 84 percent get annoyed when customer service representatives can’t answer their questions.

Although online customer service channels have been around for quite a while now, customer satisfaction with these channels has also remained relatively flat, suggesting that businesses are holding steady but not improving in these areas. Still, traditional customer service is falling behind: Just 51 percent are satisfied with the customer service they get from traditional call centers, while 57 percent are satisfied with online chat customer service.

Companies’ “coasting” in customer service terms may be why only 28 percent of respondents in the survey say they are “very loyal” toward companies they patronize.

How can your business beat those odds?

  • Integrate all your customer service channels. Customers may expect to start a customer service interaction in chat or email format, then move to a phone conversation without having to provide all of the same information to each representative. It’s important for the experience to be simple and seamless.
  • Educate customer service teams. Your customer service reps need access to the latest knowledge about your products, services and policies so they can quickly respond to questions without having to find a supervisor. Ongoing training programs and updated, online “knowledge bases” can help.
  • Help customers help themselves. Provide as much information as possible to help customers find their own solutions. FAQs, community forums, product guides or even how-to videos can educate customers in using your product or service so that they can resolve their own problems.

There’s more opportunity than ever to provide good customer service to employees in whatever format they want it. Don’t miss out on that chance to differentiate your business.


10 Trends in Customer Expectations

3-20 Customer Expectations smallHere are 10 trending ways that customer service, customer experience and, most of all, customer expectations are changing.

  1. Customers’ definition of what’s fast and what’s not has grown more extreme on an almost daily basis. An escalating expectation of timeliness doesn’t just apply to product and services delivery (where amazon.com has so dramatically set the lead). It applies to the speed of response they expect from you to any issue they have or query they shoot your way. Remember, “we respond to all inquiries within 24 hours” means you’re answering in about 46 days, I figure, if you do the conversion to internet time.  It’s simply not good enough.
  2. Customers, more and more, expect omnichannel integration. I hate to get buzzwordy, so I apologize for this one, but omnichannel at its essence just means that customers expect you to honor the same offers in all channels (web, in-store, phone, mobile), and they expect you to let the customer move between channels without it being a hassle. A credit card given over the phone should be on file when you try to shop in the store. A purchase made in a store across town should be returnable by ups. And so forth.
  3. Customers expect extended hours: 24/7 or as close as you can get. When I interviewed Google not long ago, they quietly mentioned to me that they offer support to their adwords advertisers in 42 languages, including offering English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support. And it puts pressure on those of us who aren’t Google to up our game, or at least our support hours.
  4. Customers expect accuracy. Typos are no longer acceptable in a cut and paste world. Nor are inaccurate claims of what is in stock, or missed delivery dates, considering the technology and process improvements that your competitors have made, and that customers have grown accustomed to. However…
  5. Customers are more willing than ever to assist you (or, I suppose, assist themselves), participating in the service process on a self-service basis, including typing in their own contact info and hard to spell names to avoid the unacceptable typos I refer to in point #4.
  6. Customers expect just about everything to come with a money back guarantee, implied or explicit. You can put in all the fine print you want, but they’re going to expect you to waive it and take the damn dog back, period. Even if pulling it off means, ultimately, sticking it to your own vendors. Amazon of course set the lead here, both in offering the guarantee and in doing the back-office vendor stickage [which I don’t actually encourage] required to pull it off.
  7. Customers don’t want to pay for shipping, or other “hidden fees,” for that matter. Amazon yet again set the lead here.
  8. Customers especially expect you to be monitoring their communications, complaints, and compliments, regardless of channel–and bending over backward to respond both quickly and thoroughly. If a customer says something about, or to, a company via twitter, a web form, or any other channel, they expect the company to notice, to react, to respond.
  9. Customers dislike overly scripted service. This is a prominent aspect of a larger trend: the desire for authenticity.
  10. Customers feel empowered. It’s not just that they know they’re “always right,” they know they always have a voice due to all of the social media options at their disposal, if you forget that they’re “always right.”  The good news is that while they know they have options, just a click or two away, by and large customers hope you realize this too, and that you don’t make them use that twitchy clicking finger. They’d rather stay than switch, but only if you treat them right.  For which, as a start, refer back to points 1 through 9 of this article.

Improve Your Customer Service–By Letting Us See Your Tats!

2-20 tattoos at work smallResponding to tens of thousands of employee requests, Starbucks recently announced sweeping changes to its tattoo policy, now allowing customer-facing employees to exhibit them everywhere except on the employee’s face. (Previously, employees had to hide tattoos under long clothing, which as you can imagine made things uncomfortable in a long day working over hot steam.) Dress codes, too, have been loosened to allow more expression in accoutrements, scarves, and the like, and piercings have been significantly deregulated.

Are these sensible, bottom-line minded moves Starbucks is making, and that you should consider for yourself as a leader and businessperson? I would argue that the answer to both questions is yes.

Customers are searching for the genuine, the authentic

Today’s customers have a well-developed sense of the genuine, and "genuine" is something that they look for from a brand.  I find as a customer service consultant that my clients who allow their employees self-expression on the job–in language, clothing, and, yes, tattoos–are better able to deliver a genuine customer experience that connects with the customer.

Letting employees express their personal style, tats and all

In other words: letting employees revel in their own style is a way to project how genuine you are as a brand to employees and to the customers they support. Your customers—including the important millennial generation that will soon be the dominant breed of consumer in the marketplace—project their own style through their clothing choices, tattoos, and hairstyles, and by and large they're fine with your employees doing the same. As fellow customer service designer Tim Miller expressed it to me recently, in a customer-facing business you should strive for a visible symbiosis between the people working at your establishment because it fits their lifestyle, and the customers doing business with you because it fits their lifestyle.

Choosing the best employees, not just the ones without tattoos and piercing

The second reason is even more important: Employees with the potential to be great all share certain key personality traits (Warmth, Empathy, Teamwork, Conscientiousness, Optimism [WETCO] is my list),  but what they don’t share is a particular look. And as an employer, what you’re looking for, praying for, dreaming of, are great employees. Not necessarily Darien-bred or Oxbridge-accented employees (in fact, sometimes these are exactly the kinds of employees you want to avoid in the service industry, if they come with an attitude to match), but employees with the potential to be great in all the empathetic and creative ways that a customer-facing employee needs to be great.

This principle is epitomized by a front-of-house service professional in Bermuda named Nick DeRosa, about whom I've written before.  Mr. DeRosa is head doorman at the Fairmont Southampton and one of the greatest front-of-house employees you’ll ever meet.

DeRosa has a tattoo on his neck, all capital letters that says “NICK” so large and visibly that his much-smaller name tag serves pretty much as decoration rather than identification.

Based on an appearance checklist, Nick would hardly be the likeliest candidate to be chosen as the first person guests encounter at this grand luxury hotel, yet they selected him anyway, based on his personality and smile, and it’s clear it’s one of the best personnel decisions the hotel has ever made. Not only is his own performance stellar but he is an inspiration to the employees who work for and with him to up their own game. So I hold the example of DeRosa out to you and ask you this: Why lose a potentially great service person who made a questionable (to you) stylistic choice earlier in their lives—or even made one last night?

Get over your hiring inhibitions

You may get some pushback from whoever your pushbackers are, saying that some studies do show that, all things being equal, an untattooed, unpierced employee is viewed more favorably by mainstream customers than one who is decorated in the modern fashion. But all things are never equal. All employees are not equal. And I would argue that you want the tattooed employee if the tattooed employee is otherwise a future star for you.

Revise your HR guidelines

So: Are you reluctant to (and/or do your hiring guidelines prohibit you to) employ otherwise-qualified candidates who sport tattoos, weird hair, cheek piercings, and the like?

Well, if so, I do understand. I really do. But I want to challenge you to consider that, perhaps, your thinking is out of date. Anachronistic. Please evolve as quickly as you can, for the sake of your employees, your customers, and your bottom line.


Refreshing Your Customer Service Experience (Without Losing Your Core Identity)

2-12 hotel guest checking in small

Once you've initially succeeded in interesting your customers in your brand, once you've succeeded in pleasing them with your customer experience and customer service, you need to work on keeping their interest by adding clues and cues to the plot.

Any meaningful service, any meaning customer experience will start to grow stale over time. Service signatures, scripted interactions, and product offerings that delighted customers at first will get copied, replicated, and bastardized over time. They'll lose their intended meaning (Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company's signature phrase, “My pleasure,” for instance, has lost some of its freshness now that you can get a $2.99 rendition of it from a server at —I kid you not—Chik Fil A. This has led Ritz-Carlton to  change up its language of late to keep it fresh and authentic, authenticity being a key attribute that Ritz-Carlton is striving for in its revamped modern-day hotel brand.)

And, of course, design and product offerings will get stale and tired. What's fabulous to a customer on visit one will be "fine but nothing new" on visit five.  And, especially in this era of intensive and friction-free social sharing, you need something fresh, something, literally, to write or tweet home about, to tantalize your customer.

Retelling a story too many times

Retail is perhaps the most ruthless of businesses in the extent that customers are expecting change–regular seasonal changes and special holiday revamps. Restaurants can also feel stale after a few visits and need new menu items, a fresh cocktail list, or new art on the wall to keep customers engaged and coming back from visit to visit, and after three-ish years, most restaurants need a major overhaul to stay successful. The same is true to only a slightly lesser extent for many other service businesses.

For a business to stay relevant, it needs to be relentlessly reinventing itself, including its once cutting-edge practices. A friend of mine described to me his reaction to the practice at Nordstrom of coming from behind the counter to hand you your shopping bag. “This was pretty cool the first five times or so. Around the sixth time, it became annoying; it just seemed like they were slowing me down for the sake of their internal ceremony.” And I’ve seen a similar loss of love for the once-fresh idea of printing a guest’s name on a menu at a destination restaurant. The first time you see this by your plate, you're undoubtedly amazed. The third time, you’re bored and ready for a new trick.

Businesses need to realize the shelf life of any such scripted or quickly-expected service interactions and change it when the expiration date hits. To keep today’s customers coming back a business needs to constantly improve, update, and appropriately add to its line of products or services –on a schedule faster than ever before.

"Freshen the guest experience without changing its core identity"–Patrick O'Connell

On the other hand, change for change's  sake is very, very hazardous.  Because the goal of customer service and the customer experience isn't buzz–it's loyalty; it's repeat business that keeps you alive. So while it's true that customers seek innovation from the companies they frequent, if a company only invests in change, then how can a customer remain loyal–what, to put it bluntly, is left for them to be loyal to? So there’s a tension to navigate between innovation and maintaining quality through tradition.

In an interview I just did with the celebrated restaurateur and innkeeper Patrick O'Connell – proprietor of the Inn At Little Washington and President of Relais And Chateaux – Chef O'Connell puts this well: “Cultivating loyalty is a tricky business. It requires maintaining a rigorous level of consistency while constantly adding newness and a little surprise—freshening the guest experience without changing its core identity.”




 
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