Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

The “New Reality” of Customer Service

Do employees at your customer service call center feel like they’re dealing with more frustrated customers than ever before? New research from Mattersight offers some insights into why this might be. According to Mattersight, more than two-thirds of customers who speak to call center reps feel frustrated before they even place a call. What’s more, 75 percent are still frustrated after the interaction, even if the representative solves their problems.

With more than 70 percent of customers saying a bad customer service experience could keep them from patronizing a business again, keeping customers happy when they call should be a high priority for your business.

One reason for customer frustration, Mattersight notes, is that there are so many ways for customers to reach out to companies for support these days. When a problem arises, most customers start by using the company’s website, FAQs or other online help tools to try to figure the problem out on their own.

By the time customers actually dial in to a call center, they’ve usually tried every other way of solving a problem, with no results. So what may seem from the rep’s end like the customers’ first attempt to resolve the issue is, for the customer, the end of a long and frustrating journey.

However, instead of acknowledging this “new reality” of customer service, most call center reps still focus on getting the customer off the phone as quickly as possible to meet their goals for handling X number of calls in X amount of time.

How can your company improve the customer experience and enjoy higher customer satisfaction? Here are some takeaways from the report:

  • Acknowledge the customer’s frustration and the seriousness of their issue. Be extra patient working with the customer. By validating their feelings, you can help them feel more taken care of.
  • Offer personalized assistance. Your call center reps should be able to quickly access all of the data you have available on the customer on the other end of the phone, such as order history, current order status and recent interactions with the company. Showing knowledge of the customer’s past behavior and history with your business will persuade them your rep is in a position to really help.
  • Take time to understand. A long wait time is customers’ number-one frustration with call centers, but number two is dealing with representatives who don’t understand what they need. Make sure your reps really listen, restate the problem to the customer and clarify that they’ve understood all aspects of the situation.
  • Follow up after the solution. After resolving the problem, don’t just rush to get the customer off the phone. Take time to apologize once again for the difficulties the person encountered, thank the customer for his or her patience, and ask if there’s anything else the rep can assist with. Let the customer be the one to end the call.

By taking a few simple steps to get into the right mind-set when dealing with call center customers, your customer service reps can not only solve problems, but also leave customers with a good feeling about your business.

The Power of Crowd-augmented, Transparent Customer Support

Rather than solely rely on its employees to answer customer support inquiries, Applegate, the successful purveyor of humanely raised and slaughtered meats, openly crowdsources commentary and advice from other customers to answer these questions honestly, making use of a community software platform called “Get Satisfaction.” By using the feedback from customers who have already explored these kinds of questions, Applegate is making transparency work in its favor, elevating the customer and its products at the same time. This is particularly useful to the company and to its customers, because Applegate regularly fields specific, detailed and emotionally charged questions about both the meat and the packaging in which it is conveyed.

Letting your customers be the experts–in support of other customers

JD Peterson, chief revenue officer at and well known as a force behind the popular Zendesk customer support platform, points out that the millennial need for recognition and feedback drives the push toward crowdsourcing: “Let your power users be the voice [of your brand]. Customers these days are more willing to do this kind of work for your brand, but they want recognition for doing it—they would like to be given that badge or stamp that says, ‘You’re the power expert in Applegate bacon.’ Giving power users that recognition, a badge, points [or] some sort of title, giving them something they can stamp on their resume or their LinkedIn profile that says they’re an expert or a power user, I think, is really important to customers today. It’s certainly a win for [the] business as well: You’re not having to take on all the burden of support costs because your users are able to do some of that for you—and your customers get closer to the brand at the same time by assisting you.”

The power of ratings and review transparency

Ratings and review transparency is likewise an important commercial trend: from voluntary transparency on sites like that openly show customer ratings for all products (including sometimes mixed reviews for Amazon’s own Kindle tablets and Fire phone), to enforced transparency via TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like that post reviews of your services and products whether you want to be rated this way or not. Embrace this trend even though it can be uncomfortable, because it’s not going away. Reviews are now decentralized and user driven, and you can’t control product ratings, product discussions or much else in the way of reviews, except by providing the best customer experience possible and by being proactive in responding to negative trends that come to the surface in your reviews and ratings.

Emulate a company like Engine Yard, a San Francisco-based cloud application management platform that has taken the brave step of putting a real-time (not to mention cute and cuddly) indicator of its current customer satisfaction stats right on its support site. You’ll find 100 panda icons featured prominently on Engine Yard’s website with just a few “sad pandas” crossed out in red. Looking at the company’s site right now I see 97 happy pandas and three that are crossed out, indicating a current 97% customer satisfaction rating. How does Engine Yard arrive at the proportion of happy and sad pandas? Each time there’s a support interaction, Engine Yard asks the customer, “Are you satisfied with the response you got? Yes or no?” They then total that percentage on their website for anyone to see. This transparent approach goes a long way toward reassuring customers (and, perhaps as much to the point in the competitive arena in which Engine Yard plays), prospective customers that this company is, and will remain, on the ball throughout the life of the customer relationship. 

Five Tips for Social Media Success with Your Customers

Here are five secrets to succeeding on social media even in the face of the most irate customer postings (though read all the way to #5 for how to avoid most such postings in the first place).

1. Reach out directly to online complainers.
Suppose that you’ve spotted the following outrageous tweet about your firm:

Company X double-bills customers—Must Think We R Suckrs—#FAIL

This is insulting, and hard to handle. Not only will your staff need to suppress the urge to respond angrily, they also will need to prepare a response that is thoughtful and positive. A thoughtful and positive response in a situation like this is rare precisely because it’s so hard for somebody who has just been insulted to muster thoughtful positivity.

But that rarity makes it powerful: A thoughtful and positive response can come as such a surprise to an online critic that it can help to convert the critic into your advocate. At the least, it will stanch your losses.

First, however, in order to respond, you’ll first need to reach your critic. How can you do that online? That depends on your professional relationship with the critic. If the person behind this message follows you (or agrees temporarily to follow you) on Twitter, or if she’s in your database, send her a direct, “backchannel” message. Include a real, monitored email address and phone number. Otherwise, reply publicly in the same forum she chose. List offline ways to reach you (including a real, monitored email address and/or phone), and express your regret and concern.

Contacting a social media critic to request an offline conversation is the digital equivalent of ushering a loud and angry customer into your office for a discreet discussion. You move the discussion out of a public venue and into a one-on-one situation, where you can work directly with your antagonist without thousands of eyes dissecting your every move while failing to understand the whole story. After a successful resolution, politely ask the complainer to amend or even withdraw the original ugly comment.

2. A delayed response can create a social media fiasco. Can you spell F-I-A-S-C-O? The formula in social media is simple: Small Error +Slow Response Time = Colossal PR Disaster. Put differently, the magnitude of a company’s social media embarrassment is proportional to how delayed its online response was. An event in the online world gathers social steam with such speed that your delay can become more of a problem than the initial incident. Even an afternoon’s lag in responding can be catastrophic.

3. Whoever handles your social media responses needs as much customer service skill and training as your traditional customer service reps. Social media responses are customer service, plain and simple. Sure, it’s customer service at breakneck speed, with lots of hazards and quirks, but it’s still customer service. So if some of your customers expect that you will serve them via social media, meet their online expectations superbly. Engage and assist those customers online as energetically and effectively as you do through traditional service channels.

Get this effort off on the right foot by staffing your online presence with your company’s people. This is crucial. Companies often make the mistake of leaving social media teams instead in the hands of technical experts. Technical wizardry is a crucial resource, but don’t let that technical tail wag the customer service dog. Let your people experts lead the way — because your social media team needs to be every bit as customer-centric as your other support/response channels. If not, it’s bound to hurt your brand rather than help it.

4. Beware the Streisand effect. When someone uses social media to attack your business, your first urge, naturally, may be to sic lawyers on the critic, or otherwise try to intimidate the attacker into removing the complaint. Think carefully before taking that course of action. The rule online is that a defensive reaction tends to bring additional publicity—very negative publicity. This rule even has a name: the Streisand Effect, named after Barbra Streisand, who sued a photographer in a failed attempt to remove a photo of the singer’s precariously sited mansion from the California Coastal Records Project. Streisand’s aggressive reaction to free expression offended some netizens and titillated others. The result was far wider distribution of the photograph she wanted to suppress – on T-shirts, websites, coffee mugs – and a permanent blemish on her public image.

Over and over, brands and businesses discover the inviolability of the Streisand Effect the hard way. Threatening your online customers almost never solves the harm they are causing you, and it often backfires dramatically.

Any public, digital argument with a customer is an exponentially greater risk for your company than the old-fashioned kind of argument that didn’t involve social media. Without a doubt, arguing with customers has always been a losing proposition for time immemorial. But today, online, those same arguments are far costlier online, because of all the additional customers and prospects you risk losing who are watching from the sidelines. So make sure everybody who represents your company online has taken the time to learn how to slow down, breathe, and bite their tongue — consistently. Train them to think of the big picture. The future of your company likely depends on it.

5. Prevent most online complaints in the first place. Unhappy customers are unlikely to complain by public methods like Tripadvisor or on their blogs if they know they can use email, the phone, or a feedback form to reach you directly — and if they feel sure that their problem will be addressed immediately. You can do a lot to ensure that the first impulse of such customers is to reach out to you directly, day or night: Offer “chime-in” forms everywhere. Provide direct chat links for when your FAQ’s fail to assist. Provide an easy way to respond directly at the bottom of every corporate email you send out, instead of ending with that obnoxious “please do not reply to this email” footer.

Overall, become widely known for your rapid and satisfying responsiveness, and such customers will come to you, offer to help you improve — and will keep their complaints and misgivings “in the family.”

6 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

A lot has changed in the business world since 2007, but perhaps what’s changed the most is how rapidly customer service expectations have risen. As customers evolve, your customer service has to keep pace. Just how are customers’ expectations changing? Customer2020, a new study from Accenture, has some insights every business owner should know about.

  1. They want it now. Accenture dubs today’s consumer the “Nonstop Customer”—which should give you a clue as to what type of service they expect. Customers don’t just want rapid resolution and minimal hassle—they expect it. If your business doesn’t deliver, they’ll move on to your competitor. Slightly more than half of consumers polled say they have become more impatient with the buying process since last year; two-thirds say they turn to online channels for customer service because they’re seeking speed and convenience.
  2. They have more options. Not only are consumers today more impatient, but they also have more places to go if they’re not happy with your customer service. Two-thirds report that the number of companies or brands they consider when making a purchase has increased significantly compared to 10 years ago.
  3. They care about what others have to say. Word-of-mouth has always been important to growing a business—but never more so than today. Last year, Accenture reported that 78 percent of consumers used at least one online channel when prospecting. Today, 88 percent do, which means they have many more opportunities to hear good (or bad) things about your customer service. More than half of respondents say they rely “much more” on other people’s experiences or reviews when making a purchase decision than they did 10 years ago. If bad word-of-mouth about your service spreads, either offline or online, you’ve got to turn it around.
  4. They’re itching to switch. Consumer loyalty isn’t quite a thing of the past, but it’s definitely become much harder to come by. Two-thirds of respondents say they have switched providers in at least one industry as a result of poor customer service. Six in 10 say they are more likely to switch providers now than they were 10 years ago.
  5. They want you to fix it the first time. Of those respondents who switched providers because of poor service, over 80 percent say the original company could have kept their business if their issue had been resolved the first time they contacted the company about it. In fact, first-contact resolution has been consumers’ number-one source of frustration for the past five years of the study—which suggests that companies aren’t getting much better at it.
  6. They still like human contact. While some consumers have “gone digital,” seeking to interact with customer service via online channels at every opportunity, many others of all ages still prefer traditional channels for resolving issues. To keep everyone happy (isn’t that the whole point of customer service?), your best bet is to provide a wide variety of ways for customers to resolve service problems.

By incorporating these six trends into your customer service systems, you’ll be able to step ahead of the pack and provide the kind of service today’s customers expect. 

Five Customer Trends That You Need To Be On Top Of

8-6 customer trends smallHere are five ways that customer expectations may have grown beyond what your company is providing. If you aren’t keeping up, the question becomes how quickly you can get up to speed, and the answer to this can make or break your bottom line and your survival prospects. So check out the list and see where you stand.  

1. Customers expect extended hours: hours that you’re open, hours that you provide support.  This may mean 24/7 or as close as you can get. For example: For its advertising clients, Google now not only offers support in 42 languages, it does so nearly around the clock, and offers English language support English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support.

Customers also expect more flexibility and options during traditionally “off” hours. For example, if you’re in foodservice, consider letting customers order from either the dinner or lunch menu in the mid-afternoon, and consider offering a cold sandwich menu available late in the evening after the kitchen has closed but your bar is still open.

2. Customers expect self-service–well-designed self-service–to be an option: No matter how good your human-delivered customer service, customers expect self-service options as well. Self-service, which includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces to passengers printing their own boarding passes at home before traveling, is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust.

3. “Fast enough” isn’t, anymore:  Does your company still refer to internal documents with obsolete standards like “We strive to respond to Internet inquiries within 48 hours.  Maybe such a time frame made sense a few years ago (I actually doubt it, but maybe), but today, such a response time is the equivalent of 36 years in Internet time.  Your customer support standard needs to be response within just a few hours; after that, your customer is going to assume that you’re never going to get back to them. An intensified expectation of timeliness also applies to product and services delivery, an area where is obviously one of the leaders. Amazon’s example, and the twitchiness that apps and the Internet itself invoke, means that your company’s traditional definition of “fast enough” probably isn’t, anymore.

4. Social consumption is now the norm. “If I don’t have a picture of it on my phone, it didn’t happen”: Lisa Holladay, branding and marketing guru at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, tells me she’s heard this sentiment lately from young customers. This means that if business isn’t building opportunities for social sharing into the customer experience, you’re missing out on a chance to delight–rather than drive away–your customers. (Ritz-Carlton does this gently with the Shareable Experiences feature in their app and their #RCMemories “Let us stay with you” campaign; for an entirely different and kind of niftily over the top approach to this, you should also check out 1888 in Sydney, aka the “instagram hotel.”)

5. Customers are looking to blur the lines between the fun and the mundane: On the one hand, there’s a new expectation that fun, adventure, even ‘danger’ can be incorporated in potentially mundane interactions. Business travel is a great example of this: More and more travelers try to integrate some adventure, some local exploration, into what are ostensibly business trips. At the other end of this blurring of leisure and business, we have mostly given up on “fully unplugging,” so it makes sense to accommodate even leisure customers’ need or desire to work and keep in touch.  For example, it makes sense that some airlines’ long-haul flights now offer a “quick dine” option so passengers can quickly get back to work without the food tray being in their way, as it makes sense for businesses of all types to offer fast, no login required wifi and other tools to their waiting, “captive” customers.

Leadership for Customer Service is a Daily Sort of Thing

7-30 service team huddle smallAll over the world this morning, Ritz-Carlton employees (Ladies and Gentlemen, as they refer to themselves) are smiling and dressed to serve. But before they face a single guest, they make time for their 10-minute “lineup” meeting, a chance to align themselves for the task at hand by discussing one of their 16 central service principles, the core standards of the organization’s customer service culture. (Today the principle they are reinforcing is #8, which concerns every employee being able to grow and contribute in their job). Whether at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Dove Mountain Arizona, at the “world’s highest hotel” in Hong Kong, at the Ritz’s suburban business hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia, this same scene is occurring.

(And, perhaps, it should also be occurring at your company. The daily lineup is an approach that can power the service culture and growth of a company in a variety of industries. In fact, it’s a practice that I use as a customer service consultant to create dramatic and–just as important–sustainable improvements in the customer service culture of the companies that I convince to implement it–across a wide variety of industries.)

The lineup is a daily, extremely brief, huddle that your employees hold in small groups throughout your company at the same time each day (or same times, if you have more than one shift). At the lineup, you discuss a single aspect of service–for example, one of your guiding service principles, as exemplified by an encounter with a particular customer.  It doesn’t, by the way, fall upon management or a trainer to lead the lineup. On the contrary: a different employee can lead the lineup each day, thereby learning and teaching at the same time

Since lineup is a practice that was pioneered at and has been most famously practiced by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for three decades, I asked Diana Oreck, who helms Ritz-Carlton’s Leadership Center, what strikes her about the practice.

The daily lineup is the most important vehicle we have at Ritz-Carlton to keep the culture alive. Every single day, 365 days a year, three times a day (because there are three different shifts) we have our lineup and we cover the 16 principles [that are central to our service culture] in rotation.

If today we’re talking about Service Value No. 1, ‘I create Ritz-Carlton guests for life’ and you’re the GM in Tokyo and I am the GM in New York, we can’t go out of rotation. What’s fascinating is that within twelve hours, first our Asian colleagues, then the Europeans, and then the Americans will be hearing the same message.

One thing I want to stress is to always keep the lineup short.  It shouldn’t be longer than fifteen minutes because if it is, it’s a meeting and nobody needs another meeting in their day!

The lineup procedure gets inspiration from, yet is 180 degrees removed from, the old hospitality tradition of a check-in with staff where daily specials and other mundane updates are shared, fingernails are checked for cleanliness, and waiters have a last chance to borrow a pen and pad from a co-worker before going out to face their guests.

Here’s the thing: In today’s world the challenge of providing great service is not in such nuts and bolts, skills-and-details-related updates. (Put those on your wiki.) The challenge is that even if you start off strong with a great orientation, the daily grind will ensure that functional issues ultimately end up overwhelming company purpose. A daily standup meeting is a chance to keep your company focused on your overriding purpose and to ensure that all staff are aligned to fulfill it. It only takes a few minutes, and the difference it makes can be crucial.

Your Customer’s at the Center of His/Her Own World (Make Sure They Feel at the Center of Yours)

7-17 center of the world smallThere’s a lot of power for you as a service provider in creating the impression for your customer that she’s at the absolute center of your world. This is, in a sense, an illusion, because you have (I hope) a life of your own and (I’m hoping again) more than one customer to support. But it is an extremely powerful business-building illusion if you can successfully pull it off.

Customers are, after all, already at the center of their own world, their own reality.  And what they want from you as a service provider is not for you to grab center stage from them, but to reassure them that they, in fact, hold center stage in your world as well. 

I know this makes customers sound childish, but I think that’s fine.  We’re here to serve customers, not to fix them.  In fact, one of my favorite ways of giving myself a reality check about the relationship of a business to its customers is to think about the day, years ago, that my wife and I took our daughter to her first half-day of nursery school. On that fine New England morning, the young, hippie-trippy teacher collected our daughter from us outside the classroom, where we were sitting together on a red park bench. When the teacher returned our daughter to us at noon, my wife and I were again sitting, in the early-autumn warmth, on that same red bench. It wasn’t until a week or three later, as the routine continued, that it became evident that our daughter thought her two parents were sitting on that red bench each day throughout the entire morning, awaiting her return. She didn’t think this in a vague or metaphorical sense. She didn’t kind of half-believe this. She really believed it.

The lesson here is this: For a customer, as with a little kid, they’re not going to be thinking about your other obligations, interests, activities. They’ll think, until you prove them wrong (which would be a mistake) that your world revolves around them, all of the time. And as a service provider you benefit from giving this impression rather than becoming resentful that the customer’s presumptuous enough to be thinking this way. It’s a credit to your business, actually, and to your level of service, if they believe that you’re truly all about them all the time.

(In our daughter’s case, what were we doing in the hours when we weren’t visible to her?  Oh, we ate. We did other work, including behind-the-scenes work necessary for her ultimate happiness as our “customer,” as well as work that had nothing to do with her; we even, if there was time, slipped off to the bathroom. But—and here’s what mattered in keeping up the illusion—we were there for her even before she came outside to look for us after school was over, and we were entirely there for her when she did.)

So, I’m going to suggest you throw out the clichéd image of wowing your customers by “rolling out the red carpet” and replace it in your thinking with “sitting on the red bench” as the ultimate in customer care. In other words, what’s most important isn’t to just put on an all-star show for your customers as much as it’s to manage to create and maintain the illusion that you are always there awaiting your customer, attending to her as if you had nothing else on your agenda that could possibly interfere.

Pull this off and you’re well on your way to guaranteeing yourself a customer for life. Because, really: If you make customers feel this way, why would they ever leave you for a competitor? Odds are good they wouldn’t, because they’re already getting the feeling that they’re looking for from you.

What is Amazing Service? We’re Raising the Customer Service Standard

7-14 Amazing Service smallAt Nextiva, we believe that standard customer service isn't good enough. Any business can deliver a customer experience that leaves the customer satisfied but not “wowed”. We are raising the standard of what customer service should be by delivering Amazing Service. This principle is at the heart of everything we do. It drives every decision, product innovation and customer interaction at Nextiva.

So what does Amazing Service mean for the businesses that rely on us for their communication needs?

100% U.S.-based Support

Outsourcing, especially when it comes to our support team, is not part of Nextiva’s business model. Every member of our support team is located at our headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona.

When a customer joins Nextiva, their Account Executive is sitting just a few feet away from the Onboarding team that will set up their phone system and the support team that will assist with any questions or issues that may arise during their time with Nextiva. This makes for efficient and effective internal communication so our customers can get the help they need as quickly as possible.

No Customer Service or Sales Scripts

We believe in letting each team members’ personality shine through. You don’t want to talk to a robot, you want to talk to a person you can connect with.

We focus on hiring team members who exhibit a positive attitude, are driven and passionate about helping others. Our team is our greatest asset, and they are what set Nextiva apart from other communications providers. We focus on fostering a fun and positive work environment because we feel this directly correlates to the service you receive as our customer.

Advocates for Your Business

Our customers are not just a number at Nextiva. They trust us to deliver reliable service and we take our job seriously. Account Executives, Technical Specialists, Account Managers, and everyone at Nextiva are here to help your business succeed. We don’t believe in saying “We can’t do that,” but instead not giving up until a solution is found and the issue is completely resolved. We're dedicated!

Each Business is Unique – Treat Them That Way

We don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all mentality. We want to provide the communication solution that best fits our customers’ business needs. We tailor our plans and feature offerings to fit each customer’s business needs and pain points. Personalization is key and each team member takes this approach when interacting with the businesses we serve, from the first call with an Account Executive to the last support interaction.

What does Amazing Service mean to you? 

Anticipatory Customer Service In Action

7-02 training wheels smallWhat I call “anticipatory customer service” is the fastest, most direct way to create customer loyalty. The power of anticipatory customer service, of serving customer wishes that they haven’t even yet articulated, that they don’t even yet know they have, is this: While customer loyalty can be built through repeated iterations of merely satisfactory service, that’s a dangerous way to build a business. Every time someone has a satisfactory (but not extraordinary) experience at your property, it’s fine, and far preferable to that experience being unsatisfactory. But satisfactory service isn’t enough to draw you into a category where you’re not at the mercy of someone switching to get points from another brand, or because–when booking a return trip– they notice another hotel with a tripadvisor rating that’s .01 percent higher than yours in the same town and they’ve forgotten why (actually they haven’t been given a “why”) to return to you over checking out that other property. You’re in the dangerous, deadly realm of “who cares,” in other words.

What anticipatory customer service looks like

Tonya is a house attendant at The Inn At Palmetto Bluff, a strikingly picturesque inn-and-cottage institution nestled among ancient, Spanish moss-draped live oaks along the May River thirty minutes from Savannah.

What’s a house attendant? It’s the hospitality position that used to be called a “houseman”: part of the housekeeping team, with duties that include ensuring housekeepers are stocked with towels and waters, helping them to flip mattresses and the like, as well as helping with the cleaning itself. House Attendant is an essential position in hospitality, but one that is invisible to guests under normal circumstances and, like other housekeeping positions, at the low end of the hospitality org chart.

(Although intelligent hoteliers understand that housekeeping is the most essential department in a hotel—as Diana Oreck from The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center pithily puts it, “if the housekeepers didn’t come to work tomorrow we’d have to shutter our hotels,”—housekeepers, due to low socioeconomic status and the challenge of meeting with/socializing with the rest of the hospitality staff when you’re in a position that is as mobile and labor intensive as housekeeping, can get the short end of the respect stick in many hotels.)

Tonya pulled up outside our rooms in her golf cart–a necessity on the sprawling Palmetto Bluff campus–bringing supplies such as bottled water, towels and sheets to the housekeepers working inside. On her way in she greeted us cheerfully. (The three of us–my young son and his youngish parents–were out front of the cottage getting my son seated on one of the bikes The Inn provides to guests.) A minute or two later, on her way back out, Tonya again looked our way, took in that we were still more or less in the same positions where she’d left us, having not made any progress down the road as my son teetered atop a bike he clearly wasn’t ready to handle.

After Tonya [whose last name I’ve redacted, by the way, at her manager’s request] took in the details of the scene in front of her, she announced, “Your boy needs a bike with wheels,” by which she meant “training wheels.” “I’ll be back in five minutes.”

When she returned (in four minutes) with the newly equipped bike, she also brought Angella, a manager from Palmetto Bluff’s recreation department, with her to ensure our son was properly fitted and instructed in how to get off to a successful start with the new training wheel-equipped bike. (Tonya also brought a helmet, which showed further mind reading on her part, as we’re the kind of parents who would make our kids wear helmets even in the back seat of the car if we could.)

Her observation and anticipatory action that morning transformed the rest of our stay at Palmetto Bluff. Our son, on his now-appropriately equipped bicycle (more a quadricycle, I suppose), could range all over the gorgeous trails of Palmetto Bluff from that point forward. It was, if not life-changing, at least vacation-changing.

What Tonya did wasn’t just making an extra effort. It was making the right extra effort. Contrast how appropriate and on-point she was compared to the restaurant that messes up your check and then tries to give you a free dessert in compensation–the last thing you have time for at that point, after the 8 minutes it took to get your bill adjusted. Or the young lady at the Panera register who I just saw offer a roll “for just an additional 25 cents” to the gentleman who had just asked for no croutons in his Caesar salad. Or the hotel where five or six employees in succession ask you “how was your trip in today?” because they’ve all been told to ask that by a management that hasn’t calculated how grating that sounds after the third identical query.

Assistance like Tonya gave us didn’t cost her company anything, directly.  What this kind of service does cost is proper hiring, proper training, and proper reinforcement. When Tonya was hired (or, the term I prefer, “selected”) to work at Palmetto Bluff, she was selected not for her water-carrying, towel schlepping abilities, but for what is inside her: her natural affinity for people and for service.

Then she was trained, including a two-day onboarding with Palmetto Bluff’s current management company, Montage Resorts, that they call “morés,” which goes far beyond teaching brand standards like “answer the phone within three rings” to encompass how a talented employee like Tonya can make use of her innate empathy: to combine it with her senses, including her peripheral vision, to ensure she is picking up on issues and opportunities that are meaningful to her guests.

Finally, she is celebrated for it, and held up as an example to her co-workers of how things should be done. When I recounted to David Smiley, Director of Guest Services at Palmetto Bluff, the full Tonya saga, he reported back to me later the same day that he had set Tonya’s accomplishment to be the centerpiece of Housekeeping’s “lineup” the next morning: a celebration of Tonya’s work and a teachable moment for her co-workers.

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