Ten Steps To Great Customer Service

Originally Published July 12, 2006
The scene is a national restaurant chain. I’m meeting a client for lunch. I notice that our hostess, who doesn’t appear to be much more than 19 or 20 is wearing a pin on her apron with the number “10” on it.

I must have looked a bit puzzled when I asked “Have you worked here for ten years?

She laughed and said, “No, this just means that I’ve been through our training course and know the ten steps to great customer service.”

Really,” I asked, “what are they?

First, you great the customer with a smile…” she said, her voice trailing off.

Then she laughed, and said “Well, I used to know them,” as she seated us.


What Were Those Ten Steps?

Our waitress informed me that her name was Thelma and she’d be our server today. I asked “Thelma, do you know the ten steps to great customer service?” Thelma said “Oh, sure…” and quickly listed three. She pondered for a minute before naming the fourth… and after a mighty struggle came up with a fifth.

I flagged down three other waitresses in the next 30 minutes, and none of them did any better.

When Thelma brought our check, she also handed me a scrap of paper on which she’d dutifully noted the ten steps, in order. She mentioned that it took a bit of effort to remember them all.

Michael LeBoeuf said it so well in his 1985 book, The Greatest Management Principle In The World: “Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated.” (And if you haven’t found time in the last two decades to read this elegantly simple concept, isn’t it time? Click the link and invest three and a half bucks in your personal management library).

Our restaurant chain thought that ten steps to great customer service were so important that they required all of their employees to learn them.

Those Ten Steps Slipped Out Of Consciousness

Unfortunately, it appears that as soon as all employees memorized the list, management thought their job was done. Employees saw no benefit in remembering the list, or applying it. Consequently, they didn’t bother to do so.

Don’t think this could happen in your company? Unless you’re constantly reminding your staff of the things you want them to convey to your customers, I can guarantee that it’s already happened in your company.

I’ve been conducting a small experiment. I’ve been calling businesses randomly at odd hours and asking whomever answers the phone why their company’s service or products are better.

Dare To Try It Yourself?

When the dispatcher picks up the phone with “Mary’s Pizza, how can I help you today?” ask “Why is Mary’s pizza better?

In the last week I’ve asked “Why is your coffee better?” “Why is the doctor you work for better?” “Why is your customer service better?” “Why are your puppies better?” “Why are your roses better?” “Why is your chili better?

I’ve made fourteen calls to businesses in my neighborhood. So far, nobody’s been prepared with an answer.

It’s a simple test. Only takes a few minutes. Doesn’t cost anything ‘except maybe a few pennies in long distance charges.

Call your own company. Call your competitors. Call businesses in other cities. Call businesses you’re curious about. Ask the question.

What Do You Hear When You Call Your Own Company?

And if you’re not hearing a clearly articulated point of competitive advantage, may I suggest that you have some work to do for more successful fishing for customers.

And if you’re not hearing a clearly articulated point of competitive advantage, may I suggest that you have some work to do for successful fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Need some help strategizing the best way to help your staff to articulate your values? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected] and start a conversation.  Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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Could I Offer You a Free $100 Bill?

Origninally published October 23, 2007

BankrollIn Shel Silverstein’s 1970 song I Got Stoned And I Missed It, he tells of “a nut down on the corner givin’ hunnert dollar bills away.” Being otherwise preoccupied, Silverstein wasn’t able to take advantage of the opportunity.

But untold numbers of websurfers essentially passed on the same opportunity when Mike Enlow tried to give away $100 bills on a web site he created for that purpose. (We can only hope that most were not operating their computers in Silverstein’s impaired state).

Mike tells the story in Internet Marketing Expert Can’t Give Away $100 Bills. The story has great insight into the need for credibility in everything Internet.

What’s The General Conclusion?

Enlow expressed it well when he said about shoppers on the web, “They Don’t Believe One Darned Word You Say! Literally. They’re sick of being lied to. Sick of being misled. Tired of outrageous offers, unsolicited email spam, products that don’t work as advertised, and people who hide behind fake names and fake email addresses.

“And Here’s The Problem: Even if you are selling the greatest, most effective, amazing product or service in the history of the world (even free $100 bills), I GUARANTEE you that whatever you are doing to establish your credibility right now isn’t enough.

Does your website make it easy for people to snail mail you? Place a phone call? Do you show your name? Your photograph?

The more of these things you make easily accessible, the more trustworthy you appear.

Hancox adds, “The funny thing is, in so many aspects of our lives, we’re all trying to give away hundred dollar bills. Maybe not that specific dollar amount, but we may be trying to give away something we think is of value.”

He goes on to say “One of the simplest and yet most effective things you can do in life to improve your marketing and, quite frankly, just about everything you do to persuade and influence others, is to look at it from the other person’s perspective.”

And this, my friends, is the secret to all great advertising as well, when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about increasing your credibility through your advertising may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-523-0163.

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How to Instantly Make a Poor Customer Impression

Restaurant Breakfast

Restaurant Breakfast

Roger met me at a local family restaurant. With the ease of old friends not having seen each other for months, we slipped into a “catching up” conversation over breakfast.

I casually asked, “How’s your food, Rog?” Roger paused, considered, and told me, “It’s quite good.

I pointed to the ceiling fan roughly ten feet to my left, and said, “Notice the dust build-up on the fan?” Roger confessed he hadn’t. I directed his attention to the rear door, and asked, “Can you see the cobwebs on the Exit sign from here?” Roger admitted that he could.   I pointed out the filthy black build up on the air return vent next to the kitchen. I’ve come across many coffee, home, and kitchen reviews, in which, at least one had mentioned about this oft neglected and badly maintained part of kitchen.

Again I asked, “How’s the food taste now, Roger?” He replied, “Not as good.

I wanted to know why. Roger looked at me, and disappointedly told me, “If the front of the house is this filthy, I can only imagine how disgusting the kitchen must be.

Critical Non-Essentials

Dr. Paddi Lund

Dr. Paddi Lund

One wouldn’t think restaurants have much to do with dentistry, but there is a commonality.

People don’t have any specific knowledge as to whether the practitioner they see is any good at dentistry. They aren’t qualified to judge his education,  experience, or even the quality of his fillings.

But, they do know how to recognize that the florescent lights in his hallway are flickering, and that he’s out of paper towels in the men’s room.

Australian Dentist, Paddi Lund, named these little signs that your business is properly attended to as “Critical Non-Essentials.”  They are items which have no effect on the service one provides, but have tremendous influence on the opinions of  customers about the quality of the work performed.

The florescent tubes and paper towels are non-essential to the practice of dentistry. They are critical to patient assessment of the dentist’s competence.

So the patients conclude a dentist who won’t keep his practice equipped and stocked with the basics can’t be a very good business person. By extension, he’s probably not a very good dentist, either.

Clean return air vents are non-essential to food service. They are critical to the customer’s assessment of food quality. Services like cosmetic dentist Colorado Springs have vacuumed carpets and tidy shelves are non-essential to fabric sales. They are critical to customer assessment of fabric quality.

Interestingly, it isn’t just the critical non-essentials that form people’s opinions of our businesses.

One Man’s “Untidy” is Another Man’s “Creative.”

We expect novelists to work in cluttered offices. Neat, tidy, everything-in-its-place organization would be out of character. But an attorney working in a disorganized, untidy office projects incompetence.

And florescent lights hanging by chains from the ceiling are perfectly appropriate for a warehouse shopping club, but woefully inadequate for a jewelery.

In general, softer surfaces, subdued colors, wall treatments, indirect lighting, and less noisy showrooms prepare shoppers for higher prices. They also help customers to “rank” us within our professions. And then they compare us to our competitors.

A carpeted store with wallpaper, indirect lights, and soft music will project better quality merchandise than a store with cement floors, painted cinderblock walls, and loud echoes of forklifts.

But, if that second store is impeccably clean, while the first store’s windows are grimy and restroom trash baskets are overflowing, you can predict where people will prefer to shop.

Consciously or not, people judge our competence both by their expectations of our profession, and by those critical non-essentials.

If those non-essentials are so important, why doesn’t everyone pay closer attention to them? Mostly because the change from excellent to unacceptable is so gradual.

And when businesses are running as lean as most are today, there simply isn’t anyone assigned the responsibility of checking the volume of the background music or the dates on the magazines in the waiting room.

We Need Systems

If each business had a list of assignments that was checked before they opened each day, and periodically throughout the day, it wouldn’t much matter who was on duty, would it? The work of the company would be done, and those non-essentials which contribute so much to each business’ image would be attended to as well.

If you don’t have a checklist, create one. Do it today.

When I’m evaluating a new client (and his competitors) I use a proprietary list of over 100 points at which customers come into contact with the company. Mine is organized by our five senses.

What contributes to imperfections customers could see, hear, or smell? What will they touch? What can they taste?

What will contribute to your customers first impressions? Their last? Does their experience end at check out? In the parking lot? Or when you follow-up after the sale?

Your checklist may resemble that of other businesses, but it won’t be identical. How could it?

What About Customer Referrals?

Even if you never “wow” a customer, over time, what do you think will happen if you never disappoint?

Does your company use such a system? Join the conversation, and tell us about it.

If not, I’d suggest you start one today.  It makes your job much easier when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about identifying critical non-essentials in your business  may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.

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Surprise and Delight

My first post-high school employment was with Howard’s TV Repair. Howard had a pretty good understanding of human psychology. He insisted that we clean the outside of each television set repaired in his shop before it was returned to the owner.

It never took long. Less than 60 seconds to Windex the front of the picture tube, and maybe another three minutes to wipe the dust and fingerprints off the rest of the set. (It always amazes me, even today, how much dust, cigarette smoke, and other schmutz accumulates on the ‘tube and dims the picture).

When we’d fire it up for the owner, the usual comment was, “Wow. That looks good!

Why am I thinking of Howard today?

Because I just received a postcard from the shop that did extensive repairs on my truck. It was a nice “thank you,” and it arrived within 48 hours of the work being completed.

I paid $437 for repairs to the steering linkage. (Well, more correctly, $420 for the steering linkage, and $17 to replace the windshield wipers).

I picked the truck up at 5:30 pm, and drove it home into the setting sun, squinting through the dirty windshield. Now, granted, it was that dirty when I delivered the truck at 7:00 that morning. But, still, they paid enough attention to note the rubber was shot on my blades, and completely missed the filthy glass on which that rubber sat.

To the best of my knowledge, Howard never repaired any vehicle other than his own. However, I have no doubt that under his supervision no vehicle would be returned before the mats were vacuumed, the dash wiped down, and the glass cleaned.

And here I sit looking at this postcard.

The shop did good work. I’m not upset with their price. And yet, it would have been so easy for them to delight me with four minutes of extra, unexpected attention to the little things.

I don’t know what you sell, or what services you offer, but isn’t there some nicety you could do for your customers to surprise and delight them? I’m not talking about discount coupons or loyalty cards or even a free gift with purchase. I’m talking about just doing something nice. Something that could generate incredible word of mouth.

Something like:

  • The complementary hand sanitizer at the checkout of Mi Tierra Mexican Restaurant in Southaven, Mississippi.
  • Behive Music in Fargo loaning an amplifier for that night’s gig to a guitarist who’s amp was in their shop.
  • As one of California’s major fires worked it’s way up the Cajone Pass, the daily phone call to out-of-town owners of rental homes managed by Blue Star Properties of Victorville. (With evacuation on everyone’s mind, Ben Lamson’s crew minimized every owner’s worry by providing the latest information, and showing they were on top of the situation).
  • The Cincinnati O’Charlie’s Restaurant waitress who, slammed by the after church crowd, still noticed a lady with a walker coming around the side of the building, opened the side door, and found her a seat immediately.
  • The cleansing wipes provided by the Kroger Grocery in Portsmouth, Ohio so that shoppers can wipe down the handles of the shopping carts.
  • The taxi owned by El Torrito Restaurant in Evansville, Illinois, painted with their logo, that the restaurant parked by the street during the day and used in the evening to take home customers home who had spent too much time in the cantina.
  • The U.S. Postal Service repackaging my magazine when the cover tore, in order that it arrive without additional damage.
  • The complementary coffee served to those customers waiting to be seated at the Bob Evans Restaurant in Columbia, South Carolina.
  • The customer service representative of Chase Bank in Huntington, West Virginia who called the new customer with the name of a blues band looking for a bass player that his new-to-town customer had asked about the day before.

Do you have any personal examples of delightful customer service?

If you don’t mind, hit the “comment” button and tell us what the business did for you, how it made you feel, and roughly how many people you told about it.

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