Great Customer Service Is a Spot of Bright Sunlight on a Dark, Stormy Ocean

Great customer service goes a long way toward making the customer’s experience positive. This begs the question: Why is great customer service so underutilized?

I’d like to sharea secret with you. It is about having satisfied and loyal customers. It is simple. It always works, and it is so underutilized. 

In the real world, I find that my business service interactions are non-descript, tactical interactions. Service gets delivered and you give money to whomever is delivering the service. It is all matter of fact without any kind of significance. It gets done….it gets delivered. Yet occasionally, I have service that puts a smile on my face, makes me more loyal, makes me more likely to come back. It happens. Not often, but occasionally. 

And that leads to my secret: Great customer service is like a spot of bright sunlight on a dark, stormy ocean.

Here are a few examples:

EXAMPLE 1

A couple of months ago, I was at the Richmond Airport at 4 p.m. waiting for my flight to depart. There was delay after delay. You can imagine how I was feeling. At a non-descript airport restaurant, I sat my depressed derriere down. 

“Coffee, please,” I said. 

“We don’t have coffee” the server responded in a raspy voice. 

She was a small woman with tattoos in her fifties. We looked at each other; I sighed. A diet coke was Plan B. 

Then without hesitation she said, “I will get you coffee at Starbucks, what do you want?” 

I was stunned. I was even more stunned that she followed through. 

Five minutes later, as I drank my Americano, I thought, "Great customer service is like a spot of bright sunlight on a dark, stormy ocean."

EXAMPLE 2

Last year, my dad and I were in a strip mall off the main drag of Key Biscayne, FL, in an uninteresting storefront called The Doughnut Café. Inside was a diner with gleaming stainless steel and chrome everywhere…decorated in the ’50s. The only modern touch was the flat-panel TV mounted on the wall featuring pictures of the business’ beloved customers. The place was immaculate.

The energy hit us as soon as we walked through the door. “Hola, Papi!” yelled the stout server in her sixties with heavy make-up. She swirled over, planting herself across the counter. “What do you want, Papi?” 

The server, who had been there for years, made us welcome in her unique way. We order—my 93-year-old dad had oatmeal and I had a turkey omelet….it was Thanksgiving, after all.

The restaurant resonated with the aura that you, the customer, were special there. Everyone engaged you. The cook at the broiler came over whenever he could. He looked like he was out of GQ—very poised and well put together. He was articulate and talked expansively of his many exploits. He may be the son of the founder. 

I sipped my Cubano coffee. We, the customers, were crammed together. In the time I was there, two parties checked out. Including us all, the bills came to more than $80 each or a total of $240. All the customers left happy, promising to return. With that kind of bill, it was cheaper to eat at the Ritz Carlton, and yet this diner was packed and the place to be. The energy was so compelling and electric I ate there three mornings in a row! I will return next year and will do it again every year. This restaurant is a Key Biscayne institution, and I can see why.

EXAMPLE 3

Flight attendants on a good day are perfunctory and on a bad day… Yet for the past two flights I’ve been on when I have asked for wine, for whatever reason, they just waived the fee and smiled. A little gesture, but it left me feeling good about them and the airline. Small gesture = big impact. 

EXAMPLE 4

I was on a business trip, checking into a hotel—a highpoint of all our lives. During the check-in process, I found out the only room left is a smoking room. This is very bad news. Did I mention it was 1 a.m.? The person checking me in was not feeling good about it; however, it was the only room left and a mistake had been made.

This agent was so upset that he stuck by me. Five minutes after I stepped into the room, resolving myself to a stinky, nauseating night, he called and said, “The last check-in just called and said he is not coming. You are getting his room and I am coming right up to move you.” 

So, he did. Five minutes later, I was in a new room that smelled like Febreze. 

The Little Things

That is the thing about customer service—you can take a bad situation and make it into a good situation. Great customer service ensures loyalty from the customer. Another gesture that always puts a smile on my face is some tasty something served up-front from the restaurant or a little sweet at the end of the meal. These are small things, but they always affect me in a positive way and typically result in a good tip.

Great customer service goes a long way toward making the customer’s experience positive. This begs the question: Why is great customer service so underutilized? I bet you have your examples of great customer service as a bright light. I invite you to tell me why it is so elusive and a secret. Why is this strategy so underutilized? I look forward to hearing from you. 

Bruce Hodes is the president and founder of CMI. The business strategy consultant and a former psychotherapist is dedicated to helping companies grow. The focus of his work is developing work teams, business leaders, and executives into powerful performers. Hodes has an MBA from Northwestern University and a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work. Hodes developed a methodology called Breakthrough Strategic Business Planning. He has more than 30 years of experience working extensively with privately held companies from $5 million to $100 million in size. He is an expert in small business advising and family business coaching. 

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