Unless you’ve disconnected from the World Wide Web, turned off your TV, and cancelled your newspaper subscription, you’re probably familiar with David Dao. He’s the United Airlines passenger who was forcibly removed from a Chicago-to-Louisville flight.
You may also be familiar with Dave Carroll. He’s a singer/songwriter who rose to fame after United Airlines broke his guitar on a Chicago-to-Omaha flight. The actual incident did not make headlines but his song, "United Breaks Guitars", has over 17 million views on YouTube (check it out here).
Even less known than breaking guitars are two United incidents I experienced within the last couple of years, both taking place at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. While returning from an East Coast consulting project, I had a connection and small layover at O’Hare. Our DFW-bound flight was running a bit late so by the time the plane arrived, the gate area was full of anxious travelers.
When our MD-80 finally arrived, there was no gate agent to move the jet bridge. Two minutes passed. Three. Four. At the five-minute point, I walked a few steps to the next gate where two United agents stood talking. I pointed to our non-moving jet bridge and asked for some help. One agent replied, “It’s not our gate.”
I was stunned. Just several feet away were about 150 passengers (well, we wanted to be passengers) trying to get to Dallas and their only action was to say, “It’s not my gate.” Now, perhaps their union contract prevented them from actually working that gate but I doubt it prevented them from calling someone who could help.
Another “not my job” incident took place last year. Getting to O’Hare well before my departure, I grabbed something to eat and found an empty area in the terminal to do some work. Shortly after sitting down and opening my laptop, I noticed a United employee walking my way. She was obviously on break as she had a book and a soda in hand.
She approached my empty gate area, looked at a Big Gulp cup sitting on the floor as she came within inches of knocking it over, and simply kept walking to an empty chair. Although she did not seem to look at the cup as she left the gate area, she did pass within several feet of this trash. Why didn’t she take the extra five seconds to throw this trash away, making the United gate area a little more inviting? Maybe it wasn’t her gate?
These two “It’s not my job” examples, although quite small, have the same genesis as the two much larger problems of throwing passengers off planes and breaking guitars. In business terms, it’s a lack of accountability.
The United employees mentioned here were not accountable for making great customer experiences. They each had very narrow job descriptions that dictated their actions. So even though these employees could say they were doing their job (although the ramp agents who broke the guitar severely abused their job description), they were not responsible for building an overall good customer experience.
Lack of accountability is one term. Another description is lack of caring. None of these employees cared about me or any other United passenger. They cared about having fun. They cared about taking their break. But they didn’t care for the customers’ belongings, didn’t care if they arrived or departed on time, and didn’t care about the United brand overall.
That’s why we talk about culture so much! A culture of caring or accountability to several key metrics, in these cases on-time departures and satisfied customers, could have prevented these PR disasters. Culture (along with core values) allows all employees to work toward the same goals. Culture helps employees find career success and satisfaction. Culture is unique and gives an organization a competitive advantage that can’t be replicated.
Yes, building and sustaining a healthy corporate culture takes time and effort. It’s something that must be monitored and managed. But the concept is simple:
Corporate culture is the driving force behind corporate success.
Why don’t more companies understand this?
Since someone commented on the previous entry about always enjoying a good customer service story, let’s stick with that theme one more time. Sadly, though, it’s another example of an organization simply going through the motions of customer service.
My wife and I recently joined a friend for a night at the movies. After selecting a just-released show, we thought it best to reserve our seats. So I jumped on the Cinemark website to purchase three tickets.
While finding the movie and selecting the time, I was actually thinking about how great it was Cinemark allows me to purchase my seats in advance. That satisfaction quickly changed to disappointment and frustration when, upon checkout, I was hit with almost $5 worth of service fees. Not wanting to add to an already expensive ticket, I decided to abandon this purchase and take our chances at the theater.
After returning home from an enjoyable evening, I decided to contact Cinemark to express my disappointment with their service fee. Using their website, I wrote a brief and professional note about my frustration with their online purchase process. I wasn't really looking for anything in return. I was simply voicing a concern with hope that someone would actually think about changing this policy. Their response elevated a mildly annoying customer experience into this blog entry.
My Name Is Darren
Cinemark’s response started, “Dear Valued Customer.” Well, if I were truly a valued customer, I wouldn’t have to pay that “convenience” fee in the first place. But now that we’re to this point, can’t Cinemark value me as a customer by using my name? And before you ask, yes, my name was on the “Contact Us” form. In fact, my name and verbatim memo was pasted below Cinemark’s response!
Cut And Paste
Cinemark’s Customer Service rep wrote (and in my head, this response was delivered with a disrespectful tone) their policy “clearly states that there is a service fee when verifying your order and again when putting in your credit card information.” I already know this – I saw the fee when I was checking out! The CS rep then simply did a cut-and-paste from that policy.
Our Cards Are Free
If I pay for my movie tickets using a debit card, I have to pay an extra $1.50 per ticket. Cinemark’s response said if, however, I pay using a Cinemark Gift Card, I can avoid this fee. So there’s a service fee for only certain kinds of cards. I guess if I use a Cinemark card, I then become a Super Valued Customer?
No, The Problem Isn’t Solved
This is what really got me. Cinemark’s entire response started with, “Your request has been solved.” How do they know that? Cinemark simply said, “Look at our policy and use our own card if you want to avoid the service charge.” I’m still not happy. It was still an unpleasant customer experience. And Cinemark’s “Read our policy and pay up” response did nothing to resolve my displeasure and frustration. So, no, the problem isn’t solved.
As stated multiple times on the PCC blog, the theory behind delighting the customer is simple – build a customer-centric culture. Translating that theory into reality is the hard part. It takes an exhaustive, around-the-clock effort to do whatever is necessary to make the customer happy. And when something slips and a customer is not delighted, it takes even more effort to “make things right” as we learned in the previous blog entry.
If Cinemark wants to eliminate their service fee for their Super Valued Customers, I understand that. But at least explain that to me in a nicer way, use my name, and ask if I’m satisfied. Is that too hard to do? For some organizations, apparently it is.
A few months ago I had business in Ogden, Utah, and checked into the Hilton Garden Inn. After settling into my room, checking some email, and prepping for the next day, it was time for dinner.
I was in the mood for a nice steak. Nothing fancy or expensive, but I wanted something more than a burger or fast food. Not knowing the area, I visited the front desk to ask for a suggestion. I received an immediate reply, “Hmmm . . . I don’t know. Try the sports bar across the street.”
A sports bar? Doubtful they would have any beef other than a burger. But I wanted a steak. Unfortunately for me, the Hilton employee didn’t seem to keen on helping me, the customer, satisfy my craving.
Is there anything wrong with “I don’t know” customer service? No. As long as it’s followed with a cheery, “but let me find out.” Could that Hilton employee have done anything to help relieve my steak craving? Sure! Ask the other check-in person who was sitting in the room behind him. Walk across to the restaurant area and ask any of the four people working over there. Think about my question for more than two seconds!
Compare this customer experience to my recent restaurant outing in Tulsa. It wasn’t steak this time, it was pizza. While visiting family, my sister, brother-in-law, and I decided to have salad and pizza from a nearby restaurant, The Upper Crust. My sister called in the order and I drove the three or four minutes to pick up our order.
Returning home, we laid everything on the counter and were disappointed to find the order was wrong. No big deal -- I was willing to drive back to the restaurant to pick up the corrected order. After explaining the mistake by phone to the Take Out person, my sister received a hearty “We're sorry. We will deliver your food in just a few minutes.”
But The Upper Crust doesn’t deliver!
About five minutes later (I still don’t know how they got there that fast!), we heard a knock at the door and were greeted by the manager. The manager! Anyone could have delivered the food but the manager took it into his own hands to turn our experience around. And then I heard the best customer service line ever:
“Thanks for allowing me to make this right.”
For the rest of the evening, we really never thought about the wrong order. We did, though, think about how fast that manager changed our experience.
What’s the difference between the Hilton Garden Inn in Ogden and The Upper Crust in Tulsa?
Good customer service is easy – just do your job. Exceptional customer service is also easy, at least the concept is. Do whatever you can to not just satisfy the customer, but to truly delight the customer. Sadly, even though the concept is easy, there aren’t enough caring people who take those extra steps to delight.
So thanks to the manager at The Upper Crust in Tulsa. I’ll be back for another pizza soon!
Last Tuesday morning I was scheduled to facilitate some supervisor training for one of PCC’s great partners. With the threat of ice on Monday morning when I was scheduled to depart DFW, I decided to leave Sunday afternoon. Rather than postpone the training due to a cancelled flight, I was determined to offer PCC’s partner a high level of customer service by pushing my departure up a few hours.
While offering great customer service was on my mind, I can’t say the same for the airline that took me to Ogden. There’s not enough room here to describe the flight but due to multiple mechanical issues, we arrived in Salt Lake City three hours late. I know that because the pilot made this announcement – four times!
As we pushed back from the departure gate (for the second time, I might add), the pilot announced what everyone already knew. “We are three hours late but no one has any connections in Salt Lake so everyone will be okay.”
Once at cruising altitude, the pilot again reminded us of our three-hour delay.
As we started our descent, he mentioned our delayed arrival. Yes, it was still three hours.
Finally, as we pulled up to the gate, the pilot announced, ““We’re three hours late but welcome to Salt Lake City.”
What we didn’t hear and what would have eased the pain a bit (other than a complimentary glass of wine, of course) was having the pilot say, “I’m sorry.”
Two small words that can make a big difference.
I was reminded four times that we were three hours late but did the pilot care? I don’t know. Nor do I know if the flight attendants cared. They didn’t offer an apology either.
Most companies work hard to deliver outstanding customer experiences. When a customer encounters a hiccup with their experience, simply acknowledging the inconvenience can help soothe a customer’s feelings. So why don’t we hear sincere apologies more often?
Organizations must obsessively develop a culture of customer service and constantly remind employees that anything less than an exceptional customer experience is unacceptable. Part of that “customer is king” culture is to train employees to accept responsibility for a subpar experience and to sincerely apologize for missing the mark, even if the problem is out of their control. Customers want to know you care.
Taking a flight out a day early wasn’t a big deal but hopefully meant a lot to my client.
Saying “I apologize for your inconvenience” would not have put me in Utah any sooner, but it would have made me feel a little better.
During a recent flight home after a training session, I witnessed a great example of outstanding customer service. It was nothing major. In fact, most people would likely overlook this exceptional effort when offered or not miss it in its absence. This small act of service, though, helps shine the light on how exceptional customer service can disappear over time.
After delivering a session of PCC’s Effective Management series to one of our partners, I boarded a flight from Ogden, Utah, back to Dallas. There’s no need to call out the specific air carrier. It was simply a major AMERICAN airline.
Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, the flight attendants started rolling their refreshment cart down the aisle. Judging by age and attitude, I believe one of the flight attendants was experienced, having worked her position over a long number of years. Her partner appeared new to her career, with a bubbly persona and bright smile.
As I do on most every flight, I requested a Diet Coke. After receiving my small cup of ice, this flight attendant, we’ll call her Smiley, opened my can of soda. With a friendly, “Enjoy,” she handed me the open can.
The “seasoned” flight attendant then looked at her inexperienced partner and with a disdainful voice said, “You don’t have to open the cans for them.” With a confident and upbeat tone, Smiley responded, “That’s okay. I just think it’s a nice little touch.”
I AGREE! In fact, after hearing this three-sentence exchange, I supported my flight attendant by saying, “I agree, that was a nice little touch. Thank you and keep up the great service.” And I said it loudly enough for ol’ grumpy to hear me.
This is an excellent example of how time and experience can be at odds with delivering a great customer experience. When dealing with people, some of them less-than-nice, day after day, month after month, and through the years, it’s easy to turn against the customer. In fact, this is one thing that makes delivering exceptional customer service so difficult. Often, it’s the customers themselves that get in the way of a great customer experience.
Do all experienced customer service reps turn sour over time? Of course not. Over time, though, many employees can lose that first-day excitement and stop doing the little things that make a difference to the customer.
Organizations must be vigilant for those employees who become jaded, even angry, over time. This holds true not only for our customer-facing employees in Customer Service but also for employees throughout an organization. In the end, we are all responsible for delivering world-class service. It might be an HR person making sure an employee receives the correct, timely answer to a benefits question or it could be someone at the IT Help Desk getting an employee’s system back in working order.
Ultimately, it’s simply an individual choice. An employee must choose how to represent their organization and the type of experience their customer will enjoy. Each and every employee, experienced or newbie, decides how to interact with the customer, either doing just enough to get by or taking a “customer is king” attitude with every customer interaction.
In other words, they must decide whether or not to open that can of Diet Coke!
I enjoyed one of those little “exceptional” customer service moments over the weekend. My daughter-in-law, who just had a baby, wanted some soup from The Olive Garden along with a few breadsticks. So on the way to the hospital, my wife and I dropped by our local Olive Garden to satisfy this craving.
Along with the soup we picked up some pasta and a small bag of breadsticks. When I asked the server behind the counter for a few more, he said, “I can only give you two but can sell them by the half-dozen.” Not wanting to pay the extra charge (nor wanting the extra carbs), I replied somewhat sadly, “Just two? Hmmm --- ok, that’s fine.”
Moments later, the server appears with a bag of breadsticks. “I threw in a couple of extra for you.” I walked out the door with a smile on my face.
Isn’t it amazing how little it takes to make us smile? In this case, just two extra breadsticks made a happy customer.
I’m confident all companies want happy, loyal customers. Empowering employees to do the little things like this is certainly one way of building that loyalty.
Customer service – we experience it daily. Some great, some just okay, and some just down right horrible. While theory is important and during PCC workshops we explore the Do’s and Don’ts of exceptional customer service, there is no substitute for actual stories. So on occasion, I will pass along examples of both good and bad customer service. Today, I want to pass along two different lessons.
Lesson of the Lime
This isn’t my story but one I came across in i2i Leadership. Randy Gravitt, the blog’s author, recounts a dinner he enjoyed at a restaurant in Rome, Georgia, when his friend ordered a Diet Coke with a lime – not a huge request.
A few minutes later, the server returned with his friend’s Diet Coke sans lime -- the café had run out. Bummer but no big deal. Well, to the food server, it was a big deal!
This waitress wanted her customer to enjoy the best possible experience and realized he couldn’t if he was missing his lime. So what did she do? “I decided to go next door and buy a few [limes] so you could have some with your Diet Coke.”
What incredible customer service! As Randy points out, “A waitress made a 33 cent decision and I will be talking about it for the next decade.” It doesn’t require much to offer customers an outstanding experience.
Lesson of the Line
Do you like standing in line? Probably not. I certainly don’t. Over the last few months, I’ve experienced polar opposites of how two companies address waiting customers. Of course, these stories are about individuals who offer customer service; but I believe these stories are a reflection of how the company views the “customer in line” experience.
My wife and I were recently on a trip to California and required a rental car (I don’t want to call out this rental company so let’s just say I spent a lot of “dollars” for the car!). We landed in Ontario and along with my fellow travelers, walked up to the rental counter. There were two agents, each helping a customer, and an empty line. As it frequently happens, we all arrived at the same time so I’m about six people away from getting my car.
When one of the agents finished with his customer, he looked up at the line, stood up from his chair, and walked to the back room, never to be seen again. Was it time for his break or lunch? Maybe. Was his shift over? Possibly. But with six customers waiting in line, couldn’t he have postponed his counter departure? How about calling someone else from the back to take his place? Or at least a simple, “Thank you for your patience. We’ll help you just as soon as possible.” Instead, we received nothing but frustrating silence and more waiting.
This is in stark contrast to a recent line experience at QuickTrip. Unlike renting a car, most QT transactions are pretty simple and therefore pretty fast. So even if there are three or four people in line, the wait at the register isn’t bad. But QT wants customers to have a great experience and understands the customer wants to get in the store and get out – quickly.
As I stood there, Big Q drink in hand, waiting to pay, a QT employee comes through the front door. As soon as he saw the five customers waiting in line, he ran to the end of the counter, jumped behind a register, and said (with a smile), “May I help the next customer.” He ran!
QT is one of my favorite businesses. They understand customers have choices so QT goes out of its way to earn business by delivering an enjoyable customer experience. Even if it’s just about buying a soft drink and a donut. As I walk through their doors, I’m most often greeted with a “Welcome to QuickTrip”. As I leave, I hear, “Thanks and have a great day. We’ll see you next time.” And the wait is never long. It’s not just one store – it’s all of them! QT truly understands the idea of exceptional customer service.
The Lesson of the Lime and the Lesson of the Line – stories of how to treat customers and how not to treat them. What stories do you have?
About a week ago, my wife and I were eating at an upscale Italian restaurant. One reason we chose this particular eatery is because we were thinking about having our son’s wedding reception in one of their large rooms. After asking our server for some information, the manager soon appeared at our table. He was very friendly and offered some thoughts but didn’t have all of the information handy. He ended the conversation with, “Let me run back to the catering office and get you some more information. I’ll be back before you finish dessert.”
Unfortunately, that was the last time we spoke with the manager. We saw him a couple of times as he passed by our table, but he never brought us the information.
So why didn’t he come back? Was the manager sincere? Did he really mean those words? Most likely. He probably just forgot, his mind swimming with “To Do” items during a busy dinner period.
We regularly offer sincere words and statements that oftentimes get lost in the busyness of life. Sadly, we offer these things so frequently (and without thinking?) that they oftentimes become throwaway comments:
- “This year we’re going to offer quarterly employee feedback instead of our usual
yearly approach.” Twelve months later, we’re still waiting for our first performance
review with our manager.
- “Your call is important. Please leave a message and I’ll return it as quickly as
possible.” But when we don’t hear back from you, does that mean our call is not
- The “Our employees are our biggest asset” corporate value shows up on a wall
plaque. Then why don’t our employees feel valued and appreciated?
Do we really mean what we say or are we simply saying what’s expected? The right thing at the right time?
What is the cost when our words become hollow and meaningless? We might lose customers (in my case, we chose not to use the Italian restaurant for our reception). We might lose employees. We can lose trust, respect, or even a friend. We miss opportunities that may never come again.
Effective communication requires effective words along with effective tone and body language. Just as important – perhaps even most important – for effective communication is the necessary action to support those words.
So think before you speak. Then do something!
I enjoyed one of those hard-to-find customer service experiences yesterday. One of those experiences that go beyond great and hit that excellent level.
After wrapping up a late-afternoon coffee with a couple of friends, I was about to leave for an evening dinner reception when I realized I didn’t have a pen. Now, I wasn’t sure if I was going to need a pen but it’s always best to be prepared.
I was having coffee at the Corner Bakery in Irving (TX), which is surrounding by mostly offices and other restaurants. But I thought there had to be a convenience store close by where I could buy that much-needed pen.
So I walked up to the counter and asked, “Is there a convenience store around here somewhere? I need to buy a pen.”
Without hesitation, the young woman behind the cash register started moving things around on the counter, quickly found a pen and then offered it to me saying, “Here ya go.”
I told her I needed a pen to take with me to which she replied, “Go ahead and take that one. I’m sure I can find another one.” So off I went to my reception, pen ready to write.
Was this a big deal? Well, yes! Regarding the Great vs. Excellent theme we’ve discussed here in past blogs, this Counter Professional could have provided great customer service by giving me clear, accurate directions to the nearest store which is exactly what I requested.
She went beyond good and offered excellent customer service by solving my problem immediately. She didn’t have to, but she did.
So thanks, Corner Bakery in Irving, for an excellent customer service experience. Next time I’m in your neighborhood, I’ll go out of my way to give you more of my business.
I was enjoying some down time with my beautiful bride last night, just hanging in front of the TV watching one of our favorite shows when my cell phone rang.
“Hello. This is Darren Ford.”
On the other end was a nice woman who asked for Edward Somebody-or-other.
“I’m sorry, you must have the wrong number,” I replied.
(Here is example #1 of this agent not thinking critically.)
After adjusting her headset and speaking up a bit, this customer service rep said, “So, this isn’t Edward So-n-So?”
Hmmmm. Let me think. Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I really am Ed. After a quick reflection, I concluded that I was still Darren.
“No, this isn’t. You have a wrong number.”
The agent, fumbling for her next statement, said, “I’m sorry. Thank you.”
(Here comes example #2 of non-thinking.)
Just as I started to hit the “End” button on my iPhone, the agent says matter-of-factly, “If you ever have any questions for us, please call us at 1-800-I-stopped-listening.”
Really? I don’t do business with your company (I would name the organization but since I really wasn’t paying attention, I’d hate to falsely accuse someone) and don’t have any plans to do so. So why would I have any questions for you?
Two examples of a call center professional fumbling an outside-the-call-script scenario. First, she was not prepared nor could she think quickly enough to give a proper response to my wrong number reply. Second, she was so tied to the script, she had to get that closing line in before hanging up.
Yes, that last statement might be required but couldn’t she adjust just a bit based on the situation? “I’m sorry for bothering you this evening and realize you are not our customer. But if you ever consider satellite radio, we hope you will think of us.” Now that would have been a nice way to end this call.
Many contact center professionals rely on a call script. That’s understandable. Complying with legal issues and hitting business objectives are two among many reasons why scripts are important.
If, however, organizations want to improve and offer the best customer experience, teaching critical thinking skills to call center professionals must be a priority. Critical thinking allows employees to deal with ambiguity, overcome adversity, and reach individual goals. Teams and entire call centers that think critically will find business success that other call centers will miss.
Just thinking is easy. Thinking critically is a different story. It doesn’t just happen. Thinking critically is a complicated process that must be addressed and practiced:
- Living a healthy lifestyle is important. Proper sleep, eating well, and exercising
all contribute to critical thinking.
- The ability to focus, ignoring all of the “noise” around us, also helps the critical
thinking process. This is especially hard given today’s always-connected lifestyle.
- Choosing a positive attitude has a positive effect on your thinking ability.
- Technology – blogging, tweeting, etc. -- has allowed anyone to become an “expert.”
Applying logic in today’s Age of Spin is a valuable skill and helps us think well.
- Looking ahead and being prepared for new, ambiguous circumstances is also part
of the critical thinking process.
Organizations that help their employees practice and develop critical thinking skills will find business success in today’s complex and rapidly changing world. Those organizations that do not value critical thinking may someday (soon?) find themselves wondering how they ended up so far behind the competition.
Does your organization develop critical thinkers? How?
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.