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Simply Excellent Customer Service

My wife and I had dinner a couple of nights ago at a local Uno Chicago Grill. I hadn’t been in an Uno’s for a while and was very impressed with the look of the facility. Lots of energy, but not loud (I don’t like loud restaurants – it makes conversation too hard). They had it just right.

But my focus, as usual, was on the service; and the service that evening was wonderful. But here’s the point: no one did anything breathtaking, they just did the little things very well. Every employee we encountered made us feel welcome. My wife commented with what I think were exactly the right words – “They seemed genuinely happy we were there.” And we will definitely be back.

Would your customers say that every employee seemed genuinely happy to serve them? Or do they sometimes feel as though they’re being processed through the system?

As I said, there were no heroics by the Uno’s employees that evening. But they didn’t need heroics.

Great service isn’t the result of one big thing. It’s the result of many little things done extremely well.

The Need For Top Management Commitment

From 10+ years of working with organizations on customer service improvement initiatives, I can say without hesitation that the number one ingredient for success is top management commitment. While an improvement initiative can begin anywhere in the organization, top management support quickly becomes required for the initiative to gain any real traction. Without such support, the organization’s naysayers and skeptics will eventually squeeze the life out of the effort.

The situation is effectively explained in an excellent book, Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, by Jeanne Bliss. In a chapter titled, “Machine of Mediocrity,” Bliss says that while improving the customer experience is a noble goal, such initiatives often fail for three reasons: “(1) the customer ‘thing’ is still considered something layered on to the existing work, (2) there’s no one clearly in charge or able to take charge of knitting the pieces together, and (3) there are dueling silos.”

Each of the reasons Bliss cites calls out for senior management commitment and support. At some point in the improvement process, things are going to get messy. Some players won’t want to play. Some won’t play if the game isn’t played their way. And when things get messy the blame game or avoidance game begins, resulting in a death spiral for the initiative. If, however, the CEO sees the customer experience improvement effort as an integral part of the organization’s strategy, the organization is much more likely to muscle through the inevitable setbacks or challenges along the way. When the leader makes success non-negotiable, it’s amazing how things get done.

While I’ve focused this message on senior leadership and the CEO in particular, this same principle applies on a smaller scale. At the division level, the division leader must be 100 percent committed. At the department level, it’s the department head who will set the tone. Wherever the service improvement initiative is targeted, the group’s leader will be the ultimate determinant of success or failure.

If you are the senior leader of your organization (or your piece of the organization), know that it is up to you to set the improvement initiative up for success. If you’re not in that position, but desire to implement a customer service improvement strategy, the sooner you get senior leadership involved and excited the better. And if senior leadership refuses to get involved and excited, or simply pays lip service by saying something like, “Sure, go ahead and give it a try; you have my blessing,” don’t believe it. You have their blessing until things get messy, or expensive.

I don’t mean for this post to sound cynical or depressing. But from my experience, what I’ve written here accurately describes the situation. Senior leadership commitment is the critical element of any successful service initiative.

What’s Wrong With This Picture? Everything Speaks!

During a recent drive, my wife Debbie pointed out this sign on the side of the road. “Based on the quality of the sign,” she asked, “how ‘class A’ do you think the office space is?” Good Question.

When it comes to execution, I believe that “everything speaks.” Every detail is communicating a message to the customer. In this case, the desired message and its execution are seriously out of alignment. I always have my digital camera ready, and just had to stop and snap the photo.

While this might be a blatant example of poor execution, it’s not all that unusual. How many times have you seen a hastily scrawled sign in an environment that’s supposed to communicate quality?

At one time or another, most of us have been guilty of such “everything speaks” offenses. We were in a hurry and just didn’t take the time to think about the message we were actually communicating. And the organization’s brand was (at least slightly) compromised. And it’s not just about handwritten signs – anything out of alignment with the organization’s brand causes a disconnect in the mind of our customer.

As you go about your daily routine, it’s worth taking a few moments to consider your decisions from an “everything speaks” perspective. Are you communicating the message you want to communicate?

I am, of course, hoping there are no typos in this post. I couldn’t stand the irony.

Walk The Walk – Book Review

I came across a great book review in today’s Wall Street Journal – Walk The Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders, by David Price. I’ll buy the book, but the ideas in the review alone are definitely worth reading.

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Customer Service Brilliance

For some time I’ve wanted to add audio interviews to my blog and have finally made it happen. I hope to regularly interview some of the people I admire and share those interviews with you.

The choice for my first interview was a no-brainer. Simon T. Bailey is someone I’ve admired since working with him at Walt Disney World many years ago. Simon is now a world-class speaker and consultant, focusing on the subject of “brilliance.” He has a best selling book, Release Your Brilliance: The 4 Steps to Transforming Your Life and Revealing Your Genius to the World.

I’d encourage you to share this 25-minute interview with your employees and colleagues; Simon’s insights can help any individual and any organization “release their brilliance.” To listen, click on the arrow below.