A customer service/ customer experience initiative, whether it’s formal and designed by customer service consultants, informal (your employees design and execute the initiative entirely on their own), or follows any approach in between, can reap rewards for a company in just about any industry.
The goal – what you can ultimately hope to accomplish – is to learn what your customers appreciate, tolerate, and actively dislike, and to creatively redeploy your attentio and resources in ways that help you win customer loyalty and improve your bottom-line success.
In other words, it’s all about getting your company to think like a customer.
If you want to try this on your own, you need to mobilize your employees as an army of consultants. This takes, approximately, two steps:
a) Make it clear throughout your company that it’s your goal to learn everything you can about what life actually looks like to a customer during the time the customer spends with your company
b) Work with your employees to think systematically about how to improve on your customer’s current reality–moment by customer moment, interaction by customer interaction..
You’ll be impressed at the kinds of issues, and solutions, you’ll turn up in the course of your initiative.
From Taco Bell to Charlie Trotter’s
Here are four colorful, highly non-technical examples (examples, in other words, that I’ve chosen specifically to avoid boring you) of learning to identify with customers, and the subsequent solutions this can lead to.
1. Consider the plight of someone who comes in to dine alone at a restaurant. Surrounded by chatty couples, groups, and families, the lone diner can feel socially awkward and a bit, well, lonely. Time passes more slowly. Food seems to take longer to arrive. What might make things less stressful for a guest in this situation?
Well, one thing you may notice is that those dining alone often bring, or hungrily grab, any available reading material. Bill Bryson recalls getting to the point in a diner of ‘‘reading restaurant placemats, then turning them over to see if there was anything on the back.’’ Therefore, a thoughtful restaurant might establish as procedure to offer a choice of reading material, perhaps a newspaper or newsmagazine, to everyone who comes in to eat alone.That’s a simple, considerate service rule that everybody on staff can implement.
2. It’s the middle of summer,and the customers who are entering your Atlanta boutique are escaping 95-degree heat. What would such customers likely want? Wouldn’t they be pleased to find ice water with lemon slices on the counter when they walk in the door? You can easily establish this procedure as part of a daily weather-dependent setup.
3. Consider those signs that read: ‘‘If this restroom needs attention, please let us know’’ or, worse, the ones you see on airplanes that say, ‘‘It is not possible to clean up after every customer’’ and go on to suggest you sop up the basin with a hand towel as a courtesy to the next customer? The best procedural approach to restroom cleanliness probably isn’t to install similar signs that put the onus on your customers for maintaining a clean facility.
Here’s a unique solution (in an admittedly rarefied setting): Charlie Trotter’s famed [now closed upon Chef Trotter’s retirement] restaurant in Chicago decided the only way to ensure its restrooms met the restaurant’s standards, rather than leaving the next guest’s experience at the whim of the last, was to themselves discreetly check the towels and soaps after every use.(I don’t necessarily recommend this extreme approach for you, except as a thought exercise; it’s obviously a nonstarter if you run a crowded pub, for example. However, another proactive procedural approach—perhaps an attendant on busy nights—may be worth considering in such a situation.)
4. What if you work for Taco Bell, and want to increase the comfort and happiness of your customers nationwide? Although your brand’s roots are So-Cal, if you’re thinking like a customer, you’d fit watertight overhangs over your drive-through windows in most other locales. Customers in Sacramento might not care, but in Seattle don’t you think they would prefer to skip the side order of soggy elbow and damp power window electronics?
Post-initiative, it’s important to build in mechanisms to ensure that company employees are frequenting your own physical and online facilities, because nothing is quite like the feedback you get this way. We’ve all been to places where it seems no employee has ever eaten the food, attempted to reach the ill-placed toilet paper dispenser in the customer washroom, or noticed the way that items you’re trying to purchase seem to vanish from the website’s shopping cart. To avoid being one of these companies, institutionalize the internal, systematic use and testing of your own services or products. Offer deep discounts or comps for employee purchases, but with a string attached: If employees use your services, they must take detailed notes and—if this is realistic— remain anonymous, so they experience the same service other guests would.
Building procedural anticipation of customer desires and needs requires ongoing, daily effort. It requires managerial vision, judgment, and persistence. But it brings you closer to achieving customer loyalty, and sustainable bottom-line success.
Micah Solomon is is a customer service consultant and a customer experience speaker, trainer, and bestselling author.