The Customer Service Initiative: Initiatives from Taco Bell to Charlie Trotter

A customer service initiative — whether it’s formal and assisted by customer service consultants , informal [you do it all yourself], or anywhere in between — can reap significant rewards for a company in just about any industry. The goal, the highest level you can hope to accomplish with such an endeavor, is to learn what your customers appreciate, tolerate, and actively dislike, and to creatively redeploy your resources (including one of the key ones: attention) 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, start like this:

a) Make it clear throughout your company that it’s your goal to learn everything you can about, and from, your customers.

Then:

b) Work with your employees to think systematically about particular segments of customers (or even particular customers, depending on your size and the dollar value of each customer) and understand what  they are likely to want or need.

Here are four colorful, highly non-technical [I’m not here to bore you!] examples 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 [in “A Walk In The Woods”] getting to the point 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, of course, 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?

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Even after your customer service initiative concludes, 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 customers 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.

Professional Business Keynote Speaker Micah Solomon: conference speaker
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2 Free Chapters: High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service
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Micah Solomon, author of “High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service“, is the business keynote speaker, author, and customer service consultant termed by the Financial Post ”a new guru of customer service excellence.” Solomon offers speaking and consulting on customer service issues, the customer experience, and company culture — and how they fit into today’s marketing and technology landscape. An entrepreneur and business leader, he previously coauthored the bestselling “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit“.

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See Micah in action — including video and free resources — at http://www.micahsolomon.com. Or, click here for your own free chapter  of Micah’s new book,  High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service (AMACOM Books) and Micah’s #1 bestseller, Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization———————————————————–

“Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology.” –Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder

© 2013 Micah Solomon.  Portions of this post may also have appeared in Micah’s previously published work.

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