Customer service can mean sticking out your gooseneck.

Micah Solomon Keynote speech (video)

I spend a fair amount of time, as a customer service speaker and consultant, talking about the traits (warmth, empathy, teamwork, conscientiousness, and optimism–“WETCO”) needed to ensure great customer experiences. Here’s another one that helps:  a sense of humor, coupled with a culture that allows you – when appropriate – make use of it.  Not just in informal contexts (Southwest Airlines), but in luxury settings and other traditionally formal customer service formats as well.

To wit:

Patrick O’Connell’s Inn at Little Washington is one of the few double Five Diamond Award–winning institutions (five diamonds for food, five diamonds for lodging—the top designation in both categories from AAA) in the country, and yet, rather than being the stuffy enclave you would expect from that designation, it’s exactly as stuffy as a specific guest wants it to be.

In the case of a guest like me, that means “not very stuffy at all.”

My manufacturing operation was for years one of the few businesses other than The Inn that was located in the tiny, isolated town of ‘‘Little’’ Washington, Virginia. And because there’s no fast food for twenty miles in any direction, my wife and I felt we could save up what would’ve been our McDonald’s money and every so often dine at The Inn as a splurge. (That’s the story we told ourselves, anyway.)

So the two of us arrived there one evening and decided on the tasting menu option, where The Inn suggests a specific ‘‘program’’ of food and wine for the evening. My wife was happy to order everything exactly as suggested, but I asked to substitute one course: I wanted an alternative to the foie gras. The waiter chatted with me for a moment and figured out I was declining the foie gras because of ethical concerns, but he also quickly–and this is very, very important--recognized that I was a guest who could take a joke at my own expense.

‘‘Mr. Solomon, I can assure you: After one bite you’ll agree this goose’s liver was abused for a very good cause, as, in fact, we will be abusing your liver as the evening progresses. No chance I can change your mind?’’

It was a perfect comeback. A moment like that can become fraught for a diner: all those articles in the Times food section warning you not to second-guess the chef by making substitutions, concerns of looking self-righteous or of embarrassing your date . . .but through his comment, the waiter was signaling ‘‘We are going to be here a long time together, my friend; let’s get comfortable.’’

Any potential awkwardness dissolved, and although I assuredly didn’t give in and order the foie gras (I’m pretty sure the waiter knew I wouldn’t), the evening was off to a great start.

=====For other College of the Customer posts from Micah Solomon re. language and customer service /guest service, visit here:  “The Five Words You can Never Say to a Customer” and here: “Language Engineering: Finding the Right Words to Use With Customers”

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“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

Micah Solomon Customer Service Keynote Speaker headshot

Micah Solomon • Author-Speaker-Strategist • Customer Service – Marketing – Loyalty – Leadership

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 upcoming 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

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