There is no shortage of articles on customer satisfaction in the process improvement arena. Despite that, truly memorable customer experience is something of a rarity in the marketplace.
Memorable or superior customer experience can sometimes be had through simply a service level that is way above anything encountered previously. At other times, though, it seems to evolve when another attribute – employee passion – is blended into it.
Passengers of Southwest Airlines can attest to the infectious humor of the airline’s flight attendants and can see that that “charged” employees can deliver exemplary service. On other occasions, yet another attribute – innovation – can drive the customer satisfaction barometer to unprecedented heights. Midwest Airlines, prior to September 11, 2001, was the only airline that offered genuine hot meals with real silverware on its flights. This small regional airline had among the highest customer satisfaction and loyalty rates of any airline in the U. S. They had successfully gambled that the unexpected hot meal with real silverware paid off handsomely. It also helped that the airline staff was one of the most courteous around – through training and empowerment.
Truly memorable customer service, then, can be viewed as a Service Trinity: customer focused service (awareness and training), employee engagement and innovation. Combining these three elements will result in unprecedented levels of service delivery as experienced by the customer.
Let’s take a look at the three members of the Service Trinity:
Customer Focused Service
Over the last two decades, corporations have poured a considerable amount of effort and money into “Customer Service” programs, all geared to deliver “unsurpassed customer service”. Most end up being just that: programs which, by definition and interpretation, have an end-date attached to them. Hence, efforts such as those famous Delta Airlines commercials of the late eighties that featured counter-staff leaping over airport turn-stiles to deliver a forgotten article to its customers prior to boarding, simply lose steam, sputter and die away after an initial burst of enthusiasm.
Successful “customer service” initiatives (think Nordstrom) require something they can buttress on. To sustain the initial groundswell of support of such endeavors, the second member of the Service Trinity has to be invoked: the engaged employee.
An engaged employee is a committed employee who will go the extra mile for the employer and the customer. If an employee trusts management and is empowered to make certain decisions surrounding his/her work and is then appreciated for work well-done, there is no doubt about what they can and will do for customers. This will reflect positively on customer perception of the company and is bound to improve stakeholder returns.
Employees at Marriott Hotels have relatively broad discretionary powers that they can use to satisfyÂ customers – from delivering fruit baskets to guestrooms to granting suite upgrades without prior consultation. The Nordstrom employee rule book reads as follows: Rule # 1: “Use your good judgment at all times. There are no other rules”.
Companies like Marriott, Southwest Airlines and Nordstrom pay close attention to their employees. They communicate well with them, empower them, subsidize their education and encourage knowledge enrichment of the industry. All these result in employees who have a good measure of passion. This attitude – “focus on your passion and not your pension (paycheck)” – is what makes their services outstanding and is something that even their competitors talk about.
To cement both the customer service training and employee commitment, these excellent companies promote the “constant innovation” model of thinking, which is the third element in the Service Trinity.
Finding new and better ways to “wow” the customer is the way that companies use their already solid customer service awareness and employee passion to push the service excellence bar higher. Innovation is the hardest one thing to develop of all the things that companies try to do to excel or stand out from their competition.
Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of construction and mining equipment, has service teams that are acknowledged as among the finest on the planet. If your large earthmoving equipment is stranded in the desert, they will fly a team out, field-strip the machine and put it back together in a very short time. All the while, their lead technician is reviewing and updating the customer on all the work being carried out. The whole crew is disciplined in its work, maintains a professional attitude towards the customer and keeps the workplace tidy.
FedEx is a disciplined organization that runs more like a precision drill platoon in its loading and unloading of its freight planes. Les Schwab Tire Centers in the western states is an independent automotive tire and service chain that stands out among a sea of cut-throat competitors.
Pride in Performance is the value that drives Schwab Tires. They take pride in their customer service and pride in their employees. Their stated company goals are to continue to provide the legendary Les Schwab level of customer service, to be original and innovative, and to stay independent.
Similar small enterprises found throughout the U.S. prosper despite stiff competition in their business due to their investment in the Service Trinity. Sometimes they incorporate two of the three trinity elements.
However, the leaders of the service industry, the ones that have a truly entrenched culture of customer focus and commitment, incorporate all three elements in their employee make-up that is reflected in their unmatched service delivery.
Their results – and their customers’ high regard – show that they seem to be on the right track.