I've been in so many airports recently that I find myself reaching to take off my shoes and empty metal objects into the cart when I enter a Walmart.
Last week, I found myself sitting within ear and eyeshot of a situation that reminded me of an important customer service issue. We may find ourselves answering the same questions and dealing with the same issues many times in a day. But each customer is dealing with them for the first time.
I arrived early for my 6:00 AM flight. After waiting in line at the only coffee shop open at 5:00, I took a seat near the ticket counter. At around 5:15, the ticket agent came walking over. Before I could look up, he gave me a chipper, "Good morning young man!"
I smiled my first smile of the day and thought how nice it was that this guy liked his job.
As it turned out, about half the folks on our plane had not been assigned a seat. That's not fun. And his computer system was not working well. That's worse. I could hear him telling another agent about how slow their system was responding.
As customers without an assigned seat made it through security, they would walk over to the counter with the same question/request. At first, the guy was as chipper as he had been with me. But as each customer came up with the same question, he grew noticeably gruffer.
Around the 10th time a customer came up with the same issue, he was sounding perturbed. His sentences grew terse. He barely resembled the nice guy I had encountered only 20 minutes before.
He seemed like a decent guy, and I found myself very sympathetic to the situation he found himself in.
But watching this episode reminded me of something those of us who interact with customers each day need to remember.
You may have answered 20 similar questions and solved 5 similar problems today. But to the next customer who walks up or telephones, it’s the first time he's asked for your help.
A great human trait, however, is that we can improve our own deteriorating mood by making sure that our next customer interaction is a positive one. Even one positive interaction can brighten an otherwise dreary day.
Your next customers won't judge you (or your bank) on your "average" service levels today. They only see what you are doing now and do next.
What will your next customer see?
I had the opportunity of attending the JD Power and Associates 2011 Customer Satisfaction Roundtable recently. One of the highlights was hearing Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com speak.
I smiled when he described various practices and strategies that the "outside world" once considered insane. One of these was happily allowing returns, while providing free return-shipping.
Customers can order multiple pairs of shoes, including different sizes of the same shoe, and return whatever they don't want or doesn't fit for free.
Hsieh considers it a marketing expense. In an increasingly marketing-saturated world, word-of-mouth advertising is king. It’s the only "advertising" that some customers actually believe. And an amazing amount of their business is repeat business and referrals from existing customers.
Their employees are also encouraged to perform personalized gestures, from personal notes and cookies to upgraded shipping. Those gestures cost a little more, but they pay for themselves through greater loyalty and increased business.
The week after I returned from the conference, I was set to drive a few hundred miles in a vehicle we were giving away. When I popped the hood on the day before my drive, I heard something snap. The brutal cold we had for a couple of weeks had finished off the windshield washer line.
I didn't want to give the car away with anything broken on it. I went directly to a local auto repair shop that I've used before but felt no particular loyalty to.
I expected to fork over the requisite couple hundred dollars everything seems to cost.
I told them what I was planning to do with the car and that I really needed it back by that afternoon. (Yes, setting myself up for a "rush" fee, I suppose.)
When I returned that afternoon and reached for my wallet, the manager said, "No charge, Mr. Martin. We don't want you spending money on a car that you're giving away."
I was honestly stunned.
After a second I said, "Man, I guess you guys are going to be getting all of my future business, huh?" He laughed, "We wouldn't turn it down."
Other auto repair shops' marketing is wasted on me for the foreseeable future. That manager's action locked me in as a customer and has me telling friends. Unexpected gestures make big impressions.
What can you do today to make your own?