3: Think like a Customer

The author presents an anecdote about a time he was flying in stormy weather. The air traffic controller called a nearby private airstrip and got permission for him to land. The company taht owned the airstrip sent a van to pick them up from their plane and took them to the employee cafeteria to wait out the storm.

He points out that none of this was required - the controller could have sent him to a public field further away rather than taking the trouble to call. The field owner could have denied permission to land, or let them sit out the storm in their small plane on the tarmac. But instead, they thought about the situation from the other person's point of view, and gave them the level of help that they really needed, rather than doing what would cause themselves the least inconvenience.

Sample Your Service

One tip to improve customer service is to sample your own service. Use a "secret shopper" service that can give you a customer-eye perspective on your own business. The author cautions against small services that lack the expertise to give you anything but an unqualified opinion, and seek out an expert.

The service should be able to create a survey tool target specifically to you, use enough "shoppers" to get a broad spectrum of experiences, and repeat the exercise over time to see fluctuations (as a result of actions, or naturally occurring ones).

Other tips are to consider track record, look for association membership in MSPA, ask for testimonials, ask for a trial run, inquire about reporting options, ask for a profile of the shoppers they intend to use, ask for descriptions of test scenarios.

Learn to Listen

Human motivation is fairly simple: we do things because we expect that doing them will get us what we want. In unfamiliar situations, we do this by logic and inference; in familiar situations, we consider our past experience. And so long as we succeed, or believe we succeed, we'll keep doing the same things.

The author notes a problem with delayed feedback: if you provide an incentive to employees after a period of time, it may not be connected with the behavior that it's meant to reinforce (or may even be associated with unrelated behavior). And so: to be effective, feedback must be prompt and clearly linked to the behavior.

Feedback is critical: if we don't know the results, or don't get them, we have no indication that we are doing poorly, and see no reason to change. People who earn tips are familiar with it: a customer who is known to tip well receives much more attentive service than a cheapskate or an unknown party. This happens without any training whatsoever.

However, there's also the species of server who believes that tips are not a result of their behavior, but a reflection on customers - some are generous, others cheap, regardless of what he does. So why bother going the extra mile?

This underscores the importance of paying attention - learning the connection between behavior and results. Those that don't make the connection will not "get it."

Check Out the Other Guys

Another way to gauge service is to become a customer of your competitor. If your competitor does things better than you, you can observe and learn how. If your customer does things worse, you can at least learn what behaviors to avoid.

Being critical of others is easy: so take your crew to a competitor and then ask them to rip the competitor apart - they will find a lot of things wrong. Then, take the list of criticisms and ask how often they do the exact same things.

The author even suggests letting your employees observe one another in the workplace, so that they can point out things to each other that they wouldn't notice themselves. (EN: this seems very dangerous, and detrimental to group morale, unless managed very carefully.)

There's a stray note about best practices - how they sometimes come from other industries. The author notes that many businesses are "stealing" the idea of customer loyalty programs from the airline industry ... and that the airline industry stole the idea from dry cleaners in the first place.

Hire Customer Contemporaries

The author suggests hiring people who are "like" the customer. It's long been a practice in retail for stores to hire associates who are the same gender, age, race, and social class as the customers of the store.

He also mentions that building supply stores often hire contractors as sales associates, because they are similar to the customer in terms of experience and knowledge and are thus more qualified to understand the needs of the customer.

There's also a stray note about Southwest Airlines, who asked some of the frequent-flier customers to assist in the process of interviewing candidates for flight attendant positions (EN: which is an interesting note, though not strictly relevant to this topic.)