Lessons Learned in Customer Service (intro)

There was a time when I was a frequent blogger, posting at least 5-7 times a week. I usually blogged on churchy ideas, worship stuff, funny stuff, design stuff, and family stuff. Then I got rid of my internet and resigned my position at my church. Then I got a new position, at a new church/school, and still didn’t get internet – so no blogging. Then I got a new position at the same church/school, and decided it was time to get internet again, at home that is. The whole time I’ve been wondering if I’d ever really blog again – the answer is still up in the air. Anyhow, that’s the intro for this post.

Over the past year my main job has been in customer service. I’m the Admissions & Family Relations Director at Rancho Christian Schools (I also am designing, brainstorming, and doing odds & ends for the church, but that’s another story). A huge part of my job has been and continues to be helping our parents (and sometimes staff) when they “hit walls” at our school. Maybe they can’t get the information they need, maybe they are in a conflict and need a mediator, maybe a staff member hasn’t been as courteous as we’d like them to be, maybe they have an idea and just need to be empowered, maybe we’ve just made a mistake and we need to own up to it.

So I thought I’d begin sharing some of what I’m learning when it comes to “Customer Service”. For those more churchie people, this would be framed around acting Christ-like (humbling yourself, walking the extra mile, washing feet, the one-anothers, etc). These are just some cool quotes that I found and thought I’d share, to inspire myself and anyone who’s reading:

From “Spreading His Gospel of Warm and Fuzzy“:

  • “You do not have to be the very best in your business to be people’s favorite,” Ms. Salgado explained. “It’s all about how you make people feel.”
  • Mr. Meyer, who serves up labels and analogies as readily as foie gras, calls his approach the Virtuous Cycle of Enlightened Hospitality: Employees focus first on pleasing one another — creating a warm-and-fuzzy energy that fuels the staff as it tends to patrons, the community, suppliers and, ultimately, a company’s backers. Meyer restaurants offer employees a variety of rewards, from bonuses to birthday cakes; employees, in turn, have discretion to give customers free extras.
  • Mr. Meyer always looks to hire what he calls “51 percenters” — people whose job skills are 51 percent emotional and 49 percent technical. Managers can teach technical skills, the theory goes, but cannot recalibrate someone’s emotional makeup.
  • “Skunking,” for instance, refers to “spraying contagious, negative energy into the workplace.” But because skunks spray when they are frightened, as Ms. Salgado explained, co-workers are encouraged to make a “charitable assumption” — Meyer-speak for the benefit of the doubt — and approach the fragrant employee with respect, trust and perhaps an offer of help and support.
  • The “jazz level” refers to how excited one is to be at work, while A.B.C.D. means “always be connecting dots” — collecting clues about what a customer wants. “In hospitality,” Mr. Meyer has written, “one size fits one!”
  • “It has now become almost impossible to distinguish your business based on innovation or execution for more than about two seconds,” he said. “In this next economy, if you want to distinguish yourself as being the best and being the favorite business within your category, the only thing left is the hospitality experience.”
  • “Ten or 15 years ago, we were the only place to get a Mac fixed, and now there are lots of choices,” Mr. Lerner said. “It’s not enough to do a perfect repair if the customer feels you were grumpy or you kept them waiting too long.”
  • Lakythia Ferby, who directs the center, said she created a staff-appreciation program in which co-workers take note of each others’ high performance and nominate them — using a form headed, “Kudos, you were caught doing good!” — for a reward of a $5 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.

From “Compete for Customers, not Against Them“ (a novel concept!):

  • Have you ever sensed an adversarial, “us vs. them” mentality from employees of service organizations?
  • Always compete for customers, not against them. You’ve probably heard the saying: “You never win an argument with a customer.” It’s true. Even if you have signage to point to or a policy to support you, if you’ve offended a customer then you lose—maybe a little or maybe a lot.
  • The next time that you draw a line in the sand between you and your customers, consider inviting them to cross the line. That way, you can be on the same side.
  • PS – Check out the authors blog and follow him on Twitter.

There’s some powerful concepts in those articles. We’re working through some of these very issues so the questions on my mind are:

  • In what ways do we find ourselves competing AGAINST customers? Let’s stop doing those things.
  • In what ways can we compete FOR customers? Let’s start doing those things.
  • How can we create that “warm and fuzzy” environment in our staff; what are some practical things that other organizations do to accomplish this?
  • What are the best ways to confront staff (and help them realize) who struggle with being “grumpy” or “skunking” people?

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