Service

The upcoming July 4th holiday has me thinking about service from a different perspective. The servicemen and women gave for their country. Starting with George Washington who led his troops against all odds to win the freedom for Americans. Then when the war was over, Washington wanted nothing more than to return to his farm in Virginia and live a peaceful life. But the new country needed a president and no one was thought to be better than Washington for the job. Against his will, Washington accepted as he felt it was his duty to serve.  

What does George Washington have to do with customer service in today’s economy? I think to answer this, we have to get at the core of service and what it means to serve.  

We started this blog as observing that customer service is more than just handing a customer his or her order.  Over the past year, we’ve written about kindness, honesty, listening to customers and more. We shared experiences in service that made us feel good and not so good, and we tried to translate it to how we can each provide better service to others.  

Despite these concepts helping us with the how to give good service, it doesn’t get to the why we should give good service. To help me dig deeper on service to the country and how that relates to service in business, I called my nephew Mathew who is a captain in the United States Army. I asked Mathew why he decided to serve in the military when most of his friends were going into different careers? Matt had no problem answering this question and simply said, “Uncle Mike, I wanted to be part of something meaningful. Something bigger. I wanted to make a difference in this world.” Matt used words like “purpose” and “cause.”

My nephew went on to say honestly he sometimes forgets his purpose when he has to do mundane tasks.  When this happens, he steps back and looks at the bigger picture as to why he signed up in the first place.  

I’m typing this at the local Starbucks and, like every Starbucks I visit, the staff all seem to be really good.  They’re certainly more service-oriented than Dunkin Donuts (in my opinion). Why? What’s their purpose? I’m curious enough to ask but they are pretty busy and I’ll have to save that for another time because I want to get this posted for the July 4th holiday!  But if I had to guess, the staff sees a bigger purpose working for Starbucks which has a number of causes for which they are connected.

So, ask yourself why do you serve others?  What purpose does this serve? What satisfaction do you get from serving others?  I think these are good questions for a dialogue for which I look forward to having with each of you.

Have a great 4th and let’s all be grateful to those who serve us.  

Kindness

Service is ultimately about being kind.

When I first had the idea of developing a culture of service, I quickly wrote down the top ten “concepts” I learned over my 30 years in service industries.  It wasn’t until my web designer told me there were 11, not 10 concepts that I realized I miscounted. As it turns out, the 11th may be the most important that I had heard while listening to a podcast on customer service.  The 11th Fab Service concept we’ve all heard at some point in our lives “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Also known as “the golden rule.”  The company featured in the podcast was The Colonel Littleton leather company.  When the founder was asked what’s his secret to his great customer service, he said it’s simple and we have it posted in big letters on our factory floor.  He was talking about the golden rule.

Isn’t it that simple?  Do we really need more advice than that?

For some more ancient wisdom, I like to get advice from the Stoics who had some sound fundamental advice on how to live and behave. I’m most intrigued by the stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius who was the Roman Emperor in the second century.  Here the most powerful man of his day, and possibly ever, believed that joy in life comes from “acts of kindness to other human beings.” He wrote those words in his “Meditations” which was a diary to himself on how to be better.  The Roman emperor writes that the secret to joy is being kind to others? Who was this guy?!

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In reading on customer service, I just saw that there are 1,324,570 books available on sales and marketing from Amazon and only 30,198 on customer service.  Is it no surprise that good service in our world today is lacking yet we are bombarded by sales and marketing messages by the second?  

Being service-oriented is an attitude but it also has to be practiced.  

Reading about how to give good service is easy.  Putting it into practice is another story. Reading about being kind is easy.  Being kind when someone is rude to you is difficult.

So how do you act kindly when a customer is demanding or even wrong about a situation?  Like everything else in life - practice! Practice not getting upset when outside of your job.  Practice not judging a situation before hearing the other side. Practice putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Maybe he had a bad day or is dealing with some personal issues, etc.

If Marcus was right, the service industry provides ample opportunity to find joy. I think it starts there. Being grateful for the opportunity to serve and being positive about it.  That attitude will certainly result in kindness, which is the ultimate in good service.

“Have It Your Way”

Burger King made that there theme line for many years and I can still remember the jingle from when I was a kid, “...special orders don’t upset us…have it your way at Burger King”. BK was trying to differentiate themselves from McDonalds who had fixed sandwich selections.  For a fast food restaurant, this was a great differentiator. Fast and however you like it.

“I’ve cracked the code” a recently married man exclaimed.  “I say to my wife, guess where I’m taking you for dinner and wherever she guesses I take her there!” This is an example of our second top service tip noted in the first blog- “listen to what the customer wants and give it to them.”  No, your spouse isn’t your customer, but as we’ve said before, we’re about service to all!

I learned this while at the Zingerman’s customer service training class in Ann Arbor Michigan.  To show they practice what they preach, on the second day of the training, I found a Zingerman’s candy bar on my desk.  I was the only one. I didn’t know why and then I realized, the day before, my friend sitting next to me was eating the same candy bar and I said “that looks good.”  The trainer overheard me and placed it on my desk before the class began. Listening to the customer isn’t always direct but sometimes subtle. Sometimes they’re not even asking or know what they want!  

Special instructions or special requests are an important part of our business and for most businesses and they’re also are part of the concept “listen to the customer.”

At a recent meeting with some of our managers, I ordered some lunch with Uber Eats.  I noticed that each of our 4 orders had a special request. One no onions, one special dressing, etc.  I asked our team whether they thought the restaurant (where we frequent often) would get all of orders right.  Vanessa, our GM, said a quick no understanding how difficult this is. I thought, given that the special requests were typed in and part of the Uber Eats app, that they’d get it right.  

Vanessa was correct.  

At Fabricare, we have pop up messages that notifies the customer service team of an individual’s preferences so the team member invoicing the order knows exactly how a customer likes his order.  We also have the customer’s special instructions print on each invoice for everyone to see as the order goes through the whole cleaning process.

Yet despite our sophisticated point-of-sale system and these direct requests, and our concerted effort to get the customer’s order correct, we still fail sometimes.  

Why?  

As I’ve noted in previous posts, writing these blogs helps me solve some issues as well as share our passion for service.  I’m not writing to brag about how good we are. In fact, as I’ve stated in the outset, we have set out primarily to improve our business and be an example of great service for any industry.  So why do we fail to get special request right 100% of the time?

When I think of the concepts in this blog and what we’ve learned, I would start with the idea that it’s not the employee’s fault.  We have learned that mistakes are often rooted in either poor systems or good systems with poor training.

So, I have to ask myself, “do we have a good system for handling special requests?”  Do we train our staff on the system for inputting special requests and then executing them for each and every customer?”

I will answer the above with a “no” and begin the process of focusing on how we can make special requests systematic and then train from it.  Stay tuned……..

 

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Claims

I recently went on a golf trip and upon arriving at the airport found my bag damaged.  As you can see from the pics, it looked like it was dragged all the way from Connecticut to Florida.  

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Since these blogs try to get at the heart of how a customer feels through service, I tried to relate how my customers must feel when they get something damaged. Because this was just a golf bag and although there was additional damage to the things on the inside, I really didn’t have any emotional attachment. In fact, I kind of needed another one anyhow. What I did care about was the fact that no one brought it to my attention.  The staff for the airline just threw the ripped bag on the conveyor and left it for me to decide what to do.

Being in the service business and one that deals with lots of damaged goods, this experience made me think of how could this happen?  How is this similar to other businesses? Is it expecting too much for an employee to bring damaged items to a manager’s attention? Is this not common sense?  Does this have to be trained? What should have happened?

I’ll start with the business I know and with first-hand experiences with this kind of thing.  Recently, I got involved with a customer who received a tablecloth back with holes in it. For those of you reading these blogs from the beginning, you will recognize this as a Code Red which is how we report any negative customer experience.  Our system is to contact the customer when we see any damage whether it’s caused by the cleaning or inherent in the fabric. If we can’t contact the customer, we put a note on the piece and record it in the POS.

Because we failed to note the customer in advance, the conversation was much different.  There was a loss of trust in addition to the disappointment. Think of how the conversation would have gone if we were to have called in advance and explained that the fabric was weakened and came apart in the wash.  Compare this to the reaction of the customer when she goes to set the table and there’s a hole in the tablecloth. Guess what the topic of conversation will be at dinner?!!!

Here’s another experience which, I am guessing, is a result of training.  Another travel experience but this time with a rental car company surprised me with some over the top service.  Upon returning the car, the employee asked: “how was everything?” My wife said fine except there was a bit of a smokey smell.  Although the employee didn’t say anything, the manager, who overheard, came over and apologized and gave us a $75.00 credit toward our next rental. The reason I think this is training and a strategic customer service plan is that I had a similar experience with the same rental car company where they generously offer credits when there is not really a complaint.

What’s going on here?  

Let’s start with the feeling we had when the manager gave us a credit for just mentioning our experience was just slightly sub par.  “Surprise and delight” is one of our top service concepts and that is a pretty good summary of our feeling.  Could there also be a retention strategy here where the credit is used to build loyalty and get customers to return?  The fact that this happened twice and I’m not a frequent traveler leads me to believe it’s part of a bigger plan.

What’s wrong with a compensation strategy that is good customer service and builds loyalty?  Nothing!

I ended up getting an $80 check for my damaged luggage but still felt disappointed that I had to be the one to complain and haggle for compensation.  If only they had brought this to my attention in advance, I’m sure I would have had a completely different experience.

 

Return On Investment

It’s been often said, “it’s the little things that count.”  I look at this idea a little different in that the return on investment for doing the little things in service yield multiple times the investment in time and sometimes take no time at all!

Here are a few examples of personal experiences that either made or failed to make the most of small opportunities that could have made a big difference.

While at Ring’s End hardware, I was purchasing a handle for a pocket door.  Now Ring’s End is known for having better products and service.  The sales guy was very helpful and patient in helping me pick out the right hardware.  And like a good service representative gave me a tip about installing the handle.  He said the screws have a tendency to strip so he suggested that I buy and use better screws instead of the ones provided in with the handle.  I thought that was really helpful and not the kind of tip you’d get from a Home Depot experience.  Although I appreciated the tip and anyone who has stripped a screw half way through completion knows how aggravating it is, I felt like he stopped short of excellent service.  I’m thinking this is a hardware store, why not go get the screws instead of suggesting I get them. Everyone knows how much time it takes to get the right screw for the job.  Better yet, go get them and don’t charge me.  How much would 2 screws possibly cost? 25 cents? 50 cents?  

What is the return on investment of his time?  How would I have felt if he went the extra step and not only got them but didn’t charge me? At Fabricare we encourage CCR’s (customer care reps) to “keep going” with a service idea.  Don’t stop at the suggestion, do it for the customer.  Here’s a good example of this:

I had a lunch scheduled at Barcelona restaurant in downtown Stamford where parking is often a challenge.  I needed change for the meter so I gave the hostess a dollar.  She didn’t only come back with 4 quarters, she came back with 8 saying she thought I might need more time.  Wow! A dollar on the house and I haven’t even sat down to eat yet.  Is the restaurant going to make that up from me with a tip or when I come back again or recommend someone?  You bet. It wasn’t until later that I found out the restaurant didn’t have change for a dollar and the hostess had to go across the street to the convenient store for the change.  Wow again!  Return on investment? I’d say that one dollar on the house and the effort made by the hostess impressed me enough to write about it and tell others (as well as gladly give a good tip the waitress).

One more story: My friend and I like to grab breakfast after a long Sunday run.  We were at this one restaurant sitting at the bar before lunch.  The waitress gave us the lunch menus and as the two of us looked them over we saw a waitress off-duty eating an egg sandwich the chef made for her.  When we asked the waitress for one of those because we weren’t really feeling like lunch, she said no, “it’s not on the menu.”  Really I thought?  You just made a sandwich for a non-paying employee but you can’t do it for customers?  Return on investment? Or, cost of not investing in the effort? It’s amazing how often service employees say no to things that take no effort and have a big upside.  What’s the cost of 4 quarters vs saying “you can get some change across the street.” How hard is it to make an egg sandwich for a restaurant?

What’s an example of a little thing you can do that yields a big return on customer satisfaction?  What small act of kindness will touch your customer and make his day?

Be Not Afraid

These blog ideas start from personal experiences either good or bad (although as I type this, I’m realizing I don’t think I’ve written on many positive experiences. I’ll have to make a point of doing a great experience for the next one!). My goal is not to just write about the experience but to find what’s at its core and how it could be shared and made into a positive concept that can be replicated. I usually don’t know what the transferrable lesson will be until I go through the exercise of writing about it.  Often, I find that the lesson lies in one of the 11 concepts written about in the first blog, which can be read here: www.fabservice.net/blog/giving-fab-service

With that thought in mind, a recent experience I had at my favorite pizza joint was relatable to other experiences I’ve had in and outside my businesses, and I think we can all relate.

The evening started out great with a very friendly waitress engaging in conversation which always makes dining out more enjoyable.  Keep in mind, this is a pizza place so expectations aren’t very high.  We placed our order and then waited for the pizza.  And waited...and waited...and waited..and waited…

What does our friendly waitress do while we look around for her?

She hides.  

She doesn’t come over and explain why it’s taking so long or offer to apologize.  Instead, she avoids us, assuming (correctly) that we are not happy waiting an inordinate amount of time for pizza which is the only thing they serve!

As I thought about this concept of hiding, it reminded me of 2 funny experiences outside my business which I’ll try to describe briefly.

Hiding from conflict

The first was my neighbor’s young daughter, Mary C, who was a young high schooler  and working at a local bagel shop.  It was just an outlet and the bagels were made elsewhere so there was a limited supply.  One busy Sunday morning, they ran out of bagels early and Mary C. didn’t know what to do so she hid beneath the counter. The door was open so customers came in and looked all around but didn’t see Mary C. hiding behind the counter (not much different from the waitress at the pizza place).

Another story was about a girl I knew in college and who was a waitress at a fancy restaurant.  One night while she was still in training, she had an uppity couple who ordered some fancy drinks.  For some reason, the drink order got lost and they sat there waiting. When the drinks were finally ready, Becky rushes to get them to the customers and spilled the drinks on the well dressed customers!  Horrified, she goes into the kitchen and hides telling her manager she can’t take this job. The experienced manager talks her off the ledge and having seen this sort of thing before coaches her to go back out there and say “and now for my encore…” and give them the drinks for free.  

“And now for my encore…”

Becky goes back to the front line, says the line her manager taught her “and now for my encore…” and as she’s saying this, felt a sneeze coming on and turns her back to the customers. Trying not to spill the drinks and hold the sneeze in at the same time causes poor Becky to flagellate loudly in her customer’s face! (true story!)

I think we all agree, Becky deserved the night off after that!  However, her manager had it right.  In service, you need to find a way through difficult situations and win the customer over.  Most people are understanding if you talk to them, explain the situation, AND give them something to show you care.  

At Fabricare, we’ve learned that our most loyal customers are the ones where we’ve had some kind of problem and handled it beyond their expectations.  Heck, if there weren’t any problems in business, customer service would be easy and every business would be great.  

I’ll end this with a little trivia.  What’s the most common command in the bible?  

“Be not afraid.”  (or some version of it)

If it’s used hundreds of times in the most popular book ever sold, it’s good enough for customer service as well!