If I were to ask if you were Jean Valjean, odds are good that I’d get one of two possible responses: 1.) “Who the hell is Jean Valjean?”, or B.) offense at the thought that I was asking if you were a paroled criminal on the run. But the reality is, it would actually be a compliment. Huh?
A little background. Jean Valjean was the hero in Victor Hugo’s epic (and extremely long) and Broadway adaptation Les Miserables. He basically went to jail for stealing a loaf of bread to help keep his family members from starving. He was arrested, tried to bust out of the slam a couple times, and ended up serving several years doing hard labor. He was paroled and emerged from prison a hardened man. Long story short: he stole from a church, cops busted him, priest had him released, and declared that the price for this was that Valjean’s soul now belonged to God. Realizing the immeasurable grace that’s just been handed to him, he decides to make his life count for good from that moment on. Cue the orchestra.
So what does that have to do with you and I? We can take a few lesson from Jean Valjean…without the robberies, jail, and hard labor to learn them. Here’s what we can implement in our own lives:
In a nutshell: don’t let life make you bitter, positively impact others, and make it happen now. The first half of Jean Valjean’s life was a wreck, but the second half (though marred with hardships) was a lesson in how to get on and stay the course and do the right thing. May you choose to get on and stay the course today.
Yes, I know this nearly seems like a rhetorical question. It’s almost similar to the age-old question, “Which came first - the chicken or the egg?” But a lot of company’s wrestle with this very important facet to their business. Which comes first (or in other words, what do we take care of first?) - the customer or the company?
There are those that say that it’s always the customer that comes first. After all (to paraphrase Judge Ziglar, brother of sales and motivation great Zig Ziglar), the customer has our money in his pocket. In order for us to be able to have a business in the first place and attract the customer to spend his or her hard-earned money with us, we have to be customer-centric. Volumes have been published, blogged, tweeted, posted, smoke-signalled, Morse coded, spelled out, and otherwise expressed on the virtues of the “customer first” approach. I won’t re-hash it here, but suffice to say that without creating exceptional customer experiences, the customer can take himself and his money somewhere they CAN get an exceptional customer experience.
But then there are those (who do seem to be in the minority) who espouse the philosophy that it’s of a higher priority to actually take care of the company first. (GASP! SHOCK! AWE!) The rationale there is that if we’re not taking care of our employees - our “internal customers” - then they have little to no motivation to provide the aforementioned exceptional customer experiences. So resources are spent on loyalty programs, incentives, and anything else that will keep a company’s employees fully motivated to do their jobs and to do them with excellence.
So which should come first?
To quote the old Certs commercials, “It’s two, TWO, mints in one!” In other words, companies need to be about the business of providing exceptional customer experiences to both their external AND internal customers. They are dynamically linked; you can’t stay in business very long without either. Customers expect superior service regardless of what kind of day an employee is having or what kind of internal incentive program the employee is receiving. On the flip side of the coin, employees need to feel valued by their companies for the work they do day in and day out, and need to be reminded periodically (whether with a tangible “program” or simply a sincere “Thank You” from management. If one or both of these two elements of customer service is missing, the company is doomed for failure.
I challenge you today to begin not only developing exceptional customer experiences for your external customers (the ones who keep the business going) but also your internal customers (the other ones who keep the business going). Be a leader in that regard, treat them like kings and queens, and watch your business grow into new levels of possibilities.
I was recently at a convenience store attempting to purchase my weakness: Coke Zero and a Twix. I had just finished pumping some gas outside and was ready to get back on the road after presenting a class on customer service. I might have made it through the checkout process a lot faster if it weren’t for the fact that the clerk was engaged in casual conversation about his new SUV with custom rims. But it wasn’t his buddies or a girl he was trying to impress with his bragging.
It was his boss and store owner. And the boss was fully into the conversation.
Are you kidding me? Here’s a buying customer, cash money in hand, waiting patiently (yet aggravated) at the register for the conversation to break just long enough for the transation to happen. I literally waited for over a minute. And it’s not like I’m a little dude who would be hard to notice in a crowd. They both knew I was there and did nothing to put the customer first over a conversation that should not have been happening in the first place with buying in customers in line.
I confess to being a bit taken aback by the whole situation. Had that been myself or any of the other business owners I know, the conversation would have been shut down until the clerk had completed the sales that were right there in front of him. I probably would have rolled up my own sleeves to help move the line myself. But that’s just me. All I could think of was I should be inviting the guy and his whole staff to attend my next customer service training in that area. They clearly needed it.
Managers, it begins with you. What kind of customer service culture are you fostering and promoting in your business? Are you there to talk about an employee’s car…or are you there to help that guy earn his salary to put gas in the car, pay his other bills, and build a living? I see it time and again amongst employees, and it aggravates the tar out of me every time. To see it come from the manager/owner is an even greater sin. Go ahead and neglect the customer…next time you’ll see him get his Coke Zero and Twix across the street. Those $2 sales add up.
That seems to be the “in” word right now among business and marketing circles. I used to have a fairly negative view of the word, what with how trendy it seems to have become and my simply not wanting to hop onto that bandwagon. But the more and more I think about it and its implications, the more I’m convinced that every professional needs to be mindful of branding.
Move over, Sally. There’s a new passenger on the wagon.
But when it comes to branding, there’s so much more than the brand of “Me” or the brand of “You.” When I’m teaching my sales and customer service classes, I like to remind my students that they are really representing not one but TWO different brands:
1.) The brand of “Me”
2.) The brand of the company/product they represent
When I’m out trying to make deals and create sales opportunities, my client isn’t just buying the product or service (though that is what it shows on the invoice) and everything that brand represents. He’s also buying the brand of “Me”….and everything my brand represents. Because, after all, if I want to generate repeat business I have to not only provide a superior product with superior value, but I also have to provide superior service to keep that customer happy and loyal and coming back for more. The level of service and excellence I provide all goes into the brand of “Me.”
When you’re out selling and servicing, you really are representing two different brands. And the reality is, the power of the brand of “Me” carries a lot more weight that the brand of the product or service you’re selling, because as a sales professional it’s going to be you who makes or breaks the deal. Always. They might be able to get a lower price down the street on the same product, but because “Me” provides the most superior service anywhere, chances are you’re going to be able to service them into a sale and build a loyal customer for life.
It’s a huge responsibility being in sales and service. You’re representing your own personal brand as well as the company brand. Be excellent with both angles and watch your sales and revenue continue driving upward.
There are lots of ways to take out an enemy. The deadliest member of any military isn’t the one pushing the button on the biggest bomb (though they can certainly do the most damage in one action), nor is it the guy driving the tank or flying the jet. The most lethal soldier out there is generally the one with a single smaller weapon, positioned in hiding, and takes out one marked target at a time at just the right time.
An assassin takes out one target at a time. If gone unchecked, the damage done can be immeasurable. To compare the concept to customer service, there is a deadly assassin on the loose in our companies. Some companies have their defenses up and know how to stop him. Others, though, are left struggling to keep him contained and, as a result, see their employees’ and businesses’ performance being taken out one by one. That assassin has the same name, no matter where he’s found.
Apathy can do a number on any business when it sets in, affecting one or multiple employees. The results can be staggering:
- Robs employees of their enthusiasm for the business and the desire to make a solid contribution.
- Begins to kill customer service when employees care about neither their jobs or the impact they’re having on their customers.
- Ultimately destroys the business completely when customers who receive negative customer service experiences begin taking their business (translation - “their money”) elsewhere.
Apathy exists in many forms, ranging from employees not tending to customers to a total lack of excellence and pride in their work. Rather than a lengthy treatise on the development of apathy, I want to share some ways to take out the assassin called apathy in your company:
1.) Share the company’s vision and mission with the employees. Most times people get into their jobs for the paycheck and not the payoff; the fulfillment. By sharing the company’s vision and mission statements, and helping them to see that they’re part of the company’s success, employees can begin to see a bigger picture of why the doors to the business are open in the first place.
2.) Catch your employees doing something right. We have a tendency to be on the lookout for what people are doing wrong and to find where they need correction. But by pointing out when an employee is performing with excellence and professionalism, you begin to condition them to work in that same manner. as the old saying goes, you get more bees with honey than you do with, errr, bug bombs.
3.) Make customer service the king of the business, not the cash register. The bottom line will always be a factor in the health of any business. This goes without saying. However, without positive customer service experiences, the bottom line will grow more and more red as the customer service experience continues to dwindle and fail. Under-committing and over-delivering on customer service and product will just about always yield return business. Putting a premium on positive customer service will do you better than a pricey advertising campaign or a slick showroom.
4.) Reward your team for outstanding service contributions. Just as catching your employees doing something right is important, rewarding them for going over and above the “job description” creates an atmosphere for excellence. The recognition doesn’t have to be extravagant; something along the lines of a mention at a team meeting or in the company newsletter, or even a little gift card could go a very long way in motivating employees to roll out the red carpet for the customer.
Those four action items can do wonders in eliminating the apathy assassin in your company before it can take out your employees’ productivity and morale. Give them a try, let me know how they work.
Is there something on my face? Do I have bad breath? Missing a tooth that I’ve been previously unaware of?
All of those thoughts and more cross my mind every single time I visit the drive-through and the individual sitting in that window virtually refuses to look me in the eye when taking my money or handing me my order. If I weren’t for the fact that I’m composed of something (albeit slightly) stronger than sticks and stones, the lack of eye contact might begin to hurt me. But I think that, perhaps, it really has less to do with me than it does a lack of training or a big picture perspective.
“But Scott, this is not the job I want. I don’t really want to be here. This is only a stepping stone. I’m only doing this because everybody starts out serving up a Number Three Combo with a large Coke Zero, no ice.” Speaking of, sounds kind of like one of my fast food orders. Starting to get hungry now.
But I digress.
Yes, I understand that you might not have imagined as a youth that you’d one day be wearing a name tag at Burger Heaven and dropping the fries into the fryer. I’ve been there myself, I get that sentiment. You are, however, currently employed there. And as an employee of the company, positive customer service is your responsibility for 100% of your encounters with each and every customer - both internal and external. Even though your management might have taken you through the scripted and packaged company line on customer service, it can be challenging to maintain that expectation throughout your shift, whether you’re at Burger Heaven or Al’s Mart of Stuff.
Customer service isn’t rocket science, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in our work that we forget what our job really is - positive customer service experiences. We (presumably) want to stay employed? For that to happen, customers need to come back for repeat experiences. And if they’re not receiving the experience they expect and deserve, they’ll find somewhere else to spend their money. It’s a process that has caused many companies to close their doors. Don’t take care of your customer, then somebody else will.
So maybe what we need is to get back to basics. If you feel like your or your company’s customer service needs to get back on-track, I offer up the following tips:
1.) Smile!! That’s right, it’s as simple as that. When you smile at your customer, you’re showing them that it’s your pleasure to be serving them (a lesson we can all learn from our friends at Chik-fil-A). It also breaks your own stress cycle and helps improve your mood. Try it, you may be surprised. For better or for worse, wear that smile. Plus it takes fewer muscles to smile as it does to frown. I’ve never personally counted, but I’ll take their word for it.
2.) Don’t just tell them - show them.“Well yes sir, the Prune-o-Matic machines are over on aisle 13.” Awesome, now where exactly is aisle 13? Where on aisle 13? I don’t seem them IN aisle 13, now where did that twerp go?? Yeah, we’ve all been there. It’s aggravating and not very professional. If a customer is looking for something specific, don’t tell her where to go find it…take her there and make sure she connects with that product.
3.) Eye contact (just not too much) - The opposite of zero eye contact is akin to starting a staring contest. You’re not trying to reach into their soul or look like a statue. You’re simply giving pleasant eye contact and letting the customer know they have your focus. Even though you have fifty other things to do at that moment, that person has all of you. When you give good eye contact and your winning smile, the impression you leave on them is priceless.
4.) For goodness sakes, say “Thank you.” While you’re looking at him and smiling, when you’ve concluded the encounter, just say “thank you.” I’m not sure where the art of courtesy has disappeared (unless it’s gone with the missing socks in my dryer), but this absolutely needs to be brought back. Saying “thank you” is very much a recognition extended to the customer for doing business with you and your company. They are also an open door to return for more business. Two words. Infinite impact.
Nothing fancy or out of the ordinary. Just simply the basics that, sadly, too many businesses are either not pushing or employees aren’t incorporating into their daily routines. Spread the word, get back to the basics and enjoy your customers and your work again.