Becoming great at customer service doesn’t require you to excel at a zillion things. You’ll just need to identify the core principles and get the basics right.
“At the end of the day, everything a business leader does is in the service of customer service … the customer always rules, and there are Rules for winning customers, keeping customers, and turning loyal customers into advocates and emissaries for your business,” writes Lee Cockerell in his prescriptive manual on The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service (2013.)
Cockerell is a veteran of the hospitality industry and an eminent corporate trailer. He spent eight years with Hilton, 17 years with Marriott, and 16 years with the Walt Disney. Before retirement, he was the executive vice president of operations at Walt Disney World in Florida and oversaw the resort’s 40,000 employees at 20 hotels, four theme parks, and two water parks.
Non-obvious Customer Service Insights
Cockerell structures his guidebook along 39 tips to serve customers with consistency, efficiency, creativity, and sincerity. He glosses over everything—hiring right, communicating a clear and relevant customer promise, fostering a customer-oriented culture, and creating a superior employee experience. Those employees can deliver a great customer experience, respond to complaints, and practice verbal skills to express empathy.
- Make customer service every employee’s responsibility. Everything every employee does can have tremendous repercussions on the service your customers receive, and therefore your bottom line. “Pay close attention to every decision you make, every policy you announce, every procedure you introduce, every person you hire, every promotion you award, every e-mail you send, every conversation you have, every hand you shake, and every back you slap.”
- You win customers one at a time and lose them a thousand at a time. Satisfied customers will spread the word only if they’re truly blown away their experience. Angry customers are “far more motivated to shout about their feelings, and furious exposes get a lot more attention than glowing testimonials. Humans are wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive.”
- Anticipate your customers’ needs. Discover what customers aren’t getting from your competitors and give it to them. Customers’ problems are a good source of business innovations. “Great businesses stand out by being different from the rest in the right way: by finding customer needs that are going unmet and figuring out a way to meet them.”
- Keep an eye on your competitors. Be a copycat. Look outside your industry for great ideas and tweak them for their own purposes. “Don’t just imitate; pay attention to everything around you, spot the best ideas, and then find a better way to apply them.”
- Treat customers the way you’d treat your loved ones. “First and last impressions have a tremendous influence on a customer’s lasting impression. A cheery hello and a sincere good-bye can leave a customer with a memory of a positive experience, regardless of what happens in between.”
- Treat every customer like a regular. Familiarity breeds repeat business. “Do whatever you can to make regular customers feel like family and new customers feel like regulars. Remember the theme song from the TV series Cheers? Don’t you want to go “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”? Make all your customers feel that you’re really glad they came.”
- Prioritize WIN, “what’s important now,” your customers’ immediate needs, desires, and concerns. “Even a nod, a gesture, some brief eye contact, a pleasant “I’ll be right with you. Please make yourself comfortable”—that’s all it takes. People want to be acknowledged.”
- Surprise your customers with a little extra when they least expect it. Neuroscientists have confirmed that the human brain “craves the excitement of surprise. The region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, aka the pleasure center, experiences more activation when a pleasurable stimulus comes unexpectedly than it does when the same pleasure is predictable. “So if you get a present for your birthday, that’s nice. But you’ll like it a lot more if you get a present and it’s not your birthday.””
- Don’t try too hard. “Being excessively solicitous and eager to please is annoying.” It makes you seem phony. “Think how annoying it is when a server at a restaurant stops by your table every five minutes to ask if everything’s okay with your meal.” No one likes to be pestered constantly. “If your customers have to stifle the urge to scream, “Go away!” or, “Leave us alone!” you’re trying too hard.”
Recommendation: Read Lee Cockerell’s The Customer Rules. With plenty of anecdotes, experiences, and very short no-nonsense chapters, this book is an enjoyable summary of the many simple—but often overlooked—first principles of building a customer-oriented culture and delivering great customer service.