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Customer Service

If We Don’t Take Care of Our Customers,

Someone Else Will

This slogan was written on a shiny brass plaque behind the registration desk at a major hotel chain I was checking into. It said in a very concise way what I believe is true in most industries in today’s global marketplace. I took out the notepad I carry and wrote it down, knowing I would use it some day.


I had been delayed at a northern airport by some snow and ice and I was really looking forward to getting into my room. The young well dressed and pressed admitting agent held up her hand to me palm out when I approached the desk. Apparently she wasn’t ready for me, even though I was the only other person in the lobby. She was counting something. Well, I guess she showed me who was in charge. I use that palm out gesture on my dog after she rolls around in some unidentifiable muck and I must say, I didn’t appreciate the feeling I got when it was used on me. Sit. Stay.


When she was finished with whatever was more important than me, she nodded imperiously and I walked up with my credit card in hand. When I told her I was there to check in, she asked if I had a reservation. I did. She asked me my name. I told her. She asked me to spell it. With a name like Beaubien, I am used to spelling it several times. All those vowels. After I had spelled it twice, she shook her head, sighed, looked me right in the eye and said, “Are you sure?” It took me a minute, but I nodded.


I was told I was not in their system so she asked for my reservation number. Now I know all of you Type A people out there write it down and carry it with you, but I always seem to have left it written on a little piece of paper near whatever phone or computer I used to make the reservation and as a rule I never need it. Bottom line I didn’t have my reservation number. Bad customer.


I looked at the shiny red apples on the counter, then over to the frowning young woman who was being terribly inconvenienced by my inconsiderate intrusion on her time and space. The apples must have been someone’s idea of a customer pleasing extra. Frosting on a nonexistent cake. Here’s a bit of advice. Don’t be putting up the nice little extras until you have a firm foundation of customer passion. Superficial static and not cost effective.


I didn’t want an apple, I didn’t even want a reservation. I wanted a bed. After enduring a little scold for not having my reservation number, I asked her if she had any rooms available. More tapping of the keys, another sigh. While she was busy searching for a solution, I looked out of the big glass doors. Signs everywhere. Rooms. My suitcase had wheels. I decided to use them. When the young woman looked up, I nodded at the plaque, turned and found a room next door. Even though I spent more for a bed that night, it felt good. Really good.


I am your customer, buyer, patron, client, consumer, guest, member, associate. I’m the only reason you’re still in business. I generate the revenue. Pay attention to me or watch me turn around and seek alternatives. With the world at my fingertips, I may not have to go far.


The moral? Commitment to the customer is not a plaque. It doesn’t stop with intense orientation and continuous training. These are the means to an end. You need a total cultural immersion of the critical importance of meeting, then exceeding the expectations of your customers. Of developing sincere, deep to the bone passion for the people you serve.


Excellence isn’t accidental. It’s the result of deliberate planning, organizational commitment to personal and professional development and high expectations. It’s not free.  It is, however, very cost effective.  It’s far more expensive to find a new customer than to keep the ones you have. Spend time, energy and money to nurture the relationships you have with people who have already selected your establishment.


Everyone, and I mean everyone, in an organization is responsible for pleasing the customer. It should be part of the culture. An assumption of excellence. An expectation of customer focus. Corporate culture and customs are what dictate the norms and acceptable patterns of behavior.  What does your culture say about customer service?  It’s importance? If I walked into your establishment, would I immediately be impressed with your treatment of me and my needs. Would I walk out feeling impressed and pleased. Or would I just walk out?

Your reputation is dependent on your attention to the customer. You don’t dictate a reputation no matter how much you spend on marketing. Or press releases. Or community activities. Your reputation is based on what those who have been served by you say about you, your product, your service, your culture. I am far more inclined to avail myself of the fruits of your business when a friend, colleague, or independent, credible person recommends them than a direct statement from you.

There is a direct bottom line impact on having an impeccable customer focus. It costs far more to bring in a new customer than to keep one you already have. Spend as much time, attention, and money on building the current relationships as you do to expand your market.


In addition, smiling customers create an energy that employees can plug into. Being part of a legend is exciting and soon employee attitude improves due to the pride of being a part of something terrific. It’s contagious and it builds organizational loyalty.


Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Set your standards high, then expect everyone to perform according to the principles of impeccable service. It pays dividends. Operate like your organizational health and survival depends on my pleasure. Because it does!