Recently I had a chance to grab a copy of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit by Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Soloman and believe me when I say, it opened a new dimension of how I perceived customer servicing.
Having worked in customer-facing industries for the majority of my career span so far, I had always followed ‘customer is primary’ principle, but Leonardo and Micah help you go miles ahead of that thought and actually provides an action plan on how to achieve the customer service excellence.
Leonardo and Micah are rockstars in their own niche – Customer Servicing, and this book proves that on every page turn. The concepts are laid in the intuitive sense, with real-world examples and author’s own experiences.
Leonardo is a recognized expert on service. He created The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center and Learning Institute and has played an instrumental role at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, BVLGARI, and The Walt Disney Company.
Micah has been named by the Financial Post as “a new guru of customer service excellence.” He is a top keynote speaker and consultant on customer service issues, the customer experience, and company culture. A successful entrepreneur, his expertise has been featured in FastCompany, Inc. Magazine, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Forbes.com, NBC and ABC television programming, and elsewhere.
The book – Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit takes you through the whole paradigm of how the customer servicing industry is working and how it should work. It builds up the importance of what is to be done and follows that up with the necessary steps and checklist of how to achieve that.
I liked the approach as I’ve seen organizations, agencies and even small-scale companies neglecting a customer service practice, even they do think that it is right, by giving the excuse of ‘not being a top brand’, ‘not having enough budget’, ‘less time, lesser staff’ among other things; whereas this book disproves all those excuses and proves that customer servicing need not be that hard.
In many chapters, the authors explain how it would help if you are a big brand, and also if you are a small agency who just started its operations, how can you get ahead in the game and make a loyal customer base by the best customer servicing practices.
Yes, it’s a fairly long read and it’s not a fiction, so you need to pay attention. I do not intend to write a review as a title which published in 2010 and still remains one of the finest works on the topic, praised by industry giants, showered with awards needs no introduction.
I simply want to compile all the amazing text, statements anecdotes etc. that I highlighted, at one place. Below mentioned are the key highlights that I figured and how I feel or understand them.
Everything changes when a customer becomes a loyalist.
The majority of the text in the book emphsizes on the direct connection between customer servicing and customer’s loyalty. The authors lay a heavy emphasis on how a customer servicing experience changes a regular customer to a loyal customer – and that is when all the troubles you take, all the steps you climb become fruitful.
While so many aspects of business are out of your control — exchanges rates, international tension, technological changes — the single most important process, creating loyal customers, obeys predictable, stable rules that can be mastered and then applied successfully for a lifetime.
The customer once converted as a loyalist to your brand will keep up with your pace and offerings and even in the adverse times will stick and be your advocate. This happens when you hit the right strokes of product and customer service.
The magic happens when you, your systems, and the employees throughout the ranks of your business anticipate the need of your customers, learning to recognize and respond to the needs of your customers before they are expressed — sometimes before your customers even realize they have a need.
This is where its made clear on how a service that is done promptly is way too late. Leonardo and Micah shares a very interesting ‘The Engineer on the Ladder’ instance which is referred throughout the book.
It establishes that if your employees respond to the need of the customer timely – you are still an average (or maybe slightly more than average) organization; but when your brand ambassadors start to recognize the need of your customer and provide the pro-active or ‘anticipate’ and respond to the customer’s servicing needs – you become the top brand and earn a loyal customer too.
Customers are satisfied whenever they consistently receive:
- A perfect product
- Delivered by a caring, friendly person
- In a timely fashion
- The support of an effective problem resolution process
In the chapter, the authors describe the elements of creating a loyal customer base. It is strongly suggested to try and master these basic traits first and then run for the advanced approaches because most of the organizations even fail to deploy these basic elements in place.
It is highlighted that a company should make the product which should function perfectly within the foreseeable boundaries and in case of service breakdowns or any other problem faced by the customer you should have an effective problem resolution process in place.
When you have a service failure, the right words can be your best ally.
As the part of Language Engineering, the authors explain that even if you have the best language for presenting your product to the masses, it is equally important to look at the language used by your employees when they have a one-to-one conversation with the client. Because usually customers, your loyal customers, remain with you by having a day-to-day conversation with your brand (employees).
The author quotes ‘Study the language that works best for your customers and, identify harmful phrases that should be avoided‘.
Think about your customers as individuals rather than as a group.
In my opinion, this is one of the best advice I’ve collected on this read. We usually fall into the trap of generalizing the customers, assuming their frustration or queries and treat them with the same typical manner as for all. Here, the book emphasizes on trying to give a personalized communication vibe to the customer which in turns calms the customer, in case of crisis and they know that they are talking to a legit human who understands their issue (or request) rather than following company protocols on the other end.
If you send out any mass electronic messages, build in a way for the customers to immediately reach a real person.
“Please do not reply to this message” – to the customers, that sounds like:
“Hush now, customer: Don’t distract us while we’re busy counting the money you paid us!”
Contrary to what we usually see in the thousand marketing emails that we all receive every day – this actually makes sense. According to the authors, if you open a communication channel for the customer to interact right in-the-moment when they are exposed to your marketing material (online), you along with the chance of bagging a potential customer, give them a sense of a assurance that someone is there on the other end to help them make decision or answer their queries. This wins you brownie points and the customer’s trust.
They don’t care about your organizational chart: Your mentioning that a problem originated in a different department is of no interest to them.
If only I had a dollar for every time I hear my cellular network support rep mentioning – ‘the glitch is from the technical department’. For a customer this is frustrating and on the brand’s part, this is a failure. When a customer opts for your service they don’t pay seven different departments and hence when they need support they should not have to listen to ‘department failures’. As explained with several examples in the chapter, it is a brand to the customer and not a pool of departments.
Who should handle customer complaints?
Everyone should handle customer complaints.
It’s suggested, and which actually makes sense, that each of the employees should have some level of involvement or training in handling customer interaction, support and servicing. They may not specialize in the highest degree of customer service but you cannot ignore the fact that they also represent your brand when they indeed get a chance to interact with a customer. The idea is to not follow the old-style isolated complaints department, out of which no one knows how to interact with the customer in the time of crisis.
A commitment to systematic noting and sharing will separate you from that wonderful dry-cleaning business on the corner (the one that lost most of its customers when the owner fell ill.
The significance of having a tracking system that captures every customer’s preference, inquiry, notes from last service etc. was explained with the title – “Keeping Track to Bring Them Back”. This way you as a manager or the owner ensures that even in the case when your lead customer rockstar or you yourself are not present, you can breathe in peace that every customer is answered the same quality way with the help of the tracking that you set. On the other side, it helps your customer to create an emotional bond with your brand after receiving such personalized interaction.
A defect that happens twice should be assumed to be the fault of the process; the cure is in fixing the process. If you attack your employees, they’ll never help you find a recurring problem.
Bottomline: Never attack your employees when the hell breaks loose. You always need employees who are not scared of you, are open to reveal defects and participate to make a process better.
Service focused companies tend to delete crucial value from their service offerings, all in the name of efficiency. When they realize what they’ve lost, it’s too late.
As quoted in the book – “Starting to think that your follow-up thank-you cards aren’t valuable to the customers? Or that your original ink signature on letters to incoming customers is a waste of your time? Or that your customer won’t notice if you drop a website feature they rarely use? You might be right. But don’t do anything yet. Because the odds are pretty good that you are underestimating the value of the old approach to your customers.”
Resist the temptation to fill the vacant position with an inferior employee. In the strange-but-true department, in most cases it is better to have a team of superb employees suffer temporary overload than to insert ill-suited employees into the team.
The book also talks about the key component of any customer-facing business – the employees. Aforementioned makes a great quote for any agency or business who find themselves letting-go and hiring employees more often than not – it might be the time you took a pause and looked deeply on who you are hiring and what is their purpose. Authors further quote – “Over and over, we’ve watched an entire team’s performance sink when a single wrong employee is hired.“
Constant reconnection with workers, as well as constant reconnection of workers with the organization, is your greatest tool.
Employees build your brand, that is true as sunlight and unless your employee feels that they are working in a healthy, clean, supportive and engaging workplace, they won’t be able to deliver their best. You can only expect attention, performance, commitment, loyalty and effort from a happy, well-trained employee.
- The leader is able to dream of the future vividly and then distill that dream into a clear view
- Great leaders actively work to simplify complex or abstract ideas into simple, concrete phrases and metaphors that keep people on track. Employees won’t always catch implied or obscurely-expressed messages.
- A leader needs to be a manager of the processes and a force for performance measurement.
- A great leader must also be capable of setting performance standards and holding people accountable.
- A good leader won’t let an employee suffer with an inefficient toolkit.
- A good leader knows workers need support specifically, the resources, training, equipment and material to execute their tasks – and they make sure this support is there.
- Motivation is your employee’s floatation device and their swimming coach When the seas are rough, motivation keeps an employee afloat.
If you are someone leading your organization, get the above printed and hang it on your wall. You need to embrace the qualities and at all times, think of yourself as the pioneer of every process that you want to implement. That being said, it is not expected you to be involved everywhere at all times, but you must be the one who knows and contributes in every aspect of the organizational function every once in a while. This makes you a leader rather than a typical manager or owner.
The book ‘Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit’ is more than what I’ve mentioned above. It is one of the best reads and guidelines are written on the context of customer servicing and I insist you grab a copy if you run a service organization or even remotely have to deal with customers.