“’Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his book Purple Cow, Seth Godin gives examples of businesses that are so remarkable that people are literally remarking about them to others. Yet how many businesses are offering remarkable experiences? This kind of service can be likened to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about obscenity — “I know it when I see it.” How often have you come away from an interaction with a service provider saying, “WOW – that was COOL!” And conversely, how often have you had a ho-hum or even disappointing experience? I’ll bet the former outweighs the latter by at least ten to one.
I read an instantly useful book called Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, author Steve Curtin now devotes his time to speaking, consulting and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service. Curtin claims the ideas in his book apply whether you are serving customers, clients (which I’ll refer to here), patients, members, stakeholders, or even family and friends.
He begins by making the critical distinction between job function and job essence:
• Job function Mandated expected behaviors. While you want to execute all your expected functions competently, this will only satisfy clients in a routine way. The problem is, they can routinely get the same from someone else.
• Job essence The unexpected acts that surprise (and delight) your clients. This is the kind of interaction that will have clients talking about you to others because it’s NOT routine, and they can only get it from you.
Curtin maintains the following three tenets of job essence throughout the book:
1. It reflects the essence of the advisor’s role – to create what he calls a promoter.
2. It is always voluntary – an advisor chooses to deliver exceptional service.
3. It involves little or no cost.
He explains the benefits of creating promoters – clients who are less price-sensitive, have higher repurchase rates and, most importantly, account for the majority of positive word-of-mouth about a company or brand.
Curtin then goes on to list and give examples of seven specific areas to focus on that can turn clients into promoters. These are not pie-in-the-sky, nice-but-hard-to-do activities – they’re practical tips that you can apply immediately. Which is what I like so much about this book – it’s a clear roadmap for going the extra mile. Since the majority of my business comes from referrals by my financial advisor clients or centers of influence, I’ll use examples from my own coaching practice to illustrate each area.
1. Express genuine interest This is the most basic Dale Carnegie principle of getting people to like you, and I bet you’re doing it already. On the very first call with my coaching prospects I ask for their “business bio” – where they grew up, went to college, their degrees, how they got started in their business, their various transitions along the way, etc. People LOVE to tell their stories to new contacts because their spouse and close associates have heard it all before. When I ask for details, they get the sense that I am sincerely interested in them, which is true. Question: How are you demonstrating an ongoing genuine interest in your clients?
2. Offer sincere and specific compliments As a coach, I’m regularly in teaching mode. Some of the new concepts I introduce, like having my clients learn to conduct a Consultative Interview with their prospects, may be like learning a foreign language to them at first. I’m constantly reinforcing their attempts at new behaviors with comments like, “Good effort on the interview you had with your prospect – you used the questions you crafted in the proper sequence.” Question: Are you in the habit of giving the kind of compliments people take to heart?
3. Share unique knowledge Perhaps my strongest suit is sharing knowledge, as I read at least 50 business-related books a year on topics like marketing, branding, sales, networking, referrals and biographies of successful people. So that when clients of mine have a specific challenge I can say, “Y’know, in Steve Curtin’s book on customer service, he recommends ….” Just that one tip can make the difference between a client of mine closing a deal and losing it to a competitor. Question: What unique knowledge do you share?
4. Convey authentic enthusiasm I love doing what I do, so it’s easy for me to be enthusiastic about helping others learn, grow and get better – I hope you can say the same about your livelihood. I even like to be asked questions I don’t know the answer to – I get revved up by the challenge of finding the answer from a book, a colleague or an expert, then share what I’ve discovered to help a client work through a tricky situation. Question: How do you share your enthusiasm with others?
5. Use appropriate humor I like to say if I can get someone to laugh it’s been a successful day. Anyone who asks me how I’m doing will get my standard original line: “I’m doing GREAT! But don’t worry – it’ll get better …” This almost invariably gets a laugh, which is my goal in breaking the ice on a call. I’ve also been know to be a font of useless yet apparently amusing information about rock and roll (Grateful Dead trivia anyone?), cooking (my homemade guacamole and chipotle salsa get rave reviews) and my sports teams, most laughably the Chicago Cubs — I never miss an opportunity to say, “Anybody can have a bad century …” Question: What do you say to lighten up the mood and get people to smile?
6. Provide pleasant surprises Most of my clients have gotten an unscheduled phone call from me to check in on a coaching assignment or follow up on an important meeting to find out how they’ve fared. If former clients act as a positive reference for a prospect of mine, they’ll get a thank you note with a Starbucks gift card in the mail in a few days. And if any of my clients come to town, I love treating them to Chicago deep-dish pizza. Question: How do you pleasantly surprise the people you deal with?
7. Deliver service heroics I don’t know if I’d call this “heroic,” but I regularly help people who are not in a position to hire me. This includes individuals who have been downsized and need to network, aspiring coaches who want to pick my brain, young people who are confused about their career direction or even people who are just in a slump and need to jumpstart their career. It’s funny, because I tell these folks that it’s easy to coach people who are doing well – the real challenge is to see if I can help someone who is really struggling. Question: What “service heroics” do you provide?
Do I do all seven of these things all of the time? Of course not – I don’t walk on water, then turn the water into wine. But I would venture to say that I do all of them some of the time, and I know each of my clients has experienced them. This has translated in having my fair share of promoters over the years.
For more on how you can use these ideas I suggest you pick up a copy of Steve Curtin’s book. In the meantime, you can start doing your version of them today to start turning a routine client experience into a delightful one and create your own promoters. Why wait to be remarkable?