I started my career in hospitality over twenty years ago with a part-time job as a lifeguard at the swimming pool at the Four Seasons Biltmore Resort in Santa Barbara. I was a triathlete at the time, and the job was a convenient option because it allowed me to swim at work.
But my summer job as a lifeguard turned into a 20+ year career opening and operating spas in luxury resorts. Over time, I grew to fall in love with hospitality. I came to realize that in the hotel industry, (and even more so in the spa industry) you learn one of the most important skills in the world: how to take care of other people.
In more than twenty years of working at some of the nicest and most luxurious spas and resorts in the world I have learned a lot about the art and science of serving others. I could probably fill several books on how to take care of people. But there is no need to make it complicated. There are really 5 simple secrets that seem to be a part of any amazing customer service experience:
1. Welcome them. It is hard to recover from a bad first impression so amazing customer service has to start with a warm, friendly greeting. We all know what it feels like when we don’t get this. When you call a business and get lost in an interminable voicemail tree. Or you approach a service agent, only to be ignored or worse, greeted with disdain. It’s a big difference when you walk into a business (or call or email, etc.) and are immediately acknowledged and welcomed. Customers feel immediately put at ease and think, “I’ve come to the right place.”
2. Serve the person. Most businesses are focused on consistency and efficiency. They want to make sure you get the same service as the customer before you and the customer after you. “No substitutions” is the mantra. They deliver consistency even when the customers don’t want it.
And they can be successful doing this. McDonald’s, for example, does an amazing job of delivering a consistent dining experience no matter where you are in the world. But they will never be known for amazing customer service.
Amazing customer service means going beyond seeing your customers as numbers. It means seeing each customer as a human being and recognizing their unique needs at that particular moment. The best customer service experiences have this kind of personal feel. Customers feel seen and heard for who they are, and not just one of the masses.
3. Don’t do stupid stuff. Most businesses are their own worst enemy. They have the potential to create an amazing customer experience, but they screw something up. Usually because they are enforcing some company policy that completely neglects the circumstances of this particular customer and this particular situation (see #2).
If you find yourself citing “company policy” as a reason for doing something, you are probably doing something stupid. If it wasn’t stupid, you would be able to explain the reason behind it without dumbly citing “company policy” (as if your customer cares what your internal company handbook says!)
4. Resolve problems with compassion. Even if you do your best to avoid doing stupid stuff, we all make mistakes. MANY amazing customer service experiences start with a mistake that is handled in the right way. When you make a mistake, show you care by asking questions to understand how you adversely affected a customer, apologize profusely, and do what you need to do to keep the relationship. The best companies see challenges as an opportunity to prove how much their customers mean to them.
5. Thank them. Amazing customer service ends on a positive note, usually with the business effusively thanking the customer for their patronage. The customer leaves feeling good about their purchase, not only because they valued the product or service that they received, but because they contributed to an organization made up of people they like. They feel respected and appreciated.
Most business leaders will gloss over this article. There is nothing new here. Nothing that isn’t common sense and nothing that you haven’t heard before. And yet, very few businesses are able to execute on these 5 simple pillars of amazing customer service.
If you are in business, redouble your efforts on the basics. Your customers will love you for it.
by Jeremy McCarthy
E-book available: The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing.