By: Mark Frasco
Take a moment to think about an instance as a consumer when you’ve received exceptional service. How would you describe that experience from one that didn’t go so well? What characteristics or traits would describe the people or processes that delivered the exceptional service?
Over the years, I’ve facilitated several customer service excellence sessions with clients. I always start with this fun, team exercise. Usually, in groups of four to six people, I ask them to recall an instance when they received exceptional service, and share it with their peers. Once everyone has shared, I ask each group to report out the common themes, the characteristics or traits that seemed to resonate with the group.
My wife and I decided to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in Japan. She had always dreamed of visiting there, so our milestone date served as motivation. Japan is a culture steeped in tradition and protocol. Almost immediately, it is hard not to notice their attention to detail, especially when it comes to the service of others. I’ve been fortunate to travel most parts of the United States and internationally, but no previous experience prepared me for the enthusiastic, thoughtful care every service provider supplied. It seems so effortless to them, it mustn’t be work… they are inclined to serve. The service providers who had the slightest thought that we needed something different or more, took immediate action.
We visited a remote attraction in Kyoto. Our taxi driver was only able to get us as close as 50 yards to the entry, parking the car on the side of a mountainous road. He exited the car; we did the same. He locked the car, and gestured for us to follow him. We weren’t exactly sure what he was doing until we arrived at the gate of our destination. He gestured that we had arrived, bowed, and ran back to his car.
Excellent service theme that team stories reveal: The person who was assisting them seemed to go above and beyond, almost out of their way to be sure they were satisfied.
One evening we visited a nice restaurant for dinner. In a somewhat secluded area, on the other side of the restaurant, there was a group of about fifteen, who appeared to be celebrating a retirement. They were certainly enjoying each other’s company. It was truly no bother, we rather enjoyed the joviality. As our dinner was coming to an end, the waiter, who spoke almost no English, presented a beautifully written note, sincerely apologizing for the disruption.
Excellent service theme that team stories reveal: The person who was assisting them seemed to genuinely care about their feelings. They were empathetic.
The subway system in Japan is very easy to navigate. But, we did have some trouble getting tickets for the bullet train from Tokyo station, to Kyoto. We did everything we knew to do, cued in line for the turnstile, our turn came, we inserted our ticket and it was rejected. Thousands of people moving with purpose, and we were “red-lighted”! At every such location in Japan there is an attendant. She rapidly identified that we were having an issue. In English, she asked us for our tickets, identified the problem, took us to the ticket kiosk, hit a few buttons, asked for us to insert our credit card (turned her head while we put in our PIN), hit a few more buttons, and new tickets were printed, with a credit for the others. She then walked us back to the turnstile, ushered us through and we were on our way.
Excellent service theme that team stories reveal: The person who was assisting them was competent. They took time to understand the issue and skillfully guided them through the resolution.
On our last day in Kyoto, the elevator doors opened to the lobby of our hotel. One of the managers saw us emerge, and quickly engaged us, asking to take our bags (two rolling bags and two carry-ons). I resisted, but she politely grabbed them all, followed us through the lobby, out the exit and to the cab stand, both bags being pulled behind her.
Excellent service theme that team stories reveal: The person who was assisting them took responsibility, didn’t delegate or deflect the situation to another person.
What is your organization’s belief system about customer service? If you’ve never discussed it as a team, I suggest you create an experience where they can share their stories, describing what excellent service is to them. With that shared idea of service excellence, have a conversation about what characteristics or traits their customers would use to describe their service. This is a good place to start. Every interaction is a moment of truth. Map out your customer interactions, anticipate every need, design your excellence model, and instill a customer service mind-set that doesn’t feel like work, rather an honor to serve.
We’ve all heard of “white-glove” service. Well, I’m not sure if this is the genesis, but every taxi driver in Japan, wears a black suit, white shirt, black tie, a hat… and white gloves. Domo arigato!