This piece is the an entry in the "Happy to Help" Series, ongoing articles focused on elevating customer service experiences.
Back in 2006 I was working at an ice skating rink. If you've ever heard me mention that I can drive a Zamboni, this is where I learned. But the greatest thing to come from my time working at the ice arena wasn't learning to drive an ice-resurfacing machine, it was my association with Reese.
Reese was a few years younger than I, but an incredibly hard worker. We quickly found that we had similar personalities, identical taste in music, and we shared a passion for delivering great customer service experiences. Over the years, we have worked together for various employers, and often partner together for consultancy projects. He's who I go to when I have a CX question.
A few years back, Reese and I went to lunch at an Applebee’s and received one of the most pleasant dining experiences of our lives. As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by a friendly hostess who showed us to our seats. She was happy to accommodate our request to sit at a bar table. In just a few seconds, our server arrived. He introduced himself as Reno and asked to take our drink order. I asked for a Pepsi and Reese ordered a Mountain Dew. Reno was off in a flash and quickly returned and asked if we were ready to order our food. Reese ordered first.
“I’ll have a Cowboy Burger with extra onion rings and extra barbecue sauce.” Then he looked at me.
“I would like the Clubhouse Grill without tomatoes and extra honey barbecue on the side,” I added. We noticed that Reno was not writing down our order.
“Would you guys like an appetizer to start with?” Reno asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Let’s get the buffalo wings. And can we just get those plain with the sauce on the side?”
“Sure,” Reno replied without hesitation.
“What kind of sauce would you like?” Reese and I debated for a moment than asked for barbecue sauce, hot sauce, and ranch dressing. With that, Reno was off to get our order into the kitchen. In a few moments, Reno brought us our appetizer exactly as we had ordered. As we began eating our wings, Reese finished his drink, set it on the table, and commented to me how important it was to him that his drink stay full.
“I have a hard time leaving a good tip for a server who can’t keep my drink full. I even stiffed a guy one time because he didn’t bring me a single refill.”
He reached down to pick up the empty glass for emphasis but to his surprise, Reno had already replaced his empty glass with a full one.
Not long after, our entrées arrived. Like our appetizer, our entrées arrived exactly as we had ordered. Take a second, and try to recall our entire order as well as you can. How did you do? I was there and I have a hard time remembering exactly what we ordered without reading it. But Reno nailed our order and worked to give us flawless service throughout. We were extremely pleased with the experience.
A couple of weeks later, Reese and I contemplated what we wanted to eat for lunch. Because we had such a good experience previously, we decided to return to Applebee’s. The same friendly hostess was working and asked if we wanted to sit in Reno’s section. Our response was, of course, a resounding, “YES!” Reno was amazing that first time around, but he blew our minds on this visit. Normally, when a server approaches your table for the first time, the first thing they ask for is your drink order. Not Reno!
When he arrived at our table, we were amazed and thrilled. he held my Pepsi in one hand and Reese’s Mountain Dew in the other—the same drinks we had ordered on our one previous visit.
Reno was happy to help and a customer service skillionaire.
During a period of unemployment, I found myself spending a lot of time at Office Depot. I discovered that Quincy, who managed the print department, was the best printer in town. In those days, resumes and cover letters were not sent electronically as they are now (does this age me?). Most of the positions I was applying for still required that the resume be delivered in person or sent via the post office. I never explained to Quincy that I was unemployed and desperately looking for work, but I am sure she figured it out. She gave me a card that allowed me student discounted pricing even though I was no longer a student. She knew my paper stock preference and even knew which folder on my disc (that really ages me) to access to print my documents.
I would walk into the store, hand her my disc, and she would load the printer with the right paper and ask how many copies I needed. If I needed more than one copy, she would always print just one to make sure it was correct. If, for whatever reason, it did not look right, she would throw it away and would not charge me for it. She made great recommendations for me and did whatever she could to help me be successful. When I finally found employment, several months went by before I returned to Office Depot and saw Quincy. When I did see her again, she was quick to ask how I was and how the new job was going. She was fantastic!
Quincy was happy to help and a customer service skillionaire.
A year after purchasing our new home, my wife and I decided it was time to start making some modifications. The first thing to go was some shrubbery in our back yard. We agreed that the space would make a better flower bed. Lacking the necessary tools for the job, I went to Lowe’s to make some purchases. I was fortunate to meet Gordon. Gordon worked in the lawn and garden section and was an immense help. He asked specific questions about what I was trying to accomplish, and then helped me find all the tools I needed to get it done.
A few months later, when it was time to replace our lawn mower, Lowe’s was the first place I looked. Fortunately, Gordon was still working there and was ready to help me. He explained all my options and helped me figure out which mower would be best for our hilly terrain. He even provided instruction about the little package of oil that was included with my mower purchase. Gordon told me that I needed to be careful as I would not actually need the entire pouch. I should expect to use most of it and just leave about a pinch in the pouch. Sure enough, when I returned home to start my new mower, Gordon’s instructions were perfect. I used his suggested portion of oil and things went incredibly smooth. I was extremely impressed with his detailed instruction and assistance.
Even now, there is a small hardware store about a mile from my home and Home Depot is about six miles away. Yet, I drive more than ten miles to Lowe’s because I know Gordon will take care of me. To date, Gordon has sold me a lawn mower, edger, pickax, a barbecue, and a handful of garden tools. Although Gordon only works the lawn and garden section, his incredible service has led me to make additional purchases at Lowe’s including a refrigerator, freezer, and a washer/dryer set.
I have literally spent thousands of dollars because of one good customer service experience.
Gordon was happy to help and a customer service skillionaire.
Customer Service Skills
You have heard stories like these before, and if you are lucky, you’ve been served by people like Reno, Quincy, and Gordon. These are all service providers that are happy to help. What you may not realize is how exceptional they really are. Even in organizations where customer service is the norm, finding employees who consistently do a great job can be unusual.
A study by Forrester Research found that while eighty percent of businesses believe they offer “superior” customer service, only eight percent of their customers agree. How can this be? Why is there such a gap between what businesses and customers perceive as superior service? I attribute this in part to the “5-90-5 Rule.”
As Ari Weinzwig explains, only about five percent of employees are customer service superstars that rarely (if ever) require training. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you will find the bottom five percent who just will not figure it out no matter what you do. They are just not meant to work with people. In the middle, where most of us live, is the ninety percent. These are the people who have a desire to offer great service but require guidance and training to move to the skill level of the top five percent. Without that necessary level of training for every employee, a gap is created between what we are delivering and what our customers perceive us as delivering.
By equipping your people with the necessary customer service skills, you develop customer service skillionaires who are always happy to help.