Customer Service: So Much More Than a Buzzword

When I was in Junior High School, our family took a vacation on a Royal Caribbean cruise. It was magical. Where else do you have access to unlimited ice cream, pizza, and a swimming pool within a few feet of each other at the age of 13? It was the happiest place I had ever been next to Disney. But beyond the shows, shopping, kid’s programs, and island excursions, what stood out the most was the excellent customer service we had at dinner each and every night.

Our team of servers were exceptional, primarily our head waiter. The staff was continually engaged in who we were, and how they could fashion an everyday event into something that we would hold onto for the rest of our lives. I can still remember our first dinner on the ship– down to the seat I was sitting in and the placement of my family members. My eyes must have caught a dish with maraschino cherries, because I sheepishly asked the waiter if I could have some as well. Within minutes, a large bowl filled to the brim with maraschinos was before my eyes. This was inconceivable to a girl who could only ever take two or three from the jar at home.

Then the following evening, an even larger bowl of cherries greeted me at my place setting as we arrived. Not only did our waiter surpass my expectations with the bowl he brought to our first dinner, but he exceeded them every evening to follow. With each encounter, the wait staff strove to be even better than the previous, making us believe we were the most important people in the room.

The simplest acts of kindness create the greatest lasting impressions.

Leading by Example

I have been on other cruise lines since this vacation. But if you ask me who I would sail with again, it would be Royal Caribbean. On that trip, the wait staff taught me the importance of creating an amazing service experience to ensure customer loyalty. They showed a determined attention to detail and managed to turn an ordinary affair into an event we all looked forward to. Their mission statement offers a place from which we can all gather some sound advice. Part of it reads:

“We always provide service with a friendly greeting and a smile. We anticipate the needs of our customers. We make all efforts to exceed our customers’ expectations.”

Keynote speaker and author of Create Distinction, Scott McKain, highlights creating a customer-focused experience as one of the Four Cornerstones of Distinction in an organization. To be successful in your field, you must stand out among the competition. Royal Caribbean chose to differentiate themselves by adhering to the goals they set forth in their mission statement. They provided friendly service with a welcoming attitude, they admirably anticipated my needs, and they continued to go the extra mile to meet and then exceed expectations. During our stay, Royal Caribbean was consistently better than they were the night before. Through this, they earned a loyal customer. So what are some simple ways that you can adopt a more customer service centered approach in your career?

Listen.

Pay attention to the needs and desires of those you are trying to serve. Our waiter carefully listened to our requests. He delivered a level of customer service that reflected who he was and the organization he represented. So what if it was just a bowl of cherries? That simple act represented the effort and attention that our waiter and his coworkers gave to the minute details of my dining experience. Their customer service was incomparable to any other dinner I had before. And to think that it all started by a waiter simply taking the time to listen.

Learn.

Genuine customer service leads to customer loyalty.Is it difficult for you to find the time or opportunity to observe or take unsolicited requests from your customers? Try asking questions. You can gather the necessary information that will help you provide the appropriate product or service a customer requires. Building this knowledge will allow you to anticipate your clients’ needs and better equip you with the tools to give them an unforgettable customer service experience.

Questions like: “What does your day typically look like?” and “What would you do with an extra hour in your day?” can teach you how a person values their time and the things that take the most precedence. Even bolder inquiries like “How can we improve your shopping experience?” or “Does anyone on our team seem worthy of acknowledgement?” can widen the path of honest communication between you and your customers. This gives you an edge to help make their experience with your business one to continue talking about.

Lead.

Loyalty is a two-way street. How can you expect your customers to choose you over the competition if you don’t show them the trust and respect you’re hoping to receive? Prove to them that their continued business means something to you. Convince them of your loyalty by displaying an organized establishment with a clear purpose or mission statement. Keep the lines of communication open and be receptive of feedback. Be creative and flexible when difficulties arise. And continually display a level of customer service that speaks to attentiveness and grace.

Adopting these tactics is easier said than done, and maintaining excellent customer service is hard work. Occasionally it can even make things more challenging. As McKain cautions in his book, “behavior rewarded is behavior repeated.” As you continue to meet demands and exceed expectations, your customers will eventually stop seeing it as something special or unique; rather that will become the new norm.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. “Customer demands are always going to accelerate,” explains McKain. Be consistent in your fair and friendly treatment of customers and employ creative solutions when that ceases to set you apart from the competitors. Lead by example and show your customers that you care– that you’ve always cared. Loyalty given should be loyalty earned.

Create positive experiences for customers and they'll be back.

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