In the fall of 1983, around 7:00 pm, I was about to start my first class at an adult education level, a program called something like “Basic Skills for New Supervisors.” Looking around, the class was filled with all men, mostly in their early twenties, plus a few guys probably close to forty. The company I was working for agreed to pay for the class, if I volunteered my time and was pretty worked up about it. Little did I know, I was starting on the path of discovering how to build a customer service super star in two seconds.
In walked the teacher; petite, grey haired and well dressed, glasses hanging by a chain. My first thought, “she must have come into the wrong class, this course is for industrial supervision.” No, she was in the right place, but I soon thought that I was in the wrong place. She was well above qualified to teach the program and to top it all off, a psychologist. Over the weeks that followed I got schooled, literally and figuratively. I was amazed at how much I didn’t know, how much of what I thought I knew was wrong, and how the subtle application of an idea from her class could and did bring fast and positive change in the workers I was supervising.
The class also covered how to work with customers, good and bad, pleased or angry, thankful or abusive. Many tactics and techniques were discussed, but the main idea presented was this – if you do not disappoint a customer they will not be upset; therefore, by exceeding your customers’ expectations, potential problem won’t happen in the first place.
What happened next, was I assume a humorous view from our teacher point of view, as the entire class of grown men paused, staring at her with wide, dumb struck eyes and uttered a collective “what?” This was my very first exposure to strategic thinking and I think it’s safe to say it was for my classmates as well. A class wide conversation then ensued about met, unmet and exceeded customer expectations. We discussed what each one meant to the supplier/customer relationship, as well as the short, mid and long-term implications of each factor in the customer service experience.
Despite this being a hard lesson for myself and others, one key point kept coming into my mind; “how could simply doing what you said you were going to do be considered more than meeting the customers expectations?” Soon I discovered my answer. Sadly, most customers EXPECT that their needs will not be met, making this the “normal” standard of service. This means that consistency between the offer and/or promise made to a customer and actually delivering on it, is quite often enough to be considered EXCELLENT customer service.
With this in mind, I had to ask the teacher, “if this is true, then how do we know what to do to actually EXCEED the customers full expectations and become a customer service champion?” The words that left her mouth blew me away. I still remember her answer and the shock it gave me like it was yesterday.
She said and I quote, “two…”
“Two what?” I questioned back,
“Two seconds,” she promptly answered, “two seconds to do what I asked, the two seconds it would have taken you to put down the toilet seat when you were done peeing,” she said.
I was stunned, to say the least, at both the directness and truth of her answer. From there she went on to inform us that excellent customer service is not doing what is meaningful to you, but rather what is meaningful to the customer. It is about creating value for the customer, building positive experiences that include you as their supplier. No matter how small or simple an action may seem to you, doing something for your customer that they feel is above average, causes them to view you as having excellent customer service.
Yes, you can make grand gestures, which may get you some interest, but more often than not grand gestures are made when trying to make up for a wrong doing. Instead, her suggestion was that you figure out what makes your customer surprised and delighted, allowing you to consistently and repeatedly not only meet, but exceed your customers’ expectations. By doing this, you are forging a quality standard that defies competition, builds loyally, created repeat customers, and evokes positive word of mouth; important and valuable things that no size of marketing budget can buy.
Over the past 30 years I have, to the best of my ability, practiced the “two second rule.” My aim is to discover what my customers, clients, employees and even suppliers value as exceptional customer care and service, and then make sure that these things get done the first time, and remain consistent with each interaction that follows.
It has always been a buyers’ market, but thirty years later, the present business world is hard-core and ultra-demanding customers seem to be the new normal. So, take a look at a few recent case histories to see prime examples of what customer service super stars look like today.
Thanks for reading,
Gerry L. Wiebe Founder | President