We’re All in the Customer Service Business

Even in our competitive business environment, organizations that pride themselves on great customer service continue to be few and far between. To test that thesis, answer this: How often do you receive exceptional service—the kind where you can tell that the person serving you actually cares about keeping you as a customer?

I rest my case.

Now just for fun, let’s see what happens when I turn it around: When was the last time you gave one of your customers that same kind of exceptional service? If you work in the retail, foodservice, or hospitality industry, or as an online customer service representative or another frontline position, you may deal with hundreds of customers a day. How do you think they would rate your service?

Perhaps you don’t think of yourself as having customers because you aren’t in a customer-facing job—you’re a middle manager, you work on a manufacturing line, or maybe you spend your day looking at spreadsheets in a cubicle. Think about the internal customers you interact with. And parents, teachers, and coaches have customers, too.

In reality, we’re all in the customer service business—and every customer deserves special care. No matter what position you hold, or who your customer is, you can make a positive difference in that person’s life. And doing that may be simpler than you think. Read on!

One of my favorite real-life customer service stories begins with my friend Barbara Glanz giving a speech to hundreds of employees of a major grocery chain. At the end of her speech, Barbara challenged every attendee to think about something small but special they could do on the job—starting the next day—to make their customers feel important.

About a month later, Barbara got a call from a young man named Johnny who had been at her speaking event. As he introduced himself, he mentioned he was 19 years old, worked as a grocery bagger, and had Down syndrome. Johnny told Barbara that after seeing her speak, he went home and talked with his dad about what special thing he might do for his customers. They decided to focus on the fact that Johnny loved to read and collect quotations.

That night, Johnny chose one of his favorite sayings, typed it as many times as it would fit on a single page, and printed 50 copies. He cut the printed lines into strips and signed his name on the back of each one. The next day as Johnny finished bagging each customer’s groceries, he dropped a strip of paper in their bag and said, “I’m putting my favorite saying of the day in your bag. Have a great day!”

After a few weeks had gone by, Barbara was surprised to get a call from Johnny’s store manager. He wanted to let her know that Johnny’s small gesture had changed the store’s whole atmosphere. A few days earlier, the manager had noticed a huge line of customers at Johnny’s station but only a few at the other checkout counters. He tried to get people to change lines, but he kept hearing “I want to be in Johnny’s line so I can get his quote of the day.” One woman shopper even told the manager, “I used to shop here once a week, but now I stop by every day to get one of Johnny’s favorite sayings.” Johnny’s little gesture made a big difference to his customers, his manager, and his store.

To help spread Johnny’s message to more people, Barbara and I wrote a little book called The Simple Truths of Service: Inspired by Johnny the Bagger. It’s filled with true stories about simple acts of service that made a difference and helped build customer loyalty.

Just like Johnny, we all have the ability to make a difference in the lives of our internal and external customers. Remember that the best competitive edge in business isn’t product or price. It’s the way we make our customers feel.

You are in the customer service business. What simple thing can you do today to make your customers feel special?

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