Tours Travel

Do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer

The keywords here are do what it takes. Doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer can be a difficult bridge to cross on the road to delivering what Tom Peters calls WOW! Service. Doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer is a mindset and should be ingrained in the mind and heart of every employee. What that does is it helps create the mindset that says, look, we’re here for the customer. This mental conditioning is very important because it allows people in the company to see everything from what Peter Drucker calls the “outside-in” perspective: from the customer’s point of view. Staff in this mental mode can do wonders. For this to happen, management, including the board of directors, must create the enabling environment that says customer-centricity is okay. Management must empower people with information and remove all bureaucratic bottlenecks to allow people to do their best to satisfy the customer.

In the book The Pursuit of WOW! Tom Peters did what he said hadn’t been done before in publishing history by having the images of his service heroes and heroines printed in the book. One of those photos was that of Virginia Azuela, the housekeeper on the 54th floor of the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. The problem with the story was that Mrs. Azuela had the authority to spend up to $2,000 ($2,000 in 1994 money) to fix any customer’s problem without further authorization from above. Mrs. Azuela is indirectly the general manager of the 54th floor of the Ritz Carlton. That’s what she’s made of empowering herself to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. It’s no wonder the Ritz Carlton was the first service company to win the coveted Malcolm Baldridge National Award for Quality.

It does not matter if you work in the private sector or in the public sector, it can do wonders for the client if he is really interested in it. If you think that working in a government ministry or agency is a catastrophic impediment to providing excellent service, you’re making a big mistake. In his book The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary, Mark Sanborn offers a compelling account of Fred Shea, a US Postal Service staffer who was responsible for delivering the post office in the Denver area called Washington Park. “Let’s face it,” wrote John Maxwell, the author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, in the foreword to The Fred Factor, “if a guy named Fred, who has a less-than-glamorous job for the U.S. Postal Service, can serve your clients with exceptional service and commitment, what opportunities await you and me to help others and, in the process, achieve deeper personal satisfaction.” Fred’s story began when Mark Sanborn, a professional speaker, he moved to Denver. Mark said that Fred came by to introduce himself, meet and welcome him to the area. Not having met a mail carrier who was so proud and passionate about his work, Mark was naturally stunned. Since Mark was a professional speaker who traveled quite frequently, Fred quickly suggested that, in that case, he would hold Mark’s mail until he was sure Mark was home before delivering it. Mark, not wanting to disturb the man, indicated that it wasn’t really necessary, that Fred should leave the mail in the mailbox. Fred wouldn’t have any of that. He informed Mark that he could become a victim of a robbery, since the accumulation of mail in a mailbox could indicate to thieves that the occupant of the house was not home. To break the deadlock, Fred suggests that he would put the mail in the mailbox whenever it was closed, and put the rest between the front screen door and the front door as long as the place wasn’t cluttered with mail. Any mail he couldn’t fit, Fred suggested that he hold onto it until Mark got back. That way no one would notice the emails. Mark concluded, “I began to use my experiences with Fred as illustrations in speeches and seminars that I presented in the United States.” No matter what industry they came from, everyone wanted to hear about Fred, the author said.

What an incredible story! Fred has inspired thousands of people across the US, including teachers, nurses, ambulance drivers, and the like. I couldn’t help but reflect deeply after reading the highly inspiring book for the first time. Contrast Fred’s attitude with my personal experience with a post office I had to do business with a few years ago. On a trip to Canada in August 2008 to attend the Toastmasters International Annual Convention in Calgary, I ordered some Maximum Advantage CDs. I was promised a four-week lead time before delivery, but by October I still hadn’t received the CDs, so I emailed the CEO, who personally took my order. There was a flood of emails and in one of the last emails the company wrote: “We will go to the post office here and see if there is an attempt to start a trace on this package using the customs code. Please keep me informed via email as we will resolve this issue in any way you wish.” Right on target: do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. To cut a long story short, when my wife sneaked into the local post office, she found the package gathering dust. The lady on duty casually said “the owner hadn’t come looking for him.” No apologies were offered. I received the package about 61 days after it was shipped. He was with the post office for 58 days collecting dust.

I remember visiting a large publishing house a few years ago while thinking about writing my first book and when I arrived it was raining and no one offered me an umbrella. The people at the gate verified my identity and gave me the guest book to fill out and wished me good luck as I sheltered from the rain, from the front gate to the main office, about twenty meters away. Is the umbrella important during a rain storm? Should a business have one for its customers and visitors? What is the role of the door people in welcoming visitors to the company? If you were at home and saw a visitor in the rain, wouldn’t you run out to greet her with an umbrella? So what is different?

It tickled me and I got excited when I read in the March 2010 issue of T+D magazine that if you go to Chicafil when it’s raining, someone will run and find you with an umbrella. Dan T. Cathy, CEO of Chickafil, spoke of that with pride. Most banks I know of do the umbrella thing, but there is no consistency. Sometimes it is just a favor from the bouncer or bouncer and is not closely monitored as an integral part of the serving strategy. When a company and its people develop the mindset of doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer, things start to happen. People start to see little things like the rain as important, the umbrella becomes important, answering emails becomes important, being courteous becomes important, being courteous on the phone becomes important, everything becomes important, the customer becomes important , not just in the printed mission statement that hangs on the wall or in the annual report. The customer becomes the center of the company’s universe. Doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer must be ingrained in the hearts and minds of company personnel as an integral part of the service experience; otherwise the staff will be nonchalant about it, as I witnessed in a three star hotel in Lagos in February. 14, 2011, Valentine’s Day. A downpour was falling and the guests were soaking wet and there were no umbrellas in sight.

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