Leadership / 08.06.18
10 Skills and Priorities to Achieve Service Excellence
There’s a big difference between customer service and service excellence. In case you missed Nick DeStefano’s presentation on this topic at the INTIX conference in Baltimore, we took notes. Here’s a summary of his presentation ― how’s that for service excellence?
Nick DeStefano is the service excellence program coordinator at Coastal Carolina University (CCU), which is home to the Association for Service Excellence in Higher Education (ASEHE).
ASEHE is described as “a network of diverse professionals who support the concept of service excellence within higher education and are dedicated to the collaboration of ideas, best practices and trends for the betterment of institutional service delivery, as well as customer retention and engagement.”
It’s easy to see how this relates to selling tickets for a play, concert, game, fair or any other type of event ― excellence in customer service is a huge competitive advantage.
Harry Selfridge, one of the greatest retailers of the 20th century, took that to mean that the customer is always right. He coined the phrase in 1909 to remind his employees not to disagree with customers or make them angry, which could make them leave dissatisfied and never return. But, according to DeStefano, Selfridge only got it half right. It isn’t about what you don’t do, but what you can do.
“If we're going to provide great service excellence and top-notch customer service, let's stop telling our employees that the customer is always right,” DeStefano told INTIX conference attendees. “I don’t care if the customer is wrong or right, but rather how do we make the situation right, so they walk away and say, ‘That person cares about me.’”
Here are 10 skills and priorities that DeStefano recommends implementing, improving and/or mastering to deliver a great customer service experience.
1. Be “other focused.”
Empathy has always been a cornerstone of excellent customer service and it was one of the first priorities raised when DeStefano asked his audience what they thought it meant to be “other focused.”
“I don't need people who come to work who are happy and cheerleaders and rah rah-rah,” he says. “I need people to be ‘other focused,’ and on the worst day saying, ‘I'm still here to provide service, still here to help, still here because of the people who are here that receive the service,’ because without them, how many of our businesses would be there? None of them, right?”
2. Know your customers.
You can’t be empathetic unless you know your customers and they know you. DeStefano noted the importance of being approachable ― using names, wearing name tags and treating customers as individuals. He emphasized that it is not just a matter of treating people the way you’d like to be treated. It goes above and beyond the golden rule.
“It’s not the golden rule, but the platinum rule,” he says. “If the golden rule is ‘treat others the way you want to be treated,’ the platinum rule is ‘treat others the way they want to be treated.’ If I talked to a student's grandma the same way I just talked to that student, they're both going to walk out and think, ‘This guy has no clue what he's doing; this guy doesn't care about me.’ People have to know, and you have to know what people expect.”
3. Be accessible.
There are many things that make you and your colleagues accessible to customers. Some seem like they should be obvious, but it’s worth double checking from the perspective of someone who is trying to find you or is seeking help. For example, do people know how to get in touch with you based on your email signatures? DeStefano recommends that they include your name, job title, where you work, phone number, email and address. It’s also important, says DeStefano, to differentiate between a mailing address and the address from which you actually work.
DeStefano noted the long lines we sometimes see outside venues and used that as an example of how customer service can fall short. Instead of waiting for customers to come into the building, he recommends going outside to meet them where they are. Even having someone go out to reassure people that they are in the right line can make all the difference.
Eye contact is also important, says DeStefano. “We challenge people to use the five-foot, 10-foot rule. When people are 10 feet away, you acknowledge them by waving or smiling. We’ve all seen it, when two people pass each other, smile and nod. When we're five feet away, we're going to verbally acknowledge them with a, ‘Hey, how are you, thanks for being here, glad you chose to come see our show, and not the one next door,’ right?” The exception, DeStefano says, is if people are wearing headphones or they’re on the phone and do not want to be interrupted.
Nametags go a long way to making us accessible to our audiences, too. If customers can see them, they feel some subconscious familiarity when approaching you. If your employees are behind a ticket office window, get creative and put their names on hats that go with a uniform or even on the individual ticket office windows. Make sure employees can see your customers to say hello and make eye contact, too. Checking for and reducing glare on any physical ticket office windows will help.
4. Be reliable.
Reliability is one of our most important priorities, says DeStefano. “Completing the stuff that you promised ― it’s that simple. As an example, if you promise to send someone an email, then you need to send the email. Or if you tell a customer how to get somewhere, the directions need to be reliable. If they can’t get there, were you reliable?”
5. Be responsive.
Responsiveness goes hand in hand with reliability, so DeStefano encourages the setting and meeting of deadlines. When they are realistic, it also leaves room to exceed customer expectations.
“When I ordered tickets for Waitress, I chose to get them in the mail. I was told I would receive them in seven to 14 business days, but I got them in six days. I was excited because they were a birthday and Christmas gift for my wife and I do everything last minute.”
Another suggestion from DeStefano is to review your voicemail greeting. Does it tell people when you are going to call them back? If the ticket office is closed, does the voicemail say when you are going to open the next day and/or when the customer can expect to receive a response?
6. Focus on flexibility.
Flexibility is also a huge component of being responsive. DeStefano suggests learning the ‘can-can’ dance ― if you can’t do something, focus on what you can do instead.
“What specifically can you do to create or complete tasks in a more responsive manner? Do you need to address your voicemail, need to address signage? There are a lot of things that prevent us from being as responsive as we need to,” he says.
For example, are you understaffed and unable to respond because you just don’t have anyone to answer a customer’s questions right now? Do you have a time of the year when you're slammed? If you do, can you extend your office hours? These are the fundamental issues you need to identify and address.
7. Be accountable.
Being accountable for the tangible things that give people a good impression of your campus, venue or organization is critical. This includes everything from keeping the venue neat, bright and clean to signage that really helps people get to where they want to go.
“If you want tangibles to be consistent, and across the board, then you have to make accountability go hand in hand with that,” says DeStefano. “Many people think ‘Oh, well it's not my job to clean the bathroom.’ Well, if you walk into the bathroom and you have a nametag on and you see a piece of trash on the ground, pick it up. [This is what happens when you make] accountability a priority. If you see something, you need to go and solve it and do something about it, regardless of what your job is.”
Being accountable also involves knowing what authority you have to set things right, and what to do when you aren’t sure.
“In the service industry, when you can't do something, you better darn well know how to do the can-can dance,” says DeStefano. “When I train our employees, I show them what yes looks like. It’s not exactly what you ask for, but rather what you can do instead. So many people in our jobs and in our businesses and organizations are on the front line; they get all the information and what do they do? ‘Oh, I have to talk to my manager about that. I have to talk to somebody else. That's above my pay grade.’ That's like nails on a chalkboard to me.”
The audience was challenged to train and empower their employees. DeStefano encouraged attendees to ensure their workers have the skills they need and truly understand that it's okay to make mistakes, so long as they take charge of a situation, show they care and assist the customer in every way they can.
8. Make service excellence everyone's job.
“Whether you sign the checks, whether you are an usher, whether you work in the ticket office, I don't care what the job is ― it's everyone's job to provide service to external and internal customers, meaning to each other and to the people giving us money,” says DeStefano.
9. Leverage your champions.
Who believes in service excellence in your organization? Identifying your champions will help unleash a wave of excellence across your entire team.
“Ask yourself, ‘Who currently believes in these priorities?’ I guarantee there are people where you are who get it, they feel the deal. When we put this in place [on our campus], they were the first people to sign up, they were in line ready to go and they believed in it. Who are those people [in your organization]?
10. Strive for a better overall experience.
Service excellence will help you provide a better overall experience for your customers. Working toward it as a team, striving to do better together and understanding how to get there are important steps.
“It's different depending on whether you sell tickets, whether you have a venue or whether it's a theater on Broadway. It's different for all of you, because we all have different customers, so you have to go back and have discussion about this [with your team]. Don't go back and say, ‘Hey, we need to make service excellence a priority, and these are the 10 things and you need to do this.’ It's not going to work if that's how you do it.”
For more information on ASEHE or mastering service excellence, contact Nick DeStefano at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 843.349.6928. Please note, Feel the Teal is owned exclusively by Coastal Carolina University. The use of the term or the training modules may not be reproduced without the express written consent of Coastal Carolina University. The term and training modules are protected by federal law.
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Tags: INTIX 2018