by Mona Patel
On a recent flight from Cancun to San Francisco, I had a personal Direct TV, but it wasn’t working. When I asked a flight attendant about it, her first answer was, “I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s kind of like the satellite that you have at home. Sometimes it works, sometimes is doesn’t.”
The flight started to feel longer than it actually was.
Later, I asked a second flight attendant if the Direct TV would work after we were over U.S. airspace. This attendant told me in an aggravated tone that they reset it three times and didn’t have a mechanic on board.
I get it. Some customers immediately move to an adversarial position (particularly regarding air travel inconveniences), and this second attendant was trying to circumvent becoming involved in a pressure-cooker situation. However, I was calm. I asked this question to better manage my expectations for the flight. Sitting in my seat and listening to this extensive, preemptive (and presumptuous) clarification was simply verbal-vomit customer service at its best.
It was clear that neither one of these attendants were a fan of the Direct TV feature, nor did they think the pain of handling customer questions and issues outweigh the benefit of having this feature onboard.
This is the funny thing about being customer-centered. If you are customer-centered, you can’t always be me-centered.
So how do you get everyone at a company — everyone associated with your brand — to want to become customer-centered in every situation? The key is determining how to balance the needs of the customer AND the person who delivers on that need.
Need some inspiration? Apple, Trader Joe’s, Amazon, and American Express are just a few companies that have found this balance each year, even while experiencing significant growth. The Apple Store experience is a retail shopping and service experience that many companies continue to try to replicate the “magic” of (Best Buy, Microsoft Store). Below are a few ways the Apple Store radiates a customer-centered approach and balances delivering on customer and employee needs. The store design is light, bright and logical, inviting customers to stay, play and learn.
The Apple Specialists with their uniform shirts and “Apple-love” attitude promote feelings of trust (they’re experts), excitement (they want me to see how great life is with Apple), and community (we’re all a part of Apple, sharing and learning together through technology). As Apple employees, Specialists receive a variety of benefits, such as discounts on Apple products and software, health and life insurance (for full-time employees), training on professional applications, a stock purchase program, tuition assistance, and above-average retail pay. As long as they have their company shirt and name tag on, Specialists can pretty much dress (and style their hair) to align with their own personality rather than looking like corporate-mandated clones. Since they don’t earn commissions, there’s less pressure to purchase.
All of these factors allow Apple customers and employees to engage in a more open, congenial and level manner rather than an “us vs. them,” adversarial one. Think about it: How often have you geared yourself up to purchase a product, return something or get tech help? People often have to make sure they have their specifications, explanation and budget organized and ready. They feel like the company employee is the only thing standing between them and what they need (money back, new product, laptop fixed, etc.).
And on the smaller side, there’s Bonobos, an apparel company specializing in men’s clothing. It was one of the first companies to offer customer service Ninjas, a name designed to attract college-educated job applicants and reflect the brand’s mission to deliver exceptional customer service experiences. In 2013, the company received a Crain’s New York Business “Best Places to Work in New York City” award. My co-worker recently purchased jeans online from Bonobos. The jeans fit well, but after the first washing, the pant length was just a touch short. After comparing the length to a previous pair of washed Bonobos jeans, he chatted online with a customer service Ninja. The Ninja was polite and apologetic about the issue without making him feel ridiculous for inquiring about a 1/4-1/2 inch pant leg length issue. The fact was that the jeans felt too short when sitting. Bonobos fixed the problem by immediately shipping a new pair and emailing a return label — no fees or further questions/forms needed. It was clear the Bonobos Ninja wasn’t worried about negative repercussions from management if she shipped a replacement product so readily. The mission was to deliver great service by solving the customer’s issue with the least amount of hassle possible. The interaction lasted only two minutes.
Now you can guess where my co-worker will tell his friends to shop for jeans. This is what I call the potency of ripple-effect customer service. It’s the genuine sharing, liking — and still all-powerful — word-of-mouth praise from happy customers to their closest social circles after they’ve had a customer experience so unexpectedly positive that they just must share it. (It’s why I chose Bonobos as an example too. My co-worker was genuinely shocked how easy and pleasant it was to resolve his issue, and his experience stuck in my mind.)
So gather your team and review your most recent customer service comments/ratings. What experiences are people sharing about your brand? Is your brand acting me-centered or customer-centered? Poll your employees too. You might find a certain company product, habit or policy change is causing employees to act more me-centered. Consider ways to turn these actions around. Do they need more training, better perks or a shift/location change?
Delightful experiences can emerge from painful ones. Once you find this balance for your brand, you can take control and positively harness the potency of the ripple effect that great customer service creates. If you maintain a customer-centered mindset and balance how you deliver your brand promises to your customers and employees, it doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest or smallest company in your market.
A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.