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It’s hard to picture how a mere eight minutes a day (every day) could spell the difference between where your customer service is today and where it needs to be to work as a true competitive advantage for your business — to transform you into an icon of exceptional customer service, able to command customer loyalty and passion and, often, a price premium as well.
Plugging the eight-minute gap between where your customer service level is today and where you want it to be is one of several ultra-brief repeating behaviors that I offer to my consulting clients as truly transformational. I’m what’s known as a customer service transformation consultant — I work with companies to bring them ever closer to the pinnacle of customer service excellence, helping clients in varied industries become “the Zappos of car dealerships” or “the Four Seasons of banking.”
1. The Ritz-Carlton-inspired eight-minute customer service refresh
If you want to be thought of as the “The Ritz-Carlton of Industry X” because of your great customer service, consider this: since 1983, the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company has held what they call a “lineup” every day (and at the start of every shift if there is more than one) without fail. I use the same technique but call it a “customer service refresh.” The reason to keep it at eight minutes is that when you start edging your way toward 10 minutes, or — shudder — fifteen, you’re well on your way to becoming just another meeting. (Note: depending on your company culture, a daily refresh may be impractical. If this is the case, do it weekly.)
At the customer service refresh, you don’t talk about quarterly numbers, and you don’t talk about KPIs. You don’t talk about anything along those lines. Instead, you work on conveying and learning and being inspired by one of your company’s core customer service principles or behavioral guidelines.
For example, at Monday’s customer service refresh, you might be discussing the “default to yes” principle: that as an organization and as individuals, you always strive to find a way to say “yes” to a customer — and that if you can’t say yes, to never flat-out say “no” without offering one to two reasonable alternatives. Ideally, employees will even share examples of applying the “default of yes” approach to real-life customer situations.
On Tuesday, you will highlight another principle, maybe your approach to customer service recovery, which means helping and ultimately turning around the feelings of a customer. And so forth. Think of how much learning and reinforcement your entire company will have experienced in even one week, let alone one year!
Related: 5 Life-Changing Customer Service Secrets You Can Learn From Five-Star Hotels
2. The 10-5-3 sequence to make sure no customer is ignored
A nearly universal desire among customers is for recognition: the feeling that they are being seen rather than disregarded or ignored. One quick and easy-to-implement way to make sure the latter never happens, at least when they’re on-premises, is the 10-5-3 sequence:
• At 10 feet: Look up from what you are doing and acknowledge the guest with direct eye contact and a nod.
• At 5 feet: Smile, with your lips and eyes.
• At 3 feet: Verbally greet the guest and offer a time-of-day greeting (“Good morning”).
The only exception is that at three feet if you notice your customer engaged with their cell phone, a fellow shopper, or a kid (or parent), it’s important to just walk on by; do not disturb this customer!
Related: A Great Customer Experience Begins With Great Employee Engagement and Management. Here’s Why.
3. The 3-ring rule
Answer incoming phone calls before they get to a fourth ring, any time it’s humanly possible. Why? Because by the fourth ring, callers start to feel uneasy, doubting whether you’ll ever pick up, and beginning to assume that, if you finally do, you’ll be too distracted or to be much help. In consideration of this, many of the highest-touch brands, such as Nordstrom and all major luxury hotels, have taken the 3-ring rule to heart.
It’s standard of the Forbes Travel Guide rating system; a hotel striving to attain four-star or five-star status will get points are taken off that may ultimately deny them their desired star rating if they lag too often beyond that third ring!) So now, to demonstrate to customers that you also belong in this top echelon of service, it’s best to abide by the three-ring limit when possible.
4. Instant behavioral correction
To build and maintain an excellent customer service-focused company, it’s essential to correct missteps by employees right away — for two reasons. First and most obviously, you want to improve customer service performance immediately rather than letting destructive behaviors fester. Second, if you wait a while — say, until a performance review rolls around — the employee will never remember the incident the same way you do, and they’re going to bristle at rather than learn from your correction at such a late date.
For best results, you should be doing a lot of “managing by walking about” so you can simultaneously model good customer service behaviors and witness inevitable missteps as well: language blunders, excessive informality (and excessive formality, for that matter), and so on — tiny-seeming things that make a world of difference when you add them all up. Wait until customers are out of earshot and say, “Do you have a minute?” If you do this both frequently and with grace, nobody will get their stomach tied in knots when they hear these words.
Beyond a doubt, many aspects of the customer service transformation work I do take time. You’re not going to revamp your hiring process, rewrite your collateral or design your behavioral best practices in just a few minutes a day. But it’s impressive how these brief but repeating steps above can help you move up the ladder from tolerable customer service to excellent, even legendary, customer service.