Making a customer-service difference

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It doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m on a Southwest Airlines flight or visiting the burn unit at Chicago’s Loyola University Medical Center. I am drawn to the stories of employees and how they view and interact in their mission to provide good customer service.

I’m a regular on Southwest, and the first thing I do after buckling up is reach for the latest edition of Southwest magazine. And it’s not to do the Sudoku. Like most airline magazines, it has some travel, food and entertainment features, but it’s the articles about Southwest’s culture of service I look forward to reading.

Winging back from Chicago yesterday, there it was: “Teaching the Dallas Difference — How Leaders in Hospitality Share Tips for Top-Notch Customer Service.” Good ideas worth consideration for any boat dealership, I thought. So here they are:

Southwest and VisitDallas (the city’s visitor bureau) recently partnered for a customer service master class. As Linda Rutherford, Southwest’s senior vice president and communications officer, described it: “This class was about how we make people feel — getting back to basics and leaving an impression on visitors that will keep them coming back.”

Here, from the class, is how you might keep customers coming back:

“Every negative customer experience is an opportunity to flip the script,” contended Shep Hyken, the “chief amazement officer” of Shepard Presentations, explaining how to turn a “moment of misery” into a “moment of magic.”

It all starts with creating an environment where employees feel appreciated — call it “internal hospitality,” said Steve Goldberg, senior vice president of operations and hospitality. “Then empower all employees to create that same environment for customers.”

Next, be prepared to give customers what they want, again and again. That’s how you create customers for life, according to Carl Sewell, head of Sewell Automotive Companies and author of “Customers for Life.”

A surefire action is to look for ways to throw in a “surprise and delight” moment for customers. That means going a step beyond a customer’s expectations by creating memorable interaction. It was dramatically illustrated in this class setting. One participant didn’t expect a birthday celebration. Prior to that, the class was surprised by a welcome from a high energy drum line.

Meanwhile, during a visit to Chicago’s Loyola Medical Center, I was impressed with the way employees were visibly recognized by LMC and conveyed their support for patients, their customers.

The main entry hall features a series of large posters of Loyola staff members. Each poster expresses something that the person wants people to know. What an outstanding way to publicly recognize employees for who they are. It’s also a chance for patients and visitors to see how these men and women view their roles in meeting needs.

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For example, a poster of RN Carol Kohlsaat noted: “I started my career volunteering as a 14-year-old candy striper. Almost 50 years later, I am humbled and honored each time I have the privilege to spend time with our patients.”

In another, Melissa Kroupa, APN Lung Transplant, said of her mother, Riza Bista, RN & Team Leader: “As nurses, my mother and I have seen patients do things they would not have been able to enjoy without their second chance at life.”

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Why not similar posters recognizing members of the dealership team, in which they express their passion and pride in taking care of customers?

Finally, from one of my favorite daily motivational bloggers, Seth Godin, comes this great view of customer service:

There are two ways to solve a problem and provide a service.

With drama. Make sure the customer knows just how hard you’re working, the extent you’re going to in order to serve. Make a big deal out of the special order, the additional cost, the sweat and the tears.

Without Drama. Make it look effortless.

Either can work. It depends on the customer and the situation. But it’s a choice. We can make it with intention.

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