Great Customer Service is Often Invisible, But Bad Service is Always Visible

I recently attended the Service Council Symposium held in downtown Chicago, where we experienced beautiful late summer/early fall weather spread across three days of intriguing content and conversations around how field services is both evolving and being challenged by today’s demanding customers. This annual gathering of 200 service professionals from 80 organizations is all about sharing valuable customer service lessons and cross-pollinating new ideas around how to deliver the best possible service.

Leverage these Lessons in Customer Service

Services in and of itself is such a broad category and varies wildly across different industry segments. In a way, it’s hard to know where to start.

For example, the service delivery process and cycle inside a Ritz Carlton differs vastly from Stericycle. Ritz hotels are in the business of consistently delivering unique, memorable experiences across all 40,000 employees and 140+ properties worldwide. The principles of timely response and creating emotional connections are high on the priority list. In contrast, Stericycle, a $3.4 billion company focused on removing bio-hazardous waste, cares about innovation, safety, and compliance across a 24,000 strong workforce.

Even with these vast differences, however, there are basic principles of what it takes to deliver great quality service, and they have to do with putting the customer first.

The Reality of Today’s Customer Expectations

The one thing every service professional strives for is to exceed customer expectations, even though customers today demand more and have more options available to them.  

Joe Quitoni, VP of Culture at Ritz Carlton shared that 60% of customers leave and go to a competitor because of one single bad experience or attitude from an employee. By contrast, only 14% leave because of something to do with the product. During his keynote session, he shared a framework which follows a three-tier service delivery expectation flow.

The bottom “rung,” called the Expected services, is what customers expect once they engage with the brand. The second tier, Requested services, is when the customer needs something outside the bounds of what’s expected. The top tier or pinnacle of the triangle is the Delighted category of services, where you proactively think “what can I do to make this a defining, memorable moment” and the service team member truly connects on an emotional level with the customer.

As I listened to Joe, I recalled an experience with my family when we stayed at the Four Seasons in Punta Minta, located near Puerto Vallarta. We took the mini-van from the airport to the hotel which was an hour-long ride mostly through small windy roads and a tropical forest.  When we stepped out of the vehicle tired and a little car-sick, the mood quickly changed as the staff greeted us by our names and my young son by his first name, which was definitely unexpected.

From that moment on, we were always greeted by name and each staff member quickly learned of our favorite table, drink of choice and cabana location on the beach, which at first seemed a little strange, but we quickly adjusted and felt right at home. To this day, my son talks about our stay and the memories it created for our family vacation.

Starting From the Inside Out

One of the other interesting customer service training tips shared during the event was the concept of better employee engagement and its correlation to customer satisfaction levels. The Ritz Carlton has worked diligently to do a better job of engaging employees — now happily reporting retention levels above 50%, comparing much better to the 20% levels in the early 90’s.

Cheryl Hughey, Southwest Airlines MD of Culture Services, presented another excellent keynote where she revealed that employee satisfaction levels are key to their business success. It’s hard to argue with 44 years of profitability, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us who have flown Southwest can attest to the strong, consistent service experience, regardless of location.

The mission laid out in 1971 to become the world’s most loved, most flown and most profitable airline has essentially not changed. In fact, Hughey shared that this is less a mission written by the executive team and more an intent that has become part of their DNA. There is a reason they are ranked the 8th most admired company in the world by Fortune.

Understanding the Customer’s Point of View

The final keynote came from David Schonthal, IDEO’s portfolio director and business designer, who also spends time as a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University. David Schonthal challenged the audience to reframe challenges in order to unlock problems in a much more creative way.  

He suggested taking a step back to ask why things have to be the way they are, as well as look at the ordinary to examine what is really happening all around us. Additionally, he emphasized the importance of being empathetic and living in the shoes of the customer.

David cited a story where a colleague underwent wax chest hair removal to experience what it would be like to have sensitive skin such as a burn victim, and having that first-hand experience made all the difference. Or the other (albeit cringe-worthy) story where a sales guy for adult diapers had never worn them in the six years of selling because “well, he didn’t need them”.  I’m not sure I blame him for not donning Depends, but none-the-less, Schonthal made his point well heard. Hopefully, the audience came away ready to confront new problems with eyes open wider.

Applying These Customer Service Lessons to Zinc

At Zinc, we believe in experiencing first-hand how our customers work every day. When it comes to service delivery, no two days are alike and you have to be ready for any eventuality with the goal of solving customer problems as quickly as possible. Zinc conduct pilots with each customer to present the true value of better communication and show how it helps employees solve customer problems much more efficiently — benefiting both employees and customers.

On the surface, Zinc’s All Mode Communication application appears easy, intuitive and well, it can seem like there’s not much to it. The reality is once you apply it inside a field service organization across many different team members, the capabilities and business-value become immediately obvious. Improving customer response times, employee productivity and utilization rates, as well as decreasing first-time fix rates, are all measurable outcomes.

Without a way to quickly communicate across teams and solve pressing issues, customers won’t reach that “delighted” experience or worse, they may just go with the competitor next time. Good service doesn’t materialize as something tangible, so it’s hard to put your finger on it, but when it’s not there, it becomes highly visible and things spiral out of control very quickly. When it is humming along in the background, as it should, it’s invisible. And, that’s the beauty of great service.


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