So Who Gives the Best Service?

A guy in a big grey Porsche whizzed past me illegally in the emergency lane, and he passed I noticed his number plate said “U12B ME”, (“You want to be me.”) Now occasionally I find this slightly amusing, because we all know that he obviously suffers from minute dimensions in a very sensitive part of his body. But then I wondered, “What it would be like to be one of his customers?” Just how arrogant and immature can one be?

Now on that very same day, a good mate of mine, George, told me about an experience he had at a new shoe shop called Prato. On Christmas Eve, he telephoned them just before closing time to ask if they could wait a few minutes, and they willingly agreed. However, when he got there, instead of encountering resentment for keeping them at work after hours just before the most important celebration of the year, he found friendliness, helpfulness and goodwill. Even better, while they were busy sorting out his transaction, some other customers, seeing activity inside, asked if they could also come in, and they were duly helped. George reckons that in those last few minutes they sold R4000 worth of shoes.

At least once a month someone will ask me which type of people give the best service. Is it men or women? Younger or older? Black or white? South Africans or foreigners? Gay or straight people? People from Johannesburg or Cape Town? Retailers, bankers or restaurateurs? Small businesses or large?

My answer is always that it depends on the choices that customer care people make. I can tell you that I love the old-fashioned Indian waiters in Durban, that the courtesy shown by some older people in England is so satisfying, and that many of my best experiences in call centres have been handled by young ladies straight out of school. It’s also true that Richard Branson – an old white male – is my number 1 business hero, that a gay guy in IT support gave me the best technical help about my internet connection that I’ve ever had on the telephone, anywhere, and that my best holiday ever was in Mauritius – made magic by the people who live and work there.

But it’s not about big broad judgments that we all like to make about certain people. It doesn’t matter how much you know, how many years of experience you have, where you come from, who you work for, and what you do for a living. The reality is that the best service is usually provided by individuals who make a choice: a choice to reach out and help somebody in need.

I will go out on a limb, and say that women have the propensity to care more about customers than men with too much testosterone. (Like my friend with the Porsche, people with too much testosterone really affect the quality of service because their customers, colleagues and employees are negatively affected, and customers prefer humility to cockiness. People who always have a need to be right are really poor listeners.)

But back to women: Imagine, if it weren’t for women, we would all be men, (and that is just not a fate worth thinking about.) Imagine a world without women: No-one would ever stop to ask directions, so when we became lost in our cars, we would just drive around in circles forever, scowling at the street signs. Over enough time, the whole world would be on the roads, just driving and driving, everyone growing old looking for wherever it is he was originally going. Imagine the traffic jams. Imagine the road rage!

I saw a sign in the Belgian chocolate shop the other day which said: “When men are frustrated and depressed, they beat each others brains out or invade another country. Women, on the other hand, eat too much chocolate and go shopping.” It’s a whole different way of thinking.

Recently I witnessed two women who had collided at a set of traffic lights right in front of me. While I was busy being very logical and rational, arranging for emergency vehicles, offering my cell phone, trying to get details and give out my cards, they were crying and then, almost on impulse, they hugged each other. I sat there helpless, but just admiring how civilised they truly were.

I’d like to share with you a comment from a tea lady on a recent workshop that I ran. When I asked what she did in the company, she said: “I am just the tea lady, but actually I am the bringer of joy.” That’s what her mission was at work – twice a day to dispense joy to people in their dreary and desperate empty working lives. When I chatted to her later during one of the breaks, to tell her how I loved her description of her job, she said, “Well, if people don’t look after their customers, it may be because they hate their job, or their boss, or the company…” And then she paused and said, “But it is also because they don’t think much of themselves in the first place.” What fantastic insight! A lot of personal pride is at stake here.

It reminded me about some advice that my one and only woman boss first gave to me more than thirty years ago. I wish now that I had heeded it. Amongst other things she said, “The people who really become successful in this company are those who do the work that nobody else wants. They also don’t like it, but they do it anyway, and, as such, people admire them and respect them.”

Amidst all of these personal ramblings about women, I’d venture that the problem is that men want to run businesses like a rugby or soccer match: it’s exciting, and it’s tough, it’s unpredictable, and you have to win at all costs. If you get a few bruises, that’s good, but no matter what, you never, ever challenge the boss, no matter who you are.

Women, on the other hand, prefer ballet, which may not always be as exhilarating, but is sure as hell a better way to run your business and your relationships. It’s smooth and flowing, and everyone knows exactly what they need to do, and where they need to be. The teamwork required is phenomenal, or the whole show will be spoilt. And it requires just as much effort as rugby and football.

So what are the characteristics of an “ideal” customer-focused employee? Who are the best people to let loose on your customers? Who makes the best customer service employee? It’s probably naïve to try to make a list of characteristics, because there is nobody in the world that will ever match the description.

But maybe the following checklist will help. To what degree can each person on your team…

  • Can list at least ten specific and clear reasons why it is so important to “delight” your customers.
  • Can tell the difference between a delighted customer versus an indifferent satisfied one.
  • Can explain exactly what leads to customer loyalty in your company, and understands that highly satisfied customers are not always loyal, while some unhappy customers can be loyal.
  • Can list at least two good reasons why having unhappy customers is not always a bad thing.
  • Can define every single moment of truth for which he or she is responsible, and is clear about what customer like, and dislike, about these moments of truth.
  • Can list at least five clear ways in which your business differentiates itself from your competitors to delight customers.
  • Can define and describe at least ten different expectations of service delivery which your customers probably hold, and use to evaluate their service contact.
  • Can list at least ten reasons why customers get upset based on complaints recently received.
  • Can list the reasons why your customers quit your business, and approximately what percentage of customers quit for each reason.
  • Can effectively and successfully deal with customer complaints, and knows exactly how to behave to calm someone who is upset.
  • Can keep himself or herself calm when things are getting tough, and when other people get abusive.
  • Can come up with a list of new and innovative ways for adding value to the customer’s experiences in your company.
  • Can demonstrates at least two-thirds of the following attributes:
  1. Assertive, self-confident, tactful and firm, rather than aggressive
  2. Good listener and great empathy skills
  3. Forgiving even when attacked, but not weak, can laugh off personal insults, and handle stress effectively
  4. Friendly, polite, respectful and courteous demeanour
  5. Cheerful and enthusiastic, and a good sense of humour
  6. Staying focused on problems, rather than being side-tracked
  7. Small ego, and happy to compromise rather than win
  8. Persuasive, and can sell advantages
  9. A sense of fairness and justice
  10. Can balance a few balls in the air simultaneously
  11. Doing the right thing is more important than being right
  12. Can easily see an innovative “third option”
  13. Efficient and responsive

Nobody in the world will ever have all of these qualities, but I want to repeat again what I said earlier: The biggest difference in customer experiences is always made by an individual who has made a choice to help in whatever way possible.

You and I face this choice every day, and if you need a personlised number plate, chances are you won’t make it.


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