Not a fan of cookie cutter approaches, Godin encourages us to be diligent in discovering our own unique contribution to customer service. He writes:
“Brands don’t care about you … Institutions don’t care about you either. The only people who are able to care about you are people.
“The question remains then, ‘Is this institution owned and organized and run by people who will allow the people who work there to care?’
“Generally, the answer is ‘no’, because caring is unpredictable, hard to command and regulate and sometimes expensive in the short run.
“What a shame.” Godin concludes.
Thankfully, there are now two Chinese restaurants in the small Central Valley town that I travel through regularly. For years, there was just one. It was dingy, run down, and uninviting with dirty windows and a faded sign. I braved it and ate there a few times. The food was OK but I had no appetite for returning.
Last year the new restaurant opened. It has great signage, clean attractive decor, good food, and better service.
After a few months the old restaurant resurrected with new signs and paint. It looks like the owners are actually interested in attracting customers. But because they did nothing to improve themselves until the new restaurant came to town, I’m suspicious of their efforts.
I’m glad they’ve improved, but why didn’t they do this before the new guys came to town? It’s not for lack of resources because they’ve done something now. Maybe it was just lethargy that resigned them to dinginess.
I’m rooting for the new restaurant team, but I get concerned for them. Sometimes they are understaffed and overwhelmed. Worse, the owner seems irritated, not with the customers, but with other staff members. Sadly, the customers, including me, feel it.
Hopefully the town is big enough for both. I’m glad the old place is fixing things up regardless of motive. That’s the strength of competition. As the ancient proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron.”
I’d like to ask the restaurateurs, and whoever else has ears to hear, Seth Godin’s question: “Is this institution owned and organized and run by people who will allow the people who work there to care?”
The quickest way to become that caring organization is to give permission for taking creative positive risks to make customer service contributions. Contributions go the extra mile. Like bringing extra appetizers to the table as the owner of the new restaurant does on occasion. Like staff remembering names and creatively picking up the conversation from a customer’s previous visit.
Contributions creatively bring relational joy to the service event.
Relational joy! Doesn’t that describe the successful customer service moment in a nutshell, or better yet, in a fortune cookie?
Contribution is different from role. In my own online leadership blog I write:
“My role is found in my title and job description. I’m a clerk, supervisor, teller, vice-president, driver, teacher, CEO, or custodian. My role is what I do. It’s my job. I can get by for years just doing that. Or I can also contribute.
“My contribution is that something extra — a smile, donuts for the team, asking someone that’s struggling if they need help, encouraging someone, or a sticky-note ‘Thank You!’
“My role is describable, doable, and, left to itself, heading for the Valley of Boredom.
“My contribution is beyond description, daring, delightful and life-giving!
“Couples, families, staff, and communities can get trapped in their roles, play it safe, and die.
“Contributions change all that!”
Some of us drive our cars the way we perform our roles — disengaged and then wrongly engaged. It takes a special effort and contribution, to not speed up when the person in right hand lane is sneaking by you and recklessly cutting in front to get ahead of you and around that slow moving truck. It is a contribution to take a breath, relax and let them in without getting angry and resentful.
My wish for both restaurant teams and all the rest of us is that we get better at contributing — not just role-playing.
And this is my contribution!
“Say, ‘Hey!’” for excellent customer service!
John Parker is the founder of Professional Development Adventures and an instructor for the UC Davis Center for Human Services. You can reach him at [email protected]