Serving Customers

 


The Customer Comes Second
Put your employees first. Exceptional customer service follows.

When news spread of our company’s 7,500% growth in revenue over 15 years we began to be inundated with requests to share our “secret” of success.

Our secret is controversial. It centers around our basic belief that companies must put their people — not their customers — first.

Companies have profound and far-reaching effects on the lives of the people who work for them. Often they bring stress, fear and frustration to their people — feelings they bring home each night. This creates problems at home which people bring back to work in the morning. The cycle is terrible, and typical.

When a company puts its people first, the results are spectacular. They are inspired to provide a level of service that truly comes from the heart. It can’t be faked.
When you’re hiring, look for nice people. The rest will fall into place. To many recruiters, a person’s job history carries more weight than his values. But what’s in someone’s heart can’t be discovered in a resume.

In out selection process, kindness, caring, compassion and unselfishness carry more weight than years on the job, an impressive salary history and stacks of degrees. Niceness is among our highest priorities because nice people do better work.
You can’t teach people to be nice. You can’t just say, “Thursday, begin caring!” Caring must be in their nature — they have to feel it in their hearts. If they do, their clients will feel it too.

For each position, we interview eight to ten people before making our selection. And the interviewing is not easy — why should it be? We owe it to each other to select only people who will enrich what we have built.

Finally, our associates come from a wide variety of industries. This broadens our horizons. These employees offer perspectives that transcend our industry and give us a more vast understanding of our business.

It makes sense when you analyse it. One of our automation specialists, who explains our technology products to our clients, came to our company after a career in special education. She has a gift of being able to explain complex concepts in understandable terms. And she’s an ardent listener. A member of our human resources team is an electrical engineer. She’s engaged with creating human resource organisational systems. Her technical skills are daily put to work in a creative application.

Our director of industry relations is a Fulbright scholar and Vietnam War Veteran who, after working in the Peace Corps, taught high-school history. His diplomatic skills are sharp, which are used in his negotiating work. And his ability to act helps him clearly communicate our goals.

We are always on the lookout for nurturers. People who naturally and genuinely want to take care of customers are ideal for service businesses.

Those who are ruffled by a change in routine won’t be happy here, so during the selection process, we might ask people about a typical day in their life on the job. We ask them what they find frustrating. Or we create hypothetical situations to check for flexibility, and see how they read.

It is not easy to provide good service. There’s no one-way to do it. We all have to develop our own formulas for service.

Our formula: Service = attitude + art + process.
Good attitude is a matter of the right person working in the right environment. People need space to provide truly outstanding service. They must be given the freedom to create and the support and encouragement they need. Many managers hold their people down, fearing the mistakes they might make if they are given freedom. But by doing this, they are also forgoing opportunities for potentially outstanding results.

Anyone willing to strive for something special will probably make more mistakes than someone who provides only status quo service. But mistakes are a small price to pay for successes that often follow failed attempts. A true test of exceptional service can be found in the actions a company or individual takes to turn mistakes into positive experiences.

Here’s the art of good service:

A client had to make an emergency trip at the last minute. When he called to make his reservations, he mentioned he was worried about his dogs. Our associate spent the week dog sitting.

Another client called us at 3 am in panic, because he was on the road and his wife was in labour. We chartered him a flight and he made it home in time for the birth of his first child.

A customer with severe asthma called us when an airline lost the luggage containing her medicine. While one associate traces the luggage and arranged for its immediate delivery to the hotel, another stayed on the phone with the client the entire time to make sure her breathing was stable until the medicine arrived.

Every company has its favourite service stories. But the secret is to make this level of service the norm. The attitude and art components of our formula are vital, but without process it is difficult to master service and make it routinely excellent. You must have a quality process.

We created a small department to analyse the company’s quality needs, develop training and implementation programmes, and continually evaluate our progress. This team ensures that all of our quality programmes work together toward the results we want to achieve as a company. We create new and more demanding goals and they help us measure our way to success. Rather than hire quality experts and teach them about our company, we hire people to live with the company, and then we train them to be experts in quality.

Happiness Means Productivity

A happy work force leads to better bottom-line results. Here’s how Rosenbluth Travel puts its people first.

  • Continually create an environment where your people leave the worrying to the company so they can focus on your customers.
  • Take a look at areas with rising costs to see if there’s a correlating morale problem.
  • Measure happiness in the workplace. Here are three ways: Ask people to draw what the company means to them. Meet with managers to get a read on morale in their departments. Use voice mail to encourage feedback.
  • Make contact with your people at every level.
  • Make your company a lifestyle, not just a place to work. Involve your people in decisions; give them a sense of ownership in your company.
    Recheck the ratio of financial to humanistic pillars in your company’s foundation. The humanistic approach yields the financial results companies seek because people work better when they want to work.
 

Processes are studied by teams across the company. Human resources is working on reducing the cycle time on resumes. Accounting is reviewing its cash receipts procedure. Our industry relations group is studying the negotiating process with our suppliers. Departments create “Focus of the Month” programmes, concentrating on an aspect of service they would like to improve. Our quality programmes run the gamut from scientific to fun, but they all have intensity of purpose and measurable results.

True quality costs less to deliver. For example, we developed a programme to improve quality in the reservation process. We were prepared to absorb the costs of the programme, but then we were surprised to find that our costs were actually reduced.

We call this programme “Pay for Quality”, and it was designed to do what its name suggests. It’s an incentive plan for our reservationists based upon accuracy, professionalism and productivity. All error-free reservations earn points, for example, using elegant language, referring to the caller by name, confirming all information, offering additional services, teamwork and other displays of professionalism.

The bottom line is the ultimate testimony to quality. Our people saw a 32% average gain in compensation, some as high as 77%. Productivity rose in the process. We were shocked to learn that the company’s operating costs were reduced by 4%, because we were doing things right the first time.

Everybody wins from quality. Our clients receive the service they deserve. Our reservationists make more money and feel great about the service they provide. Meanwhile, the company has lowered its operating costs, and those savings can be reinvested in research, development, products and programs for the future.

Courtesy: CMA newsletter by
Hal. F. Rosenbluth and Dianne McFerrin Peters

 

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