On day 1 of the Illinois State SHRM Conference I had the opportunity to hear formerly long-tenured Hard Rock Cafe Training Executive Jim Knight talk about the power of workplace culture where he creatively integrated his love for rock and roll music. Aside from the spikey hair and “amped up” persona Knight portrays, I particularly resonated with his comments about differentiated service that is both personalized and customized that develops emotional attachments among customers. The behaviours, words and actions simply can’t be faked or canned, and ultimately, the memories that are created result in brands having “raving fans” just like in rock concerts. He used the example of the Rolling Stones not having 1 hit single since the late 1980s yet they make more money at the box office per show than any other group ever.
Why Can’t the Majority of Brands Get it Right?
There are many reasons why major brands continue to struggle to provide customer experiences that meet the standard Knight is talking about. However, I would like to argue that the main reason why is due to the desire to over-standardize. Standardize customer service operations via processes, scripts, workflows and so forth. Another way to put this is customer service employees who by the way are human beings, are asked to ensure a consistent and standardized approach to how they serve customers.
Why Bother Hiring Real People?
Over-standardization is really just a pathway to roboticizing customer service, which begs the question of, “why not just program robots to replace real people to serve your customers”? Oh nooooo we could never do that — well then, stop asking your employees to act like robots and I will gladly drop this question.
The reality is relationships are created and sustained between people. Why relationships work and don’t work is because of the emotional attachments, or lack thereof between people. In a customer service environment how someone defines quality service is not impacted by their ability to read a script, talk and act like a robot and follow prompts. No amount of technology will ever trump the impact, influence and power of the natural flow that happens in conversation between people.
Personally, what resonates with me in customer service environments are the little things that people do that I would describe as thoughtful, value-adding and taking the extra step. This requires customer service to have the ability to actively listen, and have a genuine interest to want to help the customer. It’s the well-being and experience of the customer that matters, not some metric that a corporate executive has cascaded down that supposedly defines what excellent customer service means.
I instantly become a “raving fan” of brands that can embody all of the qualities I listed above. I know full well that each person I interact with a given organization will be different, by virtue of these people having different personalities. Not every single experience will be described as “wow”, but I look for thoughtfulness, appreciation, taking the extra step and a genuine interest in me as a customer. That’s all I ask for — is it too much to ask? Well, if brands continue to lean on standardization of transactions it will be.
Perhaps we should take a cue from my a few one of my favourite brands Westjet Airlines. We all know that there are multiple touch-points a customer goes through when flying. I would argue that airlines have the most difficult task of being able to provide an awesome experience each and every time with so many impacting factors beyond their direct control. However, what keeps me emotionally attached to Westjet is the simple fact that they always expeditiously respond when I need an immediate response, always thank me for my business, make every attempt to make the in-flight experience an enjoyable one and take the time to socialize and converse with passengers. Nothing earth-shattering but when these connections are made between human beings the emotional core we all have gets tapped into, in a good way. That’s all we’re looking for.