March 9, 2009
Personal importance is often misunderstood at the frontline service provider level in the hospitality industry. I’ve had participants in customer service classes who challenge the notion that anyone should be treated any differently than anyone else. Some see acknowledging one’s personal importance or “Elite” status as favoritism. Others see it as an affront to their own social status, as though they are of a subservient class.
My response to these participants is that by personal importance, we are not suggesting a social hierarchy whereby customers are treated as more important people. Personal importance implies the acknowledgment of their importance as customers and the value they bring to the business through personal spending, loyalty, referrals, etc.
The best illustration of personal importance that I’ve come across lately comes from the book, The New Gold Standard by Joseph A. Michelli:
A guest of The Ritz-Carlton wrote a letter to the company president, Simon Cooper. In the letter the guest recalled:
“One of your employees and I got on an elevator in your building. I pushed the sixth-floor button and he pushed none. Instead of getting off with me on the sixth floor, your employee simply said, ‘Have a nice day.’ Upon exiting the elevator, I asked, ‘Where are you going? Aren’t you getting off here?’ Your employee replied, ‘No, I’m going back down to the fifth floor.”
The guest goes on to write, “I couldn’t believe it—how do you find people who are so invested in placing the needs of their guest above their own?”
The opposite of placing the needs of customers above your own is to place your needs above theirs. This happens all the time when companies cite “policy” as the rationale for not meeting the needs of their customers. Other times, customers may perceive that they’re being treated indifferently—like they don’t matter—and feel as though their business is being taken for granted.
One survey revealed that 68 percent of customers quit doing business with a company because of perceived indifference towards them as customers. That’s shameful!
So, ask yourself these questions: What might my staff and I be doing that may be, perhaps unwittingly, communicating indifference towards the customers we serve? And, what actions can we take immediately to acknowledge the personal importance of our customers?