Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
Exceptional customer service is always optional.
Whether or not to deliver exceptional customer service is a choice made by employees—independent of the service culture in which they work. It’s a conscious decision that employees make to exceed the expectations of their customers every day, on every shift, during every customer service interaction.
It’s easy to spot the employees who have made this choice. They’re the ones who are looking up, facing customers, smiling, engaged, moving with purpose, and speaking courteously—with enthusiasm in their voices.
Mediocrity is also a choice—sometimes by default. As the rock band Rush so eloquently wrote in its song Freewill, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
And it’s easy to spot those who have settled for mediocrity. They’re the ones who are looking at the clock, convey indifference towards customers, are disengaged, move at a sluggish pace, and speak to customers casually—the way they might address peers in a social setting.
In the book SWITCH by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, I came across a great example of an employee who made the decision to end mediocrity and begin providing exceptional customer service at the hosting company, Rackspace.
In the past, the company’s customer service quality languished due to an unresponsive service department at the other end of a cumbersome automated telephone attendant. Calls were routinely dropped or misdirected into a labyrinth of cryptic options resulting in unresolved hosting issues and escalating customer frustration.
But then, after being tracked down by an exasperated customer, it occurred to company founder Graham Weston that Rackspace couldn’t sustain a business based on dodging its customers. That day, he made the decision to be exceptional.
In the words of Chip and Dan Heath:
“Perhaps the most dramatic change made by (Rackspace) was also the simplest. Rackspace, like all hosting companies, had a call-queuing system. (“Your call is important to us. Please press 1 for recorded tips that don’t address your problem. Press 5 to leave us a message we won’t return. Press 8 to repeat these options.”) The call queue is perhaps the most basic tool of customer support.
(Rackspace) threw it out.”
The company recognized that when customers call, that means they need help, and the phone must be answered. Without the automated attendant, it became impossible to ignore customers’ calls. The phone would just keep ringing until somebody answered it.
According to founder Weston, “When a customer has a problem, we shouldn’t deal with it when it’s convenient for us. We should deal with it when it’s convenient for the customer.”
The decision to provide exceptional customer service paid off. In 2001, Rackspace became the first hosting company to turn a profit. Over the next six years, it averaged 58 percent annual growth. By 2008, Rackspace had passed AT&T as the highest-grossing firm in the industry.
Exceptional customer service is always optional. So what’s your choice?