July 13, 2012
From time to time, I’m asked, “Is there a single attribute you’ve found to be common among employees who consistently provide exceptional customer service?”
I bet if you asked five different consultants, you’d get five different answers. But here’s my answer: initiative.
Service is a verb and, as such, requires action. The opposite of action is inaction. (If you’ve ever had to load your own suitcase in the trunk of a taxicab and then get your own door while the driver remained comfortably seated behind the wheel, then you know what I’m talking about.) Action is voluntary. A service provider chooses to demonstrate initiative.
The opposite of initiative is indifference. Often, employees are indifferent toward the needs of customers. Like the taxicab driver, they miss opportunities by failing to observe their surroundings, anticipate needs or display a sense of urgency. Opportunities to make lasting positive impressions on customers are forfeited—as is their loyalty and future sales.
To illustrate the attribute of initiative at work, consider the example of professional racquet stringer, Matt Previdi. The club where I play tennis recently hosted the Colorado Classic Pro Am Tennis Tournament. Due to the calibre of players, Matt was made available as an on-site stringer by SOLINCO, one of the tournament sponsors.
I happened to be at the club in the midst of the tournament and Matt, while stringing a racquet behind the tennis desk, noticed (verb) as I was adjusting my elbow brace and asked (verb), “Tennis elbow?”
I responded, “Yes. I’ve been dealing with tendonitis for the past seven months or so.”
He paused (verb) his work, stepped (verb) out in front of the stringing machine and asked (verb) to see (verb) one of my racquets. I complied and he began (verb) to test (verb) its tension by smacking (verb) it against the palm of his hand. After a few seconds, he determined (verb) that my existing strings and tension were likely a contributing factor to my tendonitis.
After asking (verb) a few probing questions about my style of play, he advised (verb) me to consider a string with greater elasticity to absorb more of the ball’s energy and suggested (verb) I reduce the tension at which I string my racquets.
As my hitting partner arrived, Matt offered (verb) me his racquet and said (verb), “Try my racquet today. It’s comparable in weight to your racquet and the strings and tension will be a lot easier on your elbow. Afterward, let me know what you think.”
Borrowed racquet in hand, my partner and I headed to the court. Later that afternoon, I approached Matt and said, “You were right! The combination of flexible string and reduced tension was much easier on my elbow. I wish I’d discovered it sooner.”
I then handed Matt all three of my racquets, asked him to cut out the existing strings (two of which were new sets of strings) and replace them with the recommended strings at the reduced tension.
Upon receiving my racquets, Matt said (verb), “Steve, I did (verb) a little scouting on your game and noticed (verb) that you tend to hit out rather than up. By reducing the string tension to relieve stress on your elbow, the ball’s going to have more ‘pop’ coming off the racquet. If you continue to swing out at the ball rather than up through the ball, you’re going to hit a lot of balls long.”
Amazing. Although he was swamped with requests to restring racquets, he had taken (verb) the time to watch (verb) me hit in order to verify (verb) that his recommendations matched my style of play.
If you’re curious, the cost for me to string three racquets was $111. Ordinarily, I string my racquets elsewhere. So, that’s $111 in added sales created (verb) as a result of an engaged employee taking (verb) the initiative to observe (verb) his surroundings, express (verb) genuine interest in the customer, and provide (verb) exceptional customer service.