Changing The World With A Culture Of Customer Service

Let me tell you what it’s like to go skiing in New Zealand.

First of all, it’s awesome. I mean, you can surf and ski on the same day. You can see the ocean from the slopes. You can ski glaciers.

But it’s not easy to get to. If you want to visit the largest commercial ski area in the South Island, you have to drive a 10-mile dirt road; as often as not you’re required to put chains on your tires. The road has a steep drop-off with no fence. Two-thirds of the way up, you cross a ridge line that has a drop-off on both sides -- it's gotten so windy at this point that they’ve been known to set up winches to pull cars across so they don’t blow off.

What I found so amazing when I got there was that you have to get through this journey before you pay. Bear in mind that I moved to New Zealand from Colorado, where you can pretty much drive on a red carpet and park at the base of the ski lift.

The stark contrast, to me, epitomizes the cultural difference between New Zealand and the United States. In the U.S., they do everything they can to remove friction between you and the cash register. In New Zealand, they believe that if the road to the top of the mountain is too tough for you, you don’t deserve to spend your money with them.



But the U.S. is far from homogeneous when it comes to service. Yesterday, my colleague Catharine Taylor wrote a piece about customer service at Best Buy that was like nails on a chalkboard. Catharine’s experience of waiting 10 minutes to buy a DVD when tons of employees are standing around doing nothing sounds painful under any circumstances; it’s even more painful now that we all know we can order the same DVD with one click.

That’s why I don’t understand why the Apple retail model -- where they don’t even have checkout lines because every employee can process sales on the spot -- hasn’t been adopted by every retailer in the world. It’s the model that allows Apple to generate more revenue per square foot than any other retailer -- almost twice as much as second-placer Tiffany and Co. The moral here is simple: if your customer is prepared to spend her money, be prepared to take it, immediately.

This isn’t just about racking up sales. It’s about customer satisfaction. It is insane to create an environment where people get frustrated because they aren’t able to spend money with you as quickly as they would like.

“Life is service,” said hotel magnate E. M. Statler, “and the one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow human beings a little more, a little better service.” That service isn’t just about closing the deal or after-sale troubleshooting. It is about the entire experience, every step of the way. Make it easy for your customers to spend money with you. They will be happier, you will be happier, and -- I guarantee this -- your shareholders will be happier.

What’s your most painful customer service story? Let me know in the comments. I’m cringing already!

1 comment about "Changing The World With A Culture Of Customer Service".
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  1. Kathy Broniecki from Envoy, Inc., January 6, 2012 at 1:39 p.m.

    Love shopping at my Apple Store - get in, get what I want and get out. And I leave very happy. Not so much other retailers, so I agree - listen up other retailers - you could make more money - then pay your people better - leading to increased job satisfaction - and ultimately happier customers and less abandoned carts - it sounds like a successful and rewarding circle.

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