As everyone who is in business knows, the customer is always right. The customer who isn’t always right is also not your customer. I’ve yet to see a business that can survive without customers.
I often hear stories that go both ways on customer service -- the good experiences and the “what were they thinking?” moments. I’ve written and spoken extensively on the fundamental importance of stellar customer service, even when you’re not sure the person you are dealing with is ever going to be your customer. And I frequently use anecdotes to illustrate my points.
One of my favorites involves an animal, not a human, customer.
Elephants never forget, or so they say. A man who had gone to the circus as a small boy made a return visit years later. He was sitting in a cheap seat when an elephant came along, reached up into the stand, wrapped his trunk gently about the man and carried him over to deposit him gently in the best seat in the circus tent.
The man turned to his neighbor and said, “The elephant remembered that the last time I was here, years ago, I fed him peanuts.”
Just then the elephant came back, lifted his trunk, pointed it straight at the man and blew a stream of water in his face.
“Oh!” the man said. “I forgot I gave them to him in the bag.”
Elephants and customers both have long memories.
In that vein, I like to share this story of a local meat market that has three or four clerks waiting on customers. One of them always has a line of customers waiting for him -- even if one of the other clerks is available. One day, a visitor asked the always-busy clerk the reason for his popularity.
“The other clerks,” he said, “always put more meat on the scale and then take some away to arrive at what the customer ordered. I always put less on the scale and then add to it. It makes all the difference.”
Closer to home, my sister Margie shared an experience she had when flying with a veteran employee of Alaska Airlines. Not only does that company have (in my opinion) the coolest graphics on their aircraft, it is also consistently ranked highest in airline customer satisfaction among traditional carriers in by J.D. Power and Associates. Alaska's bragging rights include a long list of travel industry awards.
Margie’s seatmate explained that the airline “goes above and beyond to pick employees in all fields that can each be described as a ‘people person.'" Its philosophy is that it can train someone to do their job, but it can’t train them to be a true people person unless they already are.
This attitude even extends to when employees are flying on their airline: they request a middle seat so their customers can get the better aisle and window seats. Alaska was the first airline in North America to sell tickets online and the first in the world to allow customers to check in and print boarding passes via the Internet. Very customer friendly, don’t you agree?
The company website acknowledges this commitment to customer service: “Whenever the history of commercial aviation is written, people ask how an obscure little airline in America's hinterland has continued to survive and thrive while once-proud giants disappeared. Grit and determination will be part of the answer. However, more than that, it's our people. Their caring, their resourcefulness, their integrity, their professionalism, and their spirit.”
Back in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune recently featured Natalie Foltz, a Lyft and Uber driver who wanted to make a difference for her riders, “even if it was just getting them to crack a smile.”
So, she started giving handwritten notes to her passengers, inspirational quotes from famous authors and others she wrote herself. She even started a Facebook group for her riders that became an online community. One of the many messages said, “Thanks for the uplifting note today, and it was on green paper, my absolute favorite color. Thank you for taking time and brightening my day!”
Natalie says sharing the notes is the best part of her job. Make sure you and your employees share Natalie’s attitude.
Mackay’s Moral: It’s not about what you can do; it’s about what you will do.