Ah, great customer service! It is the ultimate secret weapon that any business can provide.  It’s really not that complicated; if you can provide great customer service, good things are bound to happen for you and your business!  Most people won’t argue with that statement, but there’s one, small problem: How do you define great customer service?  This is a question that most businesses struggle with, because two things are certain:

  1. No business is ever going to claim they don’t offer great customer service.
  2. No business is ever going to concede that their customer service is inferior to their competitors.

The term, “great customer service,” is tossed around in business like beachball, with no real definition as to what it actually means.  Think about it:  How do you actually define great customer service?  In a sense, it comes down to the old phrase, “I know it when I see it.”

For the record, the phrase “I know it when I see it” was used in 1964 by United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe his threshold test for obscenity in a case he was hearing.  The judge was trying to explain why the material at issue in the case was protected speech that could not be censored.

Which brings me to this:  I believe I DID experience great customer service at that lunch, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon my own litmus test for that determination.  What was it that made that waiter so good?  Amongst other things, the waiter knew:

  • Just when to approach the table, and just when to back off
  • Just how much banter to provide, and just when to get to business
  • Just enough about the various items on the menu, and just when to let us handle the rest.
  • The waiter even sold us a cheesecake for desert… and I don’t like cheesecake.Since the waiter was so good, I decided to try again, and although I still don’t like cheesecake, I liked it that day.

Ah, but what was it that made that waiter so great?  Near the end of the meal, I casually said to my friend, “This waiter was so empowered, and provided such great customer service, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the owner!”  That’s when it hit me: Shouldn’t that be the target of all employees?  In fact, wouldn’t this be a wonderful litmus test for any company that professes to have tremendous employees and great customer service?

About ten years ago I conducted a couple of programs for several hundred employees at Hy-Vee grocery stores in the Midwest.  In case you’ve never heard of them, the Hy-Vee chain operates over 240 grocery stores and drugstores in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.  Perhaps you’ve shopped there, but if not, find someone who has.  You’ll find people gushing over their consistent, great customer service.  Forbes has them on their list of “Best Employers for New Grads 2019,” and “America’s Best Employers by State 2019.”  If you shop there, you’ll see the people that work there far exceed your expectations and perform their duties like they are owners too.  Coincidently, they are employee owned!  Although I’ve not worked with Publix, they also showed up on many of the lists Hy-Vee showed up on.  Yep, employee owned!

Yes, when it comes to true, great customer service, “I’ll know it when I see it,” may be true, but if your experience is so extraordinary that you can’t figure out if you’re working with the owner or not, you’ll have seen it! 





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