Customer Service or Customer-Centric Service: Mastering Hospitality

Blake Bartlett, a partner at venture firm OpenView, published an interesting piece on hospitality, and how it is transforming our older, well-worn customer service models.

This was one of my favorite takeaways:

“The customer success dialogue doesn’t begin when the contract is up for renewal. Nor does it begin when the customer contacts support. It doesn’t even begin when you’ve signed a contract and are ready to on-board the customer.The customer success dialogue is the beginning.”

Feigned Hospitality

Attempting to create an amazing customer experience during contract renewal isn’t an isolated issue – it’s a common tactic across a number of industries. From a call center management perspective, it is also counterintuitive. Years ago, a call center supervisor with whom CSR had worked sarcastically referred to it as the ‘Today Only – and While Your Renewal is Still Pending – We Love You’ technique. His chief complaint, and the reason he felt it was counterintuitive? It was obvious his employer was chasing revenues, and was only willing to cede to the customer in order to get them back under contract. It was ‘feigned’ hospitality.

Taking the Customer’s Side

Becoming customer-focused only when needed may have worked in the 1990’s, before we entered the transition to a customer-centric mindset. Today it just comes across as deceptive, inconsistent…and disloyal. Customer loyalty is no longer a one-way street – it reflects the customer’s dedication to the brand, but also the brand’s loyalty to customers.

Bartlett’s article at OpenView references two great examples of executive leadership promoting a customer-centric philosophy from the top down – Randy Garutti at Shake Shack and Tony Hsieh at Zappos. I’ve mentioned Zappos before, in posts on the subject of outstanding customer service. (LINK TO PREVIOUS POST) Bartlett puts it in perspective: it isn’t about serving the customer, but rather about approaching the transaction from the customer’s point of view.

Boundaries, Not Scripts

The article may be aimed at software execs but the lessons are universal and apply equally well in the call center. Bartlett, in discussing Shake Shack, references this Shake Shack profile in Fast Company. One thing that stood out for me as someone dedicated to call center customer service excellence was CEO Garutti’s reference to creating boundaries, but not hard-and-fast scripts for interacting with customers:

“We’re not going to program you to be some kind of Shake Shack robot,” Garutti says. “That’s not to say that we don’t give you the guardrails. We have boundaries and we’re very serious about what they are. If you go outside of those, you can’t be here. But within those, there’s a lot of freedom to create and lead in the way that you want.”

The message is two-fold:

  1. Trust your customers and take their side. Approach the problem from their perspective.
  2. Trust your team, within the company’s defined boundaries, to find creative ways to win over customer loyalty.

Zappos and Shake Shack are just the latest in a string of companies who have embraced the customer-first mindset. More and more brands are discovering that customer-centric thinking is a surefire path to brand loyalty and success.

What are you doing to put your customers first?