Magazine excerpt: Happy Talk
Henry Stewart says customer service is all about getting out of the way.
I am often asked to devise training programmes to improve the service that customers receive. To be honest, I am often reluctant. If the customers are being treated badly there is normally something more basic in the culture of the company.
Many years ago my company won an award for the best customer service in the UK. I still remember what the judges said when I asked them why they’d given the award to us.
“You absolutely understand what your customers want,” they explained. “But that’s not unusual. Most companies understand what their customers want. But they then put in place policies and procedures that prevent their staff from giving the customers what they want. You don’t.”
There is a lot of truth in that statement. Few people get up in the morning determined to provide bad customer service. No company wants to treat its customers badly (not even Ryanair). And yet we see bad service all over the place.
Hire great people and trust them to do their best. You could be surprised at the results.
It is now almost 30 years since I set up Happy Computers, as it was then called, in my back room in Hackney. A key influence in those early days was a book called The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth. You don’t have to read the whole book (though I would recommend it) because I reckon I can sum it up in just seven words: hire nice people and treat them well.
The idea is that employees come first. By implementing that principle, that happy employees lead to happy customers, Rosenbluth Travel won the prestigious Baldridge award for the best customer service in the entire US.
We all know when we receive great service. Just yesterday I went into a big supermarket (known for its quality) and found it an anonymous experience. The automated checkout kept going wrong, making me call someone over, who was increasingly frazzled. I left feeling frustrated.
Then I went into my local greengrocer. They greeted me by name, helped with everything I needed and had a real person on the till who chatted away as they rang up my purchases. I left feeling happy, and eager to return. The difference wasn’t that the people in the greengrocer were better but they were working in a system which enabled them to help.
So if you decide that better customer service is a priority, it is possible that more policies or a set of training programmes (even from Happy) are not the answer. Instead, ask your people what gets in the way of them delivering great service, and simply remove those barriers. Hire great people and trust them to do their best. You could be surprised at the results.
About the author
Henry Stewart Founder, CEO and chief happiness officer at Happy
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