Integrity Matters
May 14, 2008

Treat your customer like gold

Question: (E-343)

Travel can be difficult. And dealing with airlines - on the ground or in the air - can be cumbersome, occasionally nightmarish. Even so, thoughtfulness from a caring employee can transform tedious checking-in, intrusive security screenings, crowded cabins and poor-quality food into "bring-you-back" customer-retaining moments.

Case-in-point: A United Airlines pilot on flight 584 from Denver to Boston.

Having logged about 3.5 million air-miles, in excess of 1 million on United alone, something special happened to me. The captain wrote a personal note on the back of his business card - had it delivered to my seat - thanking me for flying with his airline. He acknowledged my million-mile-flyer status, thanking me for being a loyal customer. His few words touched me, confirming that he cared.

Being appreciated is always "in style" and never more so than when the economy is sputtering. Obviously, front-line employees are most effective in carrying the message of customer appreciation. Motivational plaques and catchy public-relation slogans are just so much hype - unless, when real-time customer moments occur, top-level service is graciously delivered. Genuine customer appreciation occurs one interaction at a time.

Many years ago, an elderly gentleman observed my visible agitation while not being served at an automobile dealership in Terre Haute, Ind. That morning, there was no "service" in the service department - certainly not for me. Sweeping the floor, in a corner of the lobby, this alert employee noticed my impatience and approached me, asking if I would like a cup of coffee. Nodding in a way that said "yes" but, don't invade "my space," he proceeded toward the coffee machine, further inquiring about my cream and sugar preferences. Delivering cream-only coffee, per request, he asked if he might be of assistance. He was still holding the broom in his left hand.

A little uncomfortable, not knowing what to say or do next, I asked to speak to a supervisor. To my surprise, he said he was the semi-retired owner of the business. He pointed out that his job was, in addition to sweeping floors and picking up trash, to make sure his son's team was doing a superior job operating their Lincoln-Mercury dealership. His gracious style and genuine warmth created another loyal customer - namely, me.

An unassuming semi-retired owner demonstrated superior customer service by his own example. Thirty years later, the positive memory remains vivid. And, yes, our car was repaired promptly.

Integrity-centered appreciation attracts and retains customers, challenging employees to consistently communicate magical messages: Please allow us to help you. Thank you for your business. We're sorry we didn't respond faster or better. We will continuously work to improve.

Bottom line: Appreciated and satisfied customers generate profits, building organizational morale while creating job stability.


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