Words can make or break you. Words, and how you say them, matter to your guests. The language you use can have a profound effect on how your service is perceived. Do you choose your words wisely? How often do you find the right words elusive, causing you to say whatever pops into your head at the moment? An often-overlooked technique in customer service, scripting can make a big difference in the impression you give your guests. It involves small, simple changes in word choice that create a big difference in perceived service levels. For example, a customer at a retail location asks where a certain item is located. The response could be, “It’s over there in aisle three.” The better, scripted response is, “I’d be happy to show you. Please follow me.” The difference is that we feel totally engaged with the person who used the more service-oriented scripted response. Just because you’re following a script doesn’t mean that you stop being present in the conversation or sound so orchestrated that you are a word-for-word responder like an audio recording that says the same thing every time. Scripting simply means finding words and phrases as sentence starters that connect and engage with the person you are communicating with, rather than choosing words that agitate or are disengaging.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing keynote speaker and author Laurie Guest. An entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and author, Laurie Guest, CSP is a “go-to-resource” for customer service excellence. For more than two decades, she has shared her practical point of view on customer service and staff development with audiences and companies across the country, blending real-life examples and proven action steps for improvement. Her latest book, The 10¢ Decision: How Small Change Pays of Big, presents her most sought-after and impactful strategies to find and retain the best staff and highest-quality customers while delivering exceptional guest experiences.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my professional career in healthcare and our facility was known for our excellent customer service. Over time, I became known as the “go-to” resource in my industry on the topic of WOW service for our patients. That led to other industries seeking this insider information. Eventually, I realized I had a lot of ideas to share, so I quit my job and started Guest Enterprises, Inc, speaking and training company dedicated to improving the guest experience regardless of the industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
During my third year of speaking on the road, I took a friend with me to help with some program logistics. She stood at one door with handouts and I stood at the other. An attendee came up before I started and asked for my autograph and gushed about my work. I was so excited that someone would think I was worthy of such praise and to go so far as to ask for my autograph — really? On the way home, I was boasting to my friend about this experience and she said, “Oh yeah, that lady came up to me first and did that. I had to tell her to talk to you instead.” Balloon: popped! What I learned at that moment is that the content is not about me, and when ego takes over you can end up on your heels in a hurry. I still laugh when I think back to how important I felt when clearly it was displaced pride.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Hands down the biggest credit for my wonderful career goes to Dr. Neil Ross and Dr. Lynn Hauser. They were the founders of the ophthalmology surgery center (Hauser-Ross Eye Institute) where I worked for eighteen years. They taught the meaning of corporate culture, superior customer service, and how to build rapport with others. They brought me on as an inexperienced, immature, 21-year-old and taught me everything I needed to know to grow and eventually move beyond that office. I speak of them or share the wisdom they taught me in every speech I give and every book I write. If not for them, I am certain I would still be making donuts at the local grocery store.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
My favorite kind of question! I have such passion for this topic because most of the time the only way a company can differentiate itself is through its people and process. The product and service they offer can most likely be found elsewhere and maybe even at a better quality or price. But hiring good people and teaching them how to treat others (both internally and externally) is the key to success. Happy people provide better service. Having studied the topic of customer service for well over 30 years, I can confidently say great service is not only essential, but it is also the secret to everything, including sustainability.
We have all had times either in a store or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
The reason there is a disconnect when it comes to teaching great customer service is that businesses don’t know how and they don’t make the time. Many leaders have asked me, “Isn’t customer service just common sense?” My answer is yes and no. It does make sense that treating people nice and having a good attitude makes an impact. But no, it actually isn’t common. In fact, having common sense is UNcommon. I believe there are five big things that go into creating your “sense” or, really, just having sound judgment in certain situations.
- The environment in which you were raised. We all grew up in different homes, different families, different geographical areas, different cultures. That impacts the way we interact with others.
- The era in which we were born. The research on generational differences runs deep. Understanding how each generation communicates impacts service levels.
- Your individual personality. The extrovert has an easier time greeting strangers or making small talk. An introverted person may struggle with a job description that requires highly interactive people skills.
- Your previous job experience. What was accepted behavior with customers at one organization may not hold up at the next. That is why establishing clear corporate culture boundaries during the interview and orientation process is vital to long-term employment success.
- Who you work next to at this job. We learn by example and the staff person I station you next to WILL impact your performance. For example, hiring a new team member and having them train under the guidance of a person you plan to fire for poor performance. I’ve seen this done way too many times, and the new person has already been “infected” before you let the toxic employee go.
I’m sure there are even more factors that go into making up a person’s common sense, but just taking these into consideration, it is easy to see why sense is not common.
Finally, making TIME to train is always an issue. Managers seem focused on making sure the conveyor belt is still on high, generating as much candy as possible rather than stopping the machine for a moment to make sure we hand the customer the box in the best possible way. Profits are measured by products sold, so it is hard to convince leaders to pause and work on the people skills aspect of the business.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
More competition does make for a better strategy. What I am not certain about is whether a deep cultural change to impact service at every level is a strategy that feels sexy enough for many leaders to embrace. A sleeker package or a unique process feels better than revisiting the basics of service. For sure, the external pressures of social currency has made an impact. Who isn’t afraid of a bad Yelp! rating or a Twitter firestorm? Companies dread having to publicly respond to bad service or failed delivery of goods and get into a tennis match of words with customers. No good can come of that, so working hard to prevent it in the first place is critical.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
Funny isn’t it, how hard it is to toot our own horn when we own the company? I encourage clients to do this all the time yet when you ask me to share, I feel shy. Let me try to lean in on this and be brave with a brag!
Just this week I wowed a new client. They hired me to do a virtual training series for their key customers. They scheduled a conference call with me and explained that they needed me to create a plan in writing so they could begin promotion ASAP. In the world of professional meeting planners, having assets delivered in a timely manner is very important. I had written up the course descriptions with clever titles and specific attention-getting objectives in advance of the call. When they asked how fast I could meet the request for the materials I enthusiastically replied, “I’m hitting send, it’s on its way to you right now. See what you think of them and we can tweak all you want.” They were so happy, the look of instant gratification on their faces was evident. This small gesture was a “wow” moment for them and helped set me apart from others they might work with this year.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
Because it just happened, I can’t say what the long term ripple effects will be, but I in the past this type of action has led to very loyal clients. I have a 75% encore business rate, which means that three quarters of my clients ask for a repeat engagement with me at some point. The work I do on stage is part of it, but the extra mile in customer service is a big part of the repeat and referral work as well.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
At least you didn’t make me pick just one, that would be like choosing a favorite child! I believe a leader can create a Wow! Customer Experience with these five things in mind:
- Words can make or break you. Words, and how you say them, matter to your guests. The language you use can have a profound effect on how your service is perceived. Do you choose your words wisely? How often do you find the right words elusive, causing you to say whatever pops into your head at the moment? An often-overlooked technique in customer service, scripting can make a big difference in the impression you give your guests. It involves small, simple changes in word choice that create a big difference in perceived service levels. For example, a customer at a retail location asks where a certain item is located. The response could be, “It’s over there in aisle three.” The better, scripted response is, “I’d be happy to show you. Please follow me.” The difference is that we feel totally engaged with the person who used the more service-oriented scripted response. Just because you’re following a script doesn’t mean that you stop being present in the conversation or sound so orchestrated that you are a word-for-word responder like an audio recording that says the same thing every time. Scripting simply means finding words and phrases as sentence starters that connect and engage with the person you are communicating with, rather than choosing words that agitate or are disengaging.
- Use the power of familiarity. One of the most powerful customer-service skills that cost absolutely nothing is to create rapport through familiarity. Small gestures shown by staff can create loyal customers. And many of those gestures involve anticipating and even fulfilling needs before the customer even asks. For example, we have a water cooler in our home, and I purchase several 5-gallon jugs of water at once and pick them up at the shop to avoid a delivery fee. Each time I go, there are several steps to the process, which, although simple, are a hassle. I back the car up to the loading dock where the water is stored. Park the car, unload the empties, and carry the heavy refill jugs to the trunk. Then I drive around to the front of the store, park the car, get out and walk up a flight of stairs to see Rose, the team member behind the counter. I tell her my name, address, and how many jugs I took so she can add it to our monthly bill. After about two years of doing this, one day I found myself loading the bottles during the early stages of a snowstorm. I glanced up to see Rose standing in the picture window behind her desk that faces the pick-up point. She held up three fingers to indicate that she needed confirmation that I had taken three bottles. I nodded yes and she gave me a thumbs-up and a wave. What she was saying through these non-verbal gestures was, “I recognize you, Laurie. I don’t need you to come up those slippery stairs to tell me your address or how many bottles you took. Go ahead and leave and I will bill you. Have a nice day!” (Yes, all of that with just hand gestures.) It has been at least five years since this started, and I have not had a conversation beyond this special sign language since. Simple story, simple action, but amazing impression. Rose remembers me and saves me hassle every time.
- Identify your “value adds” vs “extras that count”. Is there a difference between the concepts of “value-add” and “extras that count” when making offers to customers? Yes! There is a difference, albeit a subtle one. Simply put, a “value-add” is a feature or benefit that increases the actual worth of the product or service. An “extra” is an additional action that provides value to the experience or service level without changing the purchase itself. For example, when a car dealership offers replacement windshield wipers every year on the purchase anniversary, that’s a “value-add.” The customer doesn’t have to pay $10 for the product. When that same dealership offers coffee and doughnuts while you wait for your oil change, that is an “extra that counts.” Some customers will care about the extras more than others. My neighbor, who doesn’t eat the free doughnuts the car dealership offers, won’t notice or care about that special touch. Instead, she might value their friendliness when they answer the phone or appreciate the quick run through the car wash that they do before they return your keys. For businesses running on a tight margin, the no-cost extras are key and usually come down to their teams’ soft skills, commonly known as customer service. It’s interesting to me that when it comes to educational programming, “soft skills” are often deemed less valuable or far from cutting-edge. Maybe calling it something different could help change the mindset about the value. A soft skill is a personal attribute that enables someone to interact effectively with other people. When you think about it, there isn’t a skill that is more valuable than that, because if we can’t connect with our buyers in a way that matters most to them, what type of loyalty can we hope to achieve? I suggest we start to call it “indispensable talent” instead of soft skills.
- The art of positive positioning. If I had to pick a single phrase to summarize the secret behind providing superior service, it would be “never disappoint the guest.” After you have covered all of the basics of service, what will it take to exceed the expectations of the customer in order to achieve outstanding reviews, feedback, and recommendations? Do you have a mindset of positive positioning? This concept can be used by every person reading this article regardless of their product, service, or position. Positive positioning statements are usually based on building up the experience of being noteworthy. For example, I made a reservation at a spa. At the end of the phone conversation, the receptionist said, “Just wait until you see our infinity pool and our power shower.” She spoke with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t wait to get to the place. When I got there, it did not disappoint. The infinity pool and the power shower were, in fact, fantastic! This spa is a place I would recommend again. She set that bar of expectation. On the other hand, just recently I made an appointment at a spa that was inside a brand-new five-star hotel. It had only been open one week, and the newly trained staff member said, “Come early and take advantage of time in our Alpenglow Fireplace Lounge.” This sounded amazing! Taking him up on his suggestion, I arrived at the spa an hour before go time with great anticipation. The word “alpenglow” means the rosy light of the setting sun seen on high mountains. This spa is located in Denver with a view of the Rocky Mountains, so the name is perfect, but the expectations were set a little too high. The room was nice: comfortable lounge chairs, unlimited coconut water, and steaming-hot eucalyptus-scented washcloths for the eyes. However, there was nothing remotely connected to sun, and the fireplace was a small electric fake flame with a vent that rattled the entire time. I think the room would have gotten a fairly good rating from me if they hadn’t tied it up to be something more than they delivered.
- What you call it and how you package it is huge!. At the start of my speaking career, I had a program called “Superior Customer Service.” Clients rarely chose this program. When they did, however, they were happy with the content. I knew the speech was good, but the way I packaged it didn’t attract buyers. I was complaining about this one day to a friend. She said, “Well, tell me about your speech.” I replied, “I show people how hot ideas are everywhere to attract and keep new customers. You just need to know where to look for them. My speech explains this concept.” She responded, “That reminds me of my favorite Mexican dish. Usually the jalapeños are mixed up in the meat sauce. I hate that. At my favorite restaurant, they make layers, and they put the jalapeños single file across the top. I prefer it that way because I want to see the jalapeño coming. I want to know if the next bite is a hot one. Your customers are the same way. They don’t want to look for the hot ideas, they want you to give them the cookbook approach to getting it done.” Later that day, I thought about what she had said: “I want to see the jalapeño coming.” It was such an original phrase and it stuck in my head. The next week, a large association called to ask if I had any topics on customer service. I’m thinking, It’s a great opportunity to test-market this new phrase. So, I answered, “Yes, I have a new program titled I Want to See the Jalapeño Coming: The Hot Recipe to Attract and Keep New Customers.” She enthusiastically replied, “This is perfect! We’re doing a whole ‘South of the Border’ theme at our meeting!” It was the first time a client didn’t start out by asking how much I charged. We know customers buy because they’re attracted to a product or service. They’re not buying based on price alone, which is a good thing if something other than price is your differentiation point. Because of this name change, I had to redo some of my handouts and slides, but the work was minimal and it’s still one of the most valuable decisions I’ve made in my business.
6. Bonus idea! — It’s the Little Things That Matter. Think about a product or service you were drawn to and consider whether the way it was packaged or presented is what first attracted your attention. I’ve ordered a flight of martinis because of the tiny, fancy, multi-colored glasses they were served in. My friend ordered a very expensive appetizer in an elite club because the caramelized bacon chunks came with a cotton-candy stick. And let’s be honest, the best reason to order saganaki is that the server lights it on fire tableside and yells, “Opa!” Without that show, it’s really just fried cheese. (Not to discount the amazing value of fried cheese.)
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
The best thing a Wow-ed customer or client can do is tell someone else about their experience, to share how it made them feel and why it was memorable — that the work I do provides that high level of service and they should contact me too.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d love to start the “10¢ Decision” movement. This would require that people take the ideas that others overlook as “doesn’t offer enough value so why bother to pick it up” attitude and instead start stacking them. One low-cost (or even no-cost) idea can make a huge impact on how I feel about interacting with you. For example, I bought a vacuum a few years back from a local, privately owned small shop. When I bent over to pick up the box and carry it to the car, the manager of the store said, “I’ve got that for you!” and he proceeded to carry it to my car. On the way to the car, I said to the man, “You certainly did not have to carry this out for me!” He replied, “Happy to! This is how I kick Wal-mart’s a*s!”
I’ve never forgotten that. It cost him nothing. It was a ten-cent decision to make the extra effort to wow me. I have purchased another appliance from him since then and I believe it is this small difference that generated the second sale.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Find me online at the links below:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!