Internationally acclaimed guru on best global service practices, Ron Kaufman, has been travelling the globe extensively for the last 20 years conducting seminars and helping organisations around the world achieve superior service, increase customer loyalty, create strong partnerships and build winning teams.
A graduate of Brown University in the US and author of the bestselling book series that include 14 books to help organisations build superior service cultures (his latest book Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting your Customers, Colleagues and Everyone Else You Meet will be out this May) learnt the basic principle of good customer service from his grandmother when he was a child.
Kaufman’s grandmother, who taught kindergarten for 40 years, loved to teach the children to be nice to each other. “Now customer service is the commercial version of teaching people to take care of each other. The only difference is usually there is an exchange of money involved. But excellent customer service is about understanding what someone else needs and helping them and taking care of their concern. So it really comes down to human beings taking care of other human beings,” Kaufman says.
In town for a seminar on uplifting customer service to be held on February 14, Kaufman speaks to Khaleej Times about his favourite subject — customer service.
We are all in the business of serving:
Any action that creates value for someone else is service. From this point of view, whether we realise it or not we are all in the business of serving. Whether you are in the HR or you are a salesman, technician, writer or journalist, you are in the service industry. I can’t think of anybody who is working who is not in the service industry if what they’re doing is intended to produce value for some other human being.
Not enough emphasis:
For something that is so important, it is a pity that we are not taught service during the formative years of our lives. We go to schools where we are taught math, science, geography and history but we are never taught how to be of service early in life. It isn’t till people go to work that they realise they need customer service training. By then it may have been a little late.
A shift is needed in the current training:
The training that is generally given at most places is very shallow and full of jargon. For instance, when people say ‘the customer is always right.’ No, he is not. Sometimes the customer is wrong; sometimes he is confused; sometimes he exaggerates. Let’s face it, sometimes the customer tells a little lie. But you can always make the customer feel right, without making you wrong. For instance, if someone tells me, “Your service is slow!” I would say, “Sir, I understand, you need service and you need it now!” This way I make him feel right but I didn’t say that we were slow. So the basic principle involved here is “make the customer feel right”. I found out what the customer values and agreed with those values.
Service is not all soft and fuzzy:
Organisations everywhere are under constant pressure to deliver business results. These often involve reaching targets and numbers, and the human element in the equation is most often ignored. But just because we are dealing with feelings and emotions of the customers, it doesn’t mean that service aspect of business is soft and fuzzy. Service to me is more a science than an art. I am more like an engineer who teaches the fundamental architecture that can help organisations build a culture that consistently delivers a high level of service — externally to customers and internally to colleagues.
Make service your USP:
Great customer service is what can differentiate you from your competition. That is a very valuable position to have. When we deliver great service we are creating customer loyalty.
Service industry in Dubai:
I think the financial crisis woke everyone up. They realised that they NEED customers. So when they get a customer they want to be appreciative. They want to create an experience that will have the customer come back again. So in my expercience, the quality of service has continuously improved over the years and on this most recent visit I would say the improvement is fairly dramatic.
My best experience in Dubai:
I flew into Dubai on Emirates airlines in the Business Class. When I landed, there was a chauffer driven car waiting to take me to my hotel. It wasn’t just a car and a driver. It was an absolutely well-maintained car with an extremely well-groomed and professional driver who was in a fabulous mood and made a point of letting me know that he was pleased to drive me to the hotel. He made sure that I was comfortable about the air conditioning, asked what kind of music I wanted to listen to, offered me a bottle of water and various publications to read. He’s no longer just another driver with a car. He has transformed into an impeccable service provider. And because it’s right at the beginning of the trip, it influences people’s perception about the entire city.
Dubai is a city of service:
Dubai has always been, as I would see it, a city of service. Before it became a tourist destination, it was a souk and trading hub. But because Dubai is such a transactional city, maybe people don’t focus on relationships enough. It is essential that each person who lives and works here recognise that it is not just about individual sales and profit.
The reputation of Dubai as the city is at stake. In their own way everyone is playing a role in determining whether or not people will come back to Dubai or bring their family and how long they will stay. It is what will differentiate Dubai as a destination from the rest of the world. We are all in it together. All it takes is one salesperson in one mall to be in a bad mood and communicate it to a visitor for the whole experience of the visitor to take a drop. So we are all depending on each other.
Don’t wait for others to put you in a good mood:
I do an exercise at the end of all my classes where I ask people to turn to their partners and thank them. And people are very polite, they say ‘thank you’, they smile and nod. Then I tell them to step it up a little and say ‘thank you’ again but this time like they really mean it, with a higher level of enthusiasm and feelings. Second time around they usually thank with great enthusiasm and give high-fives and hugs to each other. Then I ask them if they felt better second time around and usually they do.
After that I ask them if they felt better when their partner was thanking them or was it when they were getting to thank the partner. And the truth is people already start to feel better when they are getting ready to give the service to somebody else. So if you are in a bad mood and want to change that, focus on serving someone else. Don’t wait for them to serve you and put you in a good mood. When you wake up in the morning and say that you have a whole day ahead of you to take care of people, it makes your own day better.
How to up your service:
To be a better service provider you need to understand what is the thing that your customer needs, appreciates or values — it could be quality, speed, choice or price. But a customer doesn’t come with a little sign on his chest saying what it is that he values. You have to inquire. You have to be interested in who they are, what they need or want. Find out by asking good questions, by listening carefully and reading body language and responding to all this rather than showing up and doing your script.
Step one is you find out what they want. Step two is basically you find out what you can do to help them get it. This is when you find out what the value, what their budget is and how they are going to evaluate the service that you provide. Step three is actually delivering what you promised. And it is not over here. Step four is you follow up and make sure that the customer is fully satisfied and got what he wanted and if there is anything more that you can do for them.