Seems like I had only just written about “little things” that make a big difference for my own blog when I recently experienced an example of a small gesture that, to me, made a big impression.
Margaret (my wife) and I recently had a “date” for lunch at Vlora, a terrific Mediterranean restaurant on Boylston Street in Boston.
True to my abysmally disorganized self, I showed up early.
I lurked in the entrance for a while. Then the hostess, apparently feeling sorry for an obviously clueless patron, suggested that I have a seat in the lounge area where I could relax and keep an eye on the door.
So I did, settled in and started tweeting and Facebooking to pass the time.
Suddenly she reappeared… with a tall, slim glass of ice water with a lemon slice, a smile, and these words: “You must be thirsty.”
Now I know you’re saying to yourself, “What’s the big deal, Kirk? It’s a glass of water, for Pete’s sake.”
Yeah, it is.
But it’s much, much more than that.
It’s a young employee, whose duties entail greeting customers and facilitating their ultimate seating, taking the initiative to reach out to an as-yet-unconfirmed customer and make him feel welcome.
This wasn’t our first visit to Vlora… and I can assure you it won’t be our last. The service is impeccably smooth; the food is great. And I always walk out the door smiling!
Customer service, as I am constantly pontificating to my undergraduate Communication students at Curry College… especially those in my Public Relations Concentration (as well as my graduate Organizational and Professional Communication students at Regis College), is about making someone feel as though he or she is the single most important person in your life.
Now the purists among us are muttering under their breath that “customer service is so much more than just making someone feel good.”
And it is. But, in my humble opinion, this is where it begins.
People who feel good about their experience with your product or service are likely to become repeat customers.
But, just as important, they very likely will tell others about their experience with you and your product or service…“third party endorsement” that can pay significant dividends over time.
Good customer service means that employees at all levels are alert and engaged at all times.
They understand the importance of demonstrating to the customer that he or she truly is important.
They are actively monitoring customer sentiment, on the alert for both positive and negative conversations and feedback… positive so that they know what’s working right; negative so they can alert the appropriate parties and respond quickly and positively.
And the best kind of response is one that has you coming away saying to yourself, “Wow, that was amazing!”
To close with a personal but, I believe, pertinent personal story:
Years ago, we moved to Hawaii as a result of a layoff (mine) and a corporate bankruptcy (Margaret’s employer). Thanks to some serious networking/job-hunting, I scored, among others, an interview with the Blood Bank of Hawaii.
I wasn’t keen on the blood banking idea… a lot of misperceptions left over from the mid-80s, but a new friend convinced me I should go. So I did… reluctantly.
Finally got to the Dillingham Boulevard location (long commute… longer story) and slogged to the front door. Nearly turned around and left, but decided to gut it out.
I entered the building and found myself facing a reception desk staffed by three people.
One staffer (“Roxanne” – 20 years later, I still remember!) looked at me, smiled, and said, “You look tired. Would you like something cool to drink?”
To quote (as I do occasionally) super-chef Emeril Lagasse, “Bam!” I was hooked.
I immediately thought to myself, “If strangers are greeted this way, what must it be like for regular donors?”
And the rest, as they say, is history. I wound up being blessed with hands-down the best public relations job I have had in my 40-plus-year career.
And I learned, quickly, that that level of care shown by Roxanne was extended to every single person who walked into one of our locations.
Roxanne’s greeting, like the young lady’s at Vlora, is, for me, the definition of “good customer service.”
They both wanted my experience… although neither had absolutely any idea who I might be… to be the best possible.
And it was.
“Small service is true service while it lasts:
Of humblest friends, bright creature! scorn not one:
The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,
Protects the lingering dewdrop from the sun.”
~ William Wordsworth, “To a Child. Written in Her Album.” 
Image: Infrogmation of New Orleans via Flickr, CC2.0
[…] I write about this pretty often, and I’m not going to throw any of my colleagues under the proverbial bus by implying that “so-and-so is clueless about interacting with his/her stakeholders.” Truth be told, I think we as public relations professionals have gotten really good at connecting with those who are important to us or to our clients, acknowledging their importance, and working diligently to maintain strong, open communications with them at all levels. […]
Great products and great hectometer service are two ingredients in order for the businesses grow and prosper. Having great products alone but no implementation of great customer service is not enough. Customer will going to leave the company if he didn’t find the comfort and great service he wants. That’s why, the company must implement good customer service to retain the existing customers. Learn more about great customer service at http://www.greatcustomerservice.net.
This is exactly why I think customer service is such an integral part of PR. We have so many “customers” we need to help out, whether they’re internal or external… and if we know how to do that well, they are inclined to come back to us, help us do what we need to do, and so on. Love this post, Kirk, and I apologize it took me so long to come over and comment!
Shonali Thanks, Shonali…and my return apologies for the delay in responding. The Blood Bank really taught me the meaning of “customer service” on so many levels. I try to duplicate that concept every day as a PR professor, PR professor, and PR disciple!
[…] Good Customer Service Starts at Your Front Door (waxingunlyrical.com) […]
@directhitsjen heyyyy you Ltns I “almost” stopped following you, thought you had given up on Twitter ;) thanks for RT
@kathikruse @shonali great article! Really enjoyed it.
@MoxieDealers Thanks very much!
@profkrg @aquarry @jkcallas Thanks so much for sharing!
@adamtoporek Thanks so much for sharing @KirkHazlett #WUL post!
@shonali @KirkHazlett My pleasure! Good stuff Kirk!
@aberdeencoms I agree, I think @KirkHazlett is the shiznit. ;p
@kathikruse Thanks so much for sharing @KirkHazlett #WUL guest post!
Good stories Kirk! Great customer service starts with that initial experience, and that is what you were given in both instances. When employees are ready to make people feel welcome from the first moment, it starts the customer journey down a great path!
Adam | Customer Experience Thanks very much, Adam. The Blood Bank really showed me the value, both literally and figuratively, of great customer service. And our foyer wall lined with more than 100 “Century Donors”…generous folks who had donated more than 100 pints of blood each…was living testimony…and a real lifesaver!
Nice post! Thanks for sharing. There’s no doubt about it…great customer service is the root of any establishment. Nowadays, with digital advances, it’s easier for customers to express their frustrations to the masses with just a click of a button, taking customer service to a whole different level. Whether inside a restaurant or any establishment, or in cyberspace, acknowledging customers and their concerns is a must.
@kirkhazlett My pleasure, Kirk. I’m ready to start a customer service revolution! ;)
@suddenlyjamie Sounds like a magnificent plan…I’ll be there fighting with you!
This kind of service and positive experience is what makes the biggest impression on a customer. I have made “forever decisions” about brands based on how I was treated, on the experience of the brand. Some of those decisions meant I’d be a customer for life and tell all my friends they should be too. Some of those decisions meant I’d never set foot in that store (buy from that vendor, read that blog) again … and tell all my friends they shouldn’t either. Experience is the most powerful marketing force. Brands who use it well will always win out over the clueless brands who think data or slick ads are more important.
suddenlyjamie Thanks very much for your feedback, Jamie. I have coffee shops in Taipei and Boston that I will walk past a half-dozen others just to experience the quality service…the feeling of being “appreciated”…that I get.Quality customer service has always been an integral part of every public relations program that I implemented…and it paid off time after time.I really appreciate your reading and commenting!
Thanks very much, Dan. What a wonderful act of kindness from a stranger in finding your girlfriend’s key and putting it in a safe yet findable spot!
My wife and I had an experience…eons ago…driving across the US from Washington state to Virginia. We stopped at a Day’s Inn in Gary, Indiana. We’d been driving all day the day before in rain/slush/gunk, and our car looked like it was two steps away from being declared a disaster area.
Checked in, slept, got up in the morning to pack and hit the road. Awaiting us was our car with sparkling-clean windows and a note under the windshield wiper telling us this was done “compliments of the staff at Day’s Inn” and inviting us to enjoy a complimentary breakfast before hitting the road.
Needless to say…some 30 years later…if I’m on the road and need a stopover, I always look first for Day’s Inn.
It’s the “little things” that make a big difference.
As always, thanks so much for your feedback and for sharing another great customer service story!
Never hurts to have a reminder regarding personal service Kirk. And I have to say that offering someone a glass of water is a pretty symbolic gesture (makes me think of the realistically unrelated but metaphorically relevant David Foster Wallace commencement speech: “This is water.” http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/david-foster-wallace-in-his-own-words).
But mainly, this kind of service has declined over time, expecially at non-brik and mortar shops. Online service and other remote service seems to grow worse before it grows better, partly as a result of policy, partly as a result of underpaid staff, and partly as a result of just plain old shrug-your-shoulder lack of love from employees.
This might just be a human thing. Last year, my girlfriend lost her key in her parking lot and was freaking out. What if someone found it? She was already headed down the path of calling a tow truck to tow her to the dealership and get lock changed. As stupid as this might seem, that’s a few hundred bucks right there.But someone was decent enough to stick the key under the windshield wiper, a move that took not only picking up the key but actually bothering to find the right car in the lot and figure out a semi-safe way to return it.
Bring that kind of dedication to decency to all you do and you almost magically improve the world around you.
Thank you again for sharing Kirk. And here’s to hoping you get kindness from both customer service reps and avergae joes alike.