In October of last year, I traveled to Nashville to facilitate a Leadership Boot Camp for the good folks at Caterpillar Financial Services Corp. Their world headquarters is located directly across the street from Vanderbilt University, a few blocks from fabled Music Row and, luckily for me, right next door to the exquisite Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. In an earlier blog feature, Creativity Reigns Again, I shared both my delight and astonishment at the level of creativity I discovered upon my arrival at this marbled palace in the heart of Music City.
Last week, I returned to Nashville for another Leadership Boot Camp with managers, supervisors, and Black Belts at Caterpillar Financial. In the spirit of Boot Camp vernacular, I was once again billeted at the Loews Vanderbilt. Although I again savored obvious creativity at every turn, I couldn’t help but notice another simplistic characteristic of their thriving culture — exceptional customer service.
Due to our ever-increasing requests for customer service training and keynotes, I’m always in search of good and bad examples to share with our clients. I found a number of solid examples during this trip but two particular instances, although both very basic, really impressed me.
- I arrived on Sunday evening and checked in at a very busy front desk manned by a number of busy but friendly staff members. It snowed all day Monday. Returning to the front desk Monday evening to drop off some mail after my training session, one of the front desk employees casually asked something like: “How are you today?” I replied with a smile and said something like: “Fine, thanks, although I’m a little chilly after that snow.” Typical small talk on my part followed by a shocking comment from the young lady behind the desk. She took my mail, smiled and said: “Today’s snow was simply our way of making you feel more at home with weather conditions like you have in Michigan!” I laughed, thanked her and headed to dinner. However, I must admit I was dumbfounded by her remark. Based on our short interaction at the desk she had no way of knowing I was from Michigan. She obviously had to be one of those at the desk the night before when I checked in and heard my conversation about the weather. That’s paying attention to detail, great listening skills, and better memory than I have. To remember those details the following day is remarkable in my eyes. That employee went above and beyond the call of duty to make a customer feel special. I was very impressed.
- Monday morning I left the hotel with a small suitcase containing props for my program. One of the lobby staff smiled, opened the door for me, and asked if he could get me a cab. I thanked him and explained that I was simply walking next door to Caterpillar for a training session. Again, typical small talk. When I returned at the end of the day, that young man was not on duty. Tuesday morning, same routine, same young man, different greeting. This time he smiled, open the door for me, and said, “Another day of training, eh? Keep ‘em focused!” I laughed, thanked him, promised I would keep ‘em focused, and headed off for another day — amazed and impressed! How many customers do you think that young man sees during the course of a typical work day? Here’s another example of great listening skills, great retention and the utilization of both to impress a customer while making him feel special.
Coincidence? I think not. Far too much evidence to the contrary. However, how do you train someone to react in such a powerful fashion? I don’t think role play can take all the credit, and I doubt if classroom experience alone can have that kind of an impact. Based on what I’ve seen of this organization, I would have to guess it has something to do with the ability to choose the right people, proper training, clear and strong expectations, emphasis on pride, consistent accountability, frequent feedback, and suitable recognition and rewards. Put it all together and you once again arrive at the importance of a strong, productive culture. Just an assumption on my part but these behaviors are very much representative of what I’ve seen throughout this organization.
I wouldn’t describe either of these instances as unbelievable … in fact both took only a moment and were far from complex. However, you must admit that either or both could be considered unique and impressive. Trite? Maybe. Convincing? No doubt! Nevertheless, this is one customer who was impressed, who has shared these positive impressions with others, and who will return to Loews Vanderbilt Hotel as a result of what I consider to be superb customer service. That’s the definition of a raving fan.
Customer service doesn’t have to be expensive, complex, or difficult. Make it an integral part of your organizational culture! Train for it! Expect it! Support it! Inspect it! Discuss it! Reward it! Live it! Breathe it! Reap the benefits!