Hello, Good People

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  August 03, 2012

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

I’ll never forget the time some friends and I were looking for an apartment in Chicago in the early 1990s.

When we went to one showing, the place was filthy and full of books, furniture and who knows what else. But the man who invited us in to take a look was charming.

On our way in he greeted us, saying: “Hello, good people.” And he was just as friendly saying his goodbyes as the three of us beat a path to the door.

This is a strange example, I know. But my point is that what my pals and I remember best about this experience is not so much the crazy apartment as the kind gentleman who showed it to us. (And had he offered a similarly charming product, we probably would’ve taken him up on the offer.)

People remember how they’re treated, and an exceptionally nice or helpful interaction, or an even mildly poor one, can leave a lasting mark.

The first time I took my daughter to Wendy’s, they got her order wrong. She has protested every time we talk about going there for a bite. But last weekend, on our way home from a backpacking trip, the restaurant choices were slim pickings, so we ended up at Wendy’s. Three years later my otherwise well adjusted child reiterated her first experience at the burger joint while we waited in the drive through line. Apparently that first visit made quite an impression on her.

In a past Logout column, I referred to a favorite movie of mine: Jerry Maguire. In it, Tom Cruise plays a sports agent who writes a mission statement about personal service that leads to his career’s demise. As I’m sure you remember, “show me the money” became the line most famously associated with this Oscar award winner. But the parts of this movie my husband and I like best from Jerry Maguire comes from the late, great sports agent Dicky Fox. Jerry’s mentor enthusiastically delivers such memorable lines as “The key to this business is personal relationships.” and “I love the mornings! I clap my hands every morning and say, 'This is gonna be a great day!'” 

Whether you’re in the market for a smartphone, need an industrial-sized tub of hummus, or are ready to buy your next airline ticket, this kind of infectious attitude about the invention and packaging of a beautiful product, the delivery of a truly customer-centric shopping experience (all returns accepted, no receipts required, and cheap hotdogs and ice cream), or the experience of a light-hearted and affordable (no charge for checked baggage) travel experience, are the kinds of things that turn people on and keep them coming back for more.

Although I didn’t specifically call out the names of the companies referenced above, I’m sure you already know I was referring to Apple (News - Alert), Costco and Southwest Airlines. While all of these companies certainly fall down on the job on occasion, they have created unique cultures that bring special value and meaning to their employees and their customers.

Technology is important, clearly. It can help businesses be more efficient, more responsive, and more profitable. But I’ve heard on several occasions recently that customer service is the new marketing. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then people – not technology, not messaging, not even pricing – are the linchpin to a winning strategy for most companies.

It was in the late 1980s, I think, when Saturday Night Live aired a clip about one customer’s call center experience. In it, Roseanne Barr plays a call center agent for a credit card company. Throughout the interaction, the customer offers politically-correct side commentary about how the agent is trying to address his concerns. Barr’s call center agent also provides side commentary about the interaction. But hers involves comments about how the customer is a whiner and how she doesn’t care about his concerns.

The skit is funny because it has a ring of truth to it – most people can relate this to some experience in their own lives. Of course, if this were a real situation, it would lack all humor and become an exercise in frustration.

So, whether we’re talking about a contact center rep, retail personnel, the product, the warranty, the support, the packaging, or the corporate culture as a whole, the customer experience needs to be front and center.

 Steve Brubaker, chief of staff at InfoCision (News - Alert), summarizes this beautifully in the final quote of this month’s industry retrospective cover story (and in the InfoCision Q&A).

“Trends come and go, but one constant that has always risen to the top is cultivating relationships,” he says. “Even though the way marketers are forming and maintaining relationships is continually evolving, delivering an extraordinary customer experience is still the goal.”

Edited by Stefania Viscusi