What's the difference between good and outstanding customer service?
Steve Curtin provides an answer in his new customer service book, Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary.
A little disclosure before I get started. Delight Your Customers is published by AMACOM which also published my book, Service Failure. We even had the same editor. Steve and I discovered this connection after we already knew each other, but it's still important to mention. I'm also happy to report I really enjoyed his book. Otherwise, this would have been awkward.
Now, back to the book.
Delight Your Customers focus on the difference between an employee’s job function and their job essence. Job function consists of the various tasks an employee must complete or the procedures they follow. Job essence is the little extra that delights customers.
Curtin argues that most employees have a good understanding of their job function but are inconsistent at mastering their job essence.
I started looking for examples of this after reading the book and found one almost immediately in the shoe department at my local Macy’s. My wife, Sally, wanted to buy some new shoes and I was assigned to be the designated bag holder. The shoe section in a department store is typically chaotic. This scene was no different.
I observed many sales associates executing their job functions. They checked inventory for shoes that customers requested, retrieved shoes from the stockroom, and rang up purchases.
Michael was the sales associate who helped Sally. He stood out because he clearly embraced his job essence. He addressed all of his customers by name and asked a few questions to build rapport. Michael used his sense of humor to break the ice. He even drew me into the conversation when he noticed me waiting off to the side.
The amazing thing was Michael was able to do this while interacting with a constant stream of customers. I know from experience that this is tiring work and exhaustion was evident on the faces of all his co-workers. Michael, on the other hand, seemed to draw energy from the constant customer interactions.
In Delight Your Customers, Curtin describes three characteristics that nearly all extraordinary customer service experiences have in common. It was interesting to see how these characteristics fit the service that Michael provided.
Characteristic #1: The service reflects the job essence. Michael was clearly focused on helping his customers have a good experience finding shoes they would love. This went well beyond the job function of checking inventory, retrieving stock, and ringing up sales.
Characteristic #2: It’s voluntary. Michael added his own flair to the basic job functions. For example, sales associates asked for customers’ names when they went to check on inventory so they could call out the customers’ names when they had retrieved their shoes. Michael took this a step further by finding Sally in the shoe department rather than just calling out her name from the counter. He repeatedly addressed her by name as he helped her find some shoes.
Characteristic #3: It’s free. Sally didn’t have to pay any extra for Michael’s outstanding service. In fact, it was his job essence that prevented her from giving up after the first few pairs of shoes weren't quite right. Macy's gained a sale due to Michael's enthusiastic service.
It was fun to see how mastering job essence can make such a huge impact on service. Delight Your Customers does a great job of providing practical examples and tips to help customer service professionals master the essence of their own jobs.