What can we learn from BusinessWeek's service champs?

Not surprisingly, Alfred's Tailoring did not make BusinessWeek's latest list of their 'Top 50 Customer Service Champs'. To be fair, they didn't quite fit BusinessWeek's criteria, but I don't think they'd make the list even if they did.

My wife dropped off a suit last week for tailoring. She needed the suit no later than Saturday, so the tailor said the suit would be ready by noon if my wife paid cash up front. When my wife arrived on Saturday at 12:30, the suit wasn't ready. The response from the tailor was, "I've been really busy!" I guess we'll be too busy to go back.

BusinessWeek Top 50 Customer Service Champs
BusinessWeek has just come out with their list of top customer service companies. The list highlights a few organizations that are truly excellent while raising quite a few questions at the same time.

Dominant Industries
Three business categories account for more than 50% of the companies on the list. Auto manufacturers, hotels, and financial service companies captured 26 of the 50 spots. There were no tailors, though clothing retailers captured four places. See the entire list here.

Unanswered Questions
BusinessWeek's ranking system does raise a few questions. Part of their methodology was rating each company on 'people' and 'process'. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a real explanation for what 'people' or 'process' really means to them. If anyone could enlighten me, I'd be grateful.

Another question is how some of these companies truly made the Top 50 list. For example, BusinessWeek relied extensively on data provided by J.D. Power. Fairmont Hotels was ranked #3 on BusinessWeek's list, but only received a 3 out of 5 rating for overall satisfaction from J.D. Power. Huh?? By contrast, Ritz Carlton, #12 on the list, received a 5 out of 5 rating from J.D. Power. Several other companies on the Top 50 list received relatively poor 'people' ratings, such as B's and C's. Hardly the stuff of 'Customer Service Champions'.

Lessons Learned
These types of rankings are great discussion topics, but customers will ultimately decide who the champs are, and they will eventually vote with their wallets. The weighting of the list suggests that customers have high expectations for certain industries, so companies in those lines of work have to be constantly on their toes. My wife's recent experience also reminds me that the industries we don't expect much from (like tailors and dry cleaners) can go a long way by just being polite and responsive.

Why I love In N Out... and my dentist

I'm pretty sure I paid for my dentist's vacation last year or perhaps the down payment on that nice car he drives. I had a lot of work done, but I also discovered a few interesting insights along the way. Here are the big ones:

  • A dentist or doctor's office can be well-run
  • In-N-Out is my favorite customer service example
  • Good service can overcome a lot

Insight #1: A dentist or doctor's office can be well-run

I'm not sure why my dentist bothers subscribing to all those magazines in the waiting room. If you show up on time you don't wait. During my many visits in 2007 I always got in right away and got out by the time they said I'd be done. Respecting my time goes a long way in my book.

The people that work in the office were always cheerful and helpful. I've been to the dentist where the office manager came across as a used car salesperson, but Jessica, the office manager I dealt with, felt like a trusted advisor. She explained my options and even offered to help me get the best use of my dental insurance.

Of course, I was very pleased with Dr. Brumand. He did great work, was very careful, and always explained what he was doing before he did it. I couldn't find a website, but here's their information.

Insight #2: In-N-Out is my favorite customer service example

During one of my visits, Dr. Brumand asked me "Who provides the best service these days?" Without hesitation, I answered, "In-N-Out".

"Not Nordstrom?"

"No, definitely not Nordstrom. For me, In-N-Out is the best."

I answered the question easily, but I had to think a bit about my reasons why. Here are a few:

  • I've always had a good experience at In-N-Out. Sometimes its been great, but its always been good. I've never had a good experience at Nordstrom. I may be unique, but the sales associates I encounter are generally rushed and uninterested.
  • In-N-Out sticks to what they know and delivers a great product without fail. Nordstrom started as a shoe store, but I've never been able to buy a pair of shoes there. I wear a 10 4E shoe, so you'd think Nordstrom would be the perfect place since they carry so many sizes. Unfortunately for me, not the case. On the other hand, In-N-Out always has the size of cheeseburger I want. They'll even custom make one for me if its not part of their typical selection.
  • The people at In-N-Out are friendly. Yes, there's a bit of a script involved, but the people I encounter are always cheerful. That's not been my experience at Nordstrom. Maybe you just need to be an elite customer. In-N-Out seems to like their customers just the same.

Insight #3: Good service can overcome a lot

Fortunately for Dr. Brumand, he had already built up a lot of good service karma with me the day the Novocain didn't quite take as expected. He'd drill for a few minutes and then I'd feel a sharp pain, so he'd stop and give me a little more Novocain. This continued for awhile until he told me he couldn't give me anymore. "You're just going to have to tough it out," he said.

Yikes! I'd be pretty angry if this was my first time there, but by then I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, he was able to finish without any additional pain. Of course, the kicker is my mouth got VERY numb about 15 minutes after I left his office.

A final thought...

I suggest a fact-finding mission to In-N-Out if you want your organization or department to be awesome at customer service. You may even need two or three visits, just because there are so many best practices to absorb. I'd suggest you do the same with my dentist's office, but I don't think they're well-equipped for group outings.