Why Customers Should Not Help Write Your Vision

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A question I'm often asked is what role customers should play in helping a company write its customer service vision.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that gets everyone on the same page. Creating one is the most important step you can take toward building a customer-focused culture.

My answer surprises people. I don't think customers should be involved at all when you write your customer service vision.

Group of professionals gathered to write a customer service vision statement.

What is the danger of asking customers what they want?

There's an old episode of The Simpsons where Homer discovers he has a half-brother named Herb Powell. 

Herb is the CEO of a car company called Powell Motors, and he's frustrated by his design team's uninspiring new car concepts. So he enlists Homer to help design his company's next car, believing that Homer personifies the wants and needs of the average American consumer.

The result is a disaster. The car, dubbed The Homer, is so overloaded with unnecessary features that it can't be sold at a profit. 

There's a real-life lesson here. Customers have diverse tastes and interests. And a customer merely wanting something doesn't automatically mean a company can make money providing it.

I’m a huge fan of the online pet store, Chewy. It offers convenient online ordering, a huge selection of products, incredible prices, and has a fun and helpful service culture. Chewy’s sales have grown rapidly over the past several years, but the retailer has yet to turn a profit.

At The Overlook, a vacation rental cabin my wife and I own, we've gotten all sorts of requests. A few have asked for air conditioning, which would be cost-prohibitive to install given the short warm period of the year is also a slow time. Others suggested we list The Overlook on Airbnb, but the listing fees would add expense without bringing in much additional revenue. (Airbnb would also make The Overlook more expensive for our guests.)

Sometimes different groups of customers have conflicting needs. For example, all the rooms at The Overlook have either a king or a queen bed. This is perfect for our target market, but others would prefer bunk beds, sleeper sofas, and air mattresses to accommodate as many people as possible in one house.

When I researched customer-focused organizations while writing The Service Culture Handbook, I consistently found these companies resisted the urge to be all things to all people. That’s why you won’t find a chicken salad on the menu at In-N-Out Burger, but you will find a line of loyal customers waiting to get their hands on a delicious cheeseburger at 10pm on a Wednesday evening.

Who should help write your vision?

The vision should be rooted in reality. It should describe how you’d like to serve customers in the future based on how you serve customers today when everything is going well. For this reason, all employees should be given a chance to provide input on your customer service vision.

This step-by-step guide describes how to do that.

When it comes to drafting the vision statement, there should only be 7-10 people in the room, plus an outside facilitator if you decide to use one. More than that, and the group becomes unwieldy. Fewer than that, and not enough perspectives are included.

The group should be comprised of a representative sample of employees:

  • At least one frontline employee. They keep it real.

  • At least one senior leader. They provide authority.

  • At least one mid-level manager or supervisor. They're the link between execs and the front lines.

Many organizations try to have the executive team create the customer service vision at a retreat. My research reveals that's a big mistake.

Should you ever ask customers about your vision?

Absolutely!

The time to ask customers for their input is after you write the vision and start using it to guide your operations. This is when customer feedback can be invaluable. Keep in mind you're not asking customers what they want, you're asking them how well you are executing your vision.

At The Overlook, our vision is welcome to your mountain retreat. We constantly use guest feedback from surveys, comments, and even our own observations, to refine our approach. For example, we added extra guest towels after learning that many guests like to shower after returning from a sweaty hike, but don’t want to use the same towel later that evening when they use the hot tub.

How can I write a vision statement?

Here are some resources that can help you write an effective customer service vision:


Lessons from The Overlook: Why We Revised Our Vision

Note: Lessons from The Overlook is a monthly update on lessons learned from owning a vacation rental property in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. It's a hands-on opportunity to apply some of the techniques I advise my clients to use. You can find past updates here.

We arrived at The Overlook earlier this month just as our property manager was finishing up a tour. A couple and their daughter were visiting a few properties to decide which one to book for a family getaway later this year.

They appeared to really like our cabin. "It's beautiful," one said. Another exclaimed, "You have a very nice place!" 

We checked in with our property manager a few days later and learned they rented another cabin. The couple really liked The Overlook, but they ultimately decided they wanted to be closer to town so they could walk to shops and restaurants.

That bit of feedback solidified something we've been thinking of for months. Sally and I knew then we needed to tweak our customer service vision.

Beautiful day on the outdoor couch on the deck outside The Overlook.

The Backstory on Our Vision

If you read this blog regularly, you know how often I stress the importance of creating a customer service vision. It's a shared definition of outstanding service that you can use as a compass to point everyone (and every decision) in the same direction.

Here's our original vision for The Overlook:

Welcome to your mountain community retreat.

Each word was carefully chosen to represent the experience we wanted to create for our guests. You can read the full story, but here's a summary:

  • Welcome: we want our guests to feel welcome throughout their stay.

  • Your: we want our guests to feel like the place is their own, so they'll treat it well while they're there and return on a regular basis.

  • Mountain: Guests come here for the mountains, so we'll emphasize that experience.

  • Community: We want our guests to experience that charming small-town friendliness that comes with being part of a rural community.

  • Retreat: A mountain cabin like The Overlook is a place to get away from it all, so we want to help our guests relax.

The one word we got stuck on when we did an annual vision review last year was "community." We just weren't sure how to emphasize community for our guests so they could enjoy the town of Idyllwild the way we enjoyed it.

For example, we loved the Fourth of July parade, which brought out a festive crowd of locals to see the pageantry. Where else but a small town can you see Santa Claus waving from a fire truck in July?

Santa Claus waving from the top of a fire truck in Idyllwild.

Or a dog named Max who happens to be the elected mayor?

Mayor Max enjoying the Fourth of July Parade in Idyllwild.

 

What Guest Feedback Says

It's important to keep in mind that your style and preferences may not be a perfect representation of your customers. 

For example, there's a faux deer antler chandelier over the dining table. It's definitely not our style and Sally and I would replace it in a heartbeat if the Overlook was just our private cabin. However, we've gotten so many positive comments about it that we know it's the right decor.

Faux deer antler chandelier

So looking at guest feedback, our guests are staying at The Overlook for a retreat while the local community is far less important.

  • "Everything is well maintained and beautifully appointed and the views of the city lights, sunsets, and mountain landscapes are simply spectacular."

  • "Everything you need to do what you need. Relax, hike, run, bike, swim, etc."

  • "Great cabin to build memories in!"

 

Our New Vision Statement

It's natural for a customer service vision to go through a revision or two. In most cases, adjusting just one or two words is all that's needed.

Here's our new vision:

Welcome to your mountain retreat

That's it. We simply removed "community." Sally and I realized we've been focusing on making The Overlook a welcoming retreat in the mountains all along. Here are just a few things we've added since buying the cabin:

  • Extra towels for the hot tub

  • Family-friendly games, puzzles, and DVDs

  • Access to Netflix and other streaming services

  • Upgraded and expanded seating on the deck

  • Extra seating on the catwalk

  • Game room with a ping pong table

Updating our vision has provided amazing clarity. We'll continue to use our vision to guide our decision-making, with a renewed emphasis on making The Overlook the perfect place for a welcoming mountain retreat.


When Do You Need a Customer Service Vision Facilitator?

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My client had been working on creating a customer service vision for several months.

For the uninitiated, a customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that acts as a compass to point all employees in the same direction. Creating one is an important first step towards developing a strong service culture.

The challenge was my client's executive team could not agree on the wording. There were multiple drafts that felt close, but it still wasn't quite right.

That's when the client hired me to facilitate the process. After two hours, we had a customer service vision statement that the President and CEO both loved.

Hiring a professional facilitator is not the right move for every organization. It can be costly or you might already have someone internal who is capable. Here's when you should consider it.

Woman facilitating a vision writing meeting.

Situation #1: You're Stuck

Some teams, like the client I mentioned above, get the process started and then become stuck.

I shared the process I use for writing a customer service vision in this blog post and in The Service Culture Handbook. The steps can appear deceptively simple, though there are some pitfalls along the way.

For example, one customer service leader told me she had gathered some employees for a vision writing session and the group came up with two good but very different statements. Now she was having a difficult time merging the two together into one clear vision.

This is one of the most difficult parts of the process, in my experience. It's also an example of where a professional facilitator should be able to help your team get unstuck.

 

Situation #2: You're in a Hurry

Companies sometimes spend months on creating a customer service vision. The typical process I use with clients takes about two weeks:

  1. We gather input from employees via a survey
  2. A group of 7-10 employees meet to write the vision
  3. I help my client create a plan to share the vision

Step two, the vision writing meeting, typically takes just two hours. 

It can take a deft touch, particularly during the vision writing meeting, to gently move people forward. There have been many times when the group has wanted to have an extended discussion, while as a facilitator I knew a little time pressure would help everyone better access their strongest feelings.

Moving at that swift pace can be difficult without a professional facilitator. Part of the facilitator's role is to ensure there's a clear path and then quickly move everyone towards the goal. 

 

Situation #3: You Need Someone Neutral

Executives often have strong feelings about concepts that should be reflected in the customer service vision. 

That can make it difficult for an executive to simultaneously solicit input from employees while espousing their own ideas. Strong visions ideally contain a balance of perspectives that ring true for everyone.

One client had really strong feelings about certain concepts being included in the customer service vision, but employees struggled to embrace them. Through the facilitation process, we learned the roadblock was the specific wording this leader was using rather than the concepts themselves. A few minor tweaks to the language and suddenly everyone was happy.

A facilitator can help in these situations. Ideally, this person will help you balance the perspectives and input from all participants, while ensuring a key executive's desires are still incorporated into the final product.

 

Finding a Facilitator

There are a few places you can go to find a facilitator to help you write your customer service vision.

Try a professional association such as the Organizational Development Network or the Association for Talent Development. These organizations both have a network of local chapters, which might be the best route to go for a small business seeking a less expensive option.

You can also ask for referrals. Many businesses have used a consultant to help facilitate a strategic planning session or an executive retreat.

If you get stuck, feel free to give me a call at 619-955-7946 or email me. Although vision facilitation is a service I provide, I'd be happy to walk you through the process and give you some suggestions with no obligation.


How Malaysia's HappyFresh Created a Customer Service Vision

I recently received an email from Timothy Chan, Regional Fleet Acquisition and Retention Specialist at HappyFresh.

While I get a lot of similar emails, this one stood out for both his enthusiasm and the fact that my book had somehow made it all the way to Malaysia.

"Tim from Malaysia here. I work for an online grocery shopping company. I have just finished reading your book, The Service Culture Handbook, and I must say I enjoyed it immensely. 

"I have just recently been put in charge of managing the customer service team at my company (after being transferred from the logistics department). Just last week I took your advice and held a meeting to decide on a customer service vision—it was a lot of fun and I am very happy with the vision my team ultimately decided upon. Now begins my more difficult task of really embedding the vision into our culture."

I was curious to learn more about how Chan and his team used the concepts from the book, so we corresponded via email and he graciously shared his story.

The HappyFresh customer service team.

The HappyFresh customer service team.

Q: Tell me a little about what your team does and the customers it serves.

"As Malaysia’s leading online grocery shopping company, our team is hard at work every day assisting and serving both our customers as well as our fleet of around 100 shoppers and deliverymen."

 

Q: What was the process to develop the customer service vision?

"I helped the team develop this vision by following the step-by-step guide provided in The Service Culture Handbook. Started by giving a presentation about Customer Service Vision which included a lot of stories from companies that have thrived by staying true to their visions (with particular emphasis on Zappos).

"The presentation was attended by representatives from the customer service and logistic team as well as the heads of Field Operations and HR. After the presentation, everyone was divided into 2 groups to draft their visions. By comparing the visions, we then decided on certain words that we felt simply could not be left out from the finalized vision and from these words our vision was born:

"Your professional, personal pal throughout our journey together."

 

Q: What does the vision mean to you?

"To me, the vision means that we should always strive to be a true friend—someone who truly cares and genuinely wants to help. However, we need to remember that we are also professionals and should always behave as such.

"The ‘journey’ part of the vision carries 2 meanings:

"Firstly, it is a reminder that we are on a never-ending journey of constantly striving to be as true to the vision as possible. Secondly, it reminds us that there are different parts to every journey (beginning, middle and end) and we should always act accordingly.

"What I love about the vision is that it can be applied equally well to the way we treat customers, our fleet of shoppers and drivers and also to the way we treat one another as colleagues."

 

Q: What are you doing to make sure everyone on your team knows the vision?

"I conduct regular 1 to 1 check-in sessions with each member of our small CS team. As we discuss how we can improve performance during these sessions, I try to refer to the vision as much as possible. Furthermore, one of our talented CS representatives, A.K., created stickers to stick on everyone’s laptops/desktops so that we can always clearly see our vision."

 

Q: What unexpected challenges or obstacles did you encounter throughout this process?

"It is not easy ingraining the vision into the psyche of a team. It takes a lot of effort to persistently champion the vision and to make other people start championing it as well. It is important to ‘walk the talk’, be willing to be vulnerable and be open to scrutiny."

 

Q: How has having a customer service vision been helpful?

"With so many KPIs, goals, frustrations and issues, having a customer service vision has been like having a guiding star to turn to whenever we felt unsure or overwhelmed."


The Top Mistake That Can Derail Your Service Culture

First, the good news.

Customer service leaders are increasingly identifying the importance of having a customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding service that codifies a company or team's service culture.

Now the bad news.

Many customer service leaders are telling me their vision is not resonating with employees. Their people don't love it and they're certainly not embracing the culture.

A recent study from the consulting firm Deloitte revealed a similar trend. The survey found 82 percent of executives believed culture could be a source of competitive advantage. Yet just 12 percent felt they were driving the right culture.

The big question is why? 

It turns out it's all in the execution. Those big executive announcements just don't seem to stick. Here's what goes wrong and what you can do about it.

Don't Make This Mistake When Creating Your Vision

A prospective client recently asked me to help the organization's executive team write a customer service vision. It would have paid a nice fee and possibly could have led to additional business.

I politely declined.

The biggest mistake you can make is to only include executives when writing a customer service vision. This automatically excludes the perspectives of key arbiters of authenticity such as frontline employees and line managers.

Frontline employees will tell you how it really is. Line managers are directly responsible for coaching employees on executing the vision, so they need to feel passionate about it as well.

A customer service vision written exclusively by executives almost always sets off employees' bullshit meter. These visions are often full of fluffy sayings that are disconnected from day-to-day reality.

No wonder employees don't love it.

I tried to explain all of this to my client. She eventually admitted the executive meeting was already set. They had planted their stake in the ground.

 

Creating an Authentic Vision

The best way to create a customer service vision your employees will love is to include them in the process. You can use my step-by-step guide to help you.

For now, here's an overview:

Step One: Invite Input. Give all employees a chance to weigh in. This means all, whether you have 10 or 10,000. I often use a survey. Some companies have used a combination of focus groups, surveys, and even virtual town halls. You can get a detailed description of this process in The Service Culture Handbook.

Step Two: Write It. Convene a group of 7-10 people draft the vision. The group should have representatives from all major stakeholders, including executives, line managers, and the frontlines. In my experience, each stakeholder invariably brings a perspective the other groups would have missed.

Step Three: Share It. Socialize the vision with key stakeholders who did not participate in the vision writing meeting. The goal is to get their input, buy-in, and blessing before rolling it out to the entire organization.

For instance, I recently helped a client write its customer service vision. We then presented it to both the President and the CEO. Both were ecstatic about it, which told us we had done well.

Occasionally, a stakeholder group will push back. This happens very rarely and when it does, in my experience it has always been a matter of adjusting one or two words to make the vision just right.

The ultimate goal is you want to share the customer service vision with any employee and have that person instantly believe it. People are much more likely to embrace something they believe.


How a Customer Service Vision Helps Startups Scale

A few Customer Service Tip of the Week subscribers have recently emailed me with the same question.

"Our startup's customer service team has started to grow from one person to a department with multiple employees. How do we keep everyone customer-focused?"

My answer is always the same. 

The first step is to create a customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that points everyone in the same direction. 

Here's why you need one, what it can do for your organization, and how to create one.

Why Your Startup Needs a Vision

A big challenge happens whenever a company founder starts hiring employees.

Founders know what they want. They have an idea of the culture they'd like their business to have. A driving passion to solve a particular problem keeps them up at night.

All of that is locked in the founder's head.

A customer service vision helps founders get those ideas out of their brains and share the core of the company they're creating. The vision should articulate exactly what you hope to do for your customers so everyone can clearly understand. 

The vision also becomes a compass that points you in the right direction whenever you need to make a critical decision. Which leads us to what it can specifically do for your organization.

 

What a Vision Can Do

A customer service vision can help startups both strategically and tactically.

On a strategic level, decision-making gets easier. Customer-focused companies reduce internal friction by aligning key processes with a central vision. For example:

  • Goals: what should you measure?
  • Hiring: how do you decide someone is a good fit?
  • Training: what training do employees need to be successful?
  • Empowerment: what authority, tools, and resources do employees need to serve customers?
  • Leadership: what messages should leaders consistently reinforce?

On a tactical level, the vision should guide employee decisions. It's impossible to anticipate every customer service scenario, especially in a startup. A customer service vision provides clarity when there isn't an established procedure.

 

How to Create a Customer Service Vision

You can use this step-by-step guide to walk you through the entire process. Here are the highlights:

First, make this a team effort. You want to involve your employees in writing the vision so it will be authentic and meaningful. Visions often fail to become widely adopted when leaders make up the vision on their own.

Second, a good customer service vision adheres to three criteria:

  1. It's simple and easily understood
  2. The vision is focused on customers
  3. It accurately reflects the company now and the company's future aspirations

Clio provides a great example. The company provides cloud-based legal practice management software. As a young startup, the company developed this vision:

Our goal is to help our customers succeed and realize the full value of our Product. This results in Evangelists and less Churn. 

The third step is to make sure all employees know and understand the vision. Each person should be able to answer three questions:

  1. What is the customer service vision?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do I personally contribute?

Now comes the hard part. 

Customer-focused startups don't allow a customer service vision to be a one-time project. Rather, the vision should guide the company's growth and operations for years to come.

You can learn more about how to chart your course from The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Service. Single copies are available on amazon.com. You can get quantity discounts on bulk purchases from 800-CEO-READ.


How Shake Shack Stands for Something Good

It was 10:55am and there was already a line.

I was standing outside Shake Shack's Theatre District location in New York City with my friend, Jenny Dempsey. She was working nearby at the time and I was in town for a conference, so this was a rare opportunity to meet up. 

Jenny co-authors the fabulous Customer Service Life blog, which meant we naturally had to visit a place that offers outstanding customer service. Jenny suggested Shake Shack, but warned that we needed to get there early. "Tables fill up fast," she said.

The employees' friendliness immediately struck me when the doors opened at 11. They smiled, looked you in the eye, and seemed genuinely happy. The restaurant quickly crowded, but that friendliness must have been contagious, because guests were friendly, too.

Oh, and the burgers were as delicious as advertised.

It was a great introduction to a restaurant chain that was already legendary in New York City and was rapidly expanding. But I left wondering how a busy fast-casual chain could create an oasis of friendliness and welcome in the heart of New York City.

As I later learned, it all starts with vision.

That's Al Roker in the bottom right corner, getting ready to hand out samples of his Roker Burger to Shake Shack customers in Madison Square Park.

That's Al Roker in the bottom right corner, getting ready to hand out samples of his Roker Burger to Shake Shack customers in Madison Square Park.

Meet The Roker Burger

On my second visit to Shake Shack, I took my mother-in-law, Mabeth, and my wife, Sally. 

The three of us were touring New York City and I wanted them to experience the phenomenon. We decided to visit the original location in Madison Square Park.

Just like my first visit, the employees were friendly and engaging. We also had an extra treat in store for us this time. A film crew was setting up in the park.

We soon learned it was a Today Show film crew. 

Al Roker appeared and began filming a segment. He had teamed up with Shake Shack to create a unique hamburger called The Roker Burger. We watched as Roker went through the line handing out samples and conducting a taste test. 

It was a great New York City moment. We enjoyed tasty burgers, received friendly and engaging service, and saw a celebrity filming a segment for a television show. I even used up a few seconds of my 15 minutes of fame when I appeared in the background of the clip. (At 2:33)

The Roker Burger ended up raising $20,000 for No Kid Hungry

 

The Shake Shack Vision

All of the things I described in my experiences come from Shake Shack's customer service vision, Stand For Something Good.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that guides the actions of all employees throughout the company.

This vision is evident in everything Shake Shack does.

Restaurant locations are carefully selected and designed to become part of the local neighborhood. Prospective employees are screened for friendly, outgoing attitudes, and then given constant encouragement to connect with guests. Food is carefully sourced to maintain quality and then prepared with an exacting process to ensure a consistent taste. Employees are given extensive training and then empowered to create great guest experiences.

Even the Roker Burger fits the vision. 

For Shake Shack, part of Stand For Something Good includes donating to local charities and organizing company volunteers to help feed the hungry, mentor kids, and clean up parks in the community.

 

The Secret of Alignment

Shake Shack is featured in Chapter 5 of The Service Culture Handbook because the company emulates the concept of alignment so well.

Yes, Shake Shack's customer-focused culture starts with the Stand For Something Good vision. You can use this guide to create a vision for your organization or team.

But the vision becomes real by aligning all aspects of company operations around it. While most organizations struggle to implement a vision because leaders treat it like a side project, Shake Shack's leadership has made the vision a central part of every decision.

You can test your organization or team's alignment using this simple assessment.

The results can help you start the conversation internally about where to start improving customer-focus and employee engagement.


How to Tell if Your Mission Has Lost Its Meaning

Raise your hand if your company has a mission statement.

Most companies have one. Yours probably does. Mine does. But have you ever wondered what purpose the mission actually serves?

You could go with the stock answer here. "The mission tells everyone why the company exists." Ok, let's test that. See if you can answer three questions about your company's mission statement:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do you contribute?

Nobody's listening to that voice inside your head, so you can be honest. Did you struggle to come up with a quick answer to those three questions? If so, your mission isn't fulfilling it's purpose.

Now, go ask your employees the same three questions and see if you get consistent answers. If you get a lot of blank looks or wildly different responses, your mission has lost its meaning.

How the Mission Drives Service Quality

I'm taking some liberty with terminology here, so let me take a moment to clarify.

Elite organizations have created a shared definition of outstanding customer service that all employees understand. I call this a customer service vision.

This customer service vision can be a stand alone statement, but often it does double duty as a company's mission, vision, values, or customer service standards. Most, but not all, elite organizations use their mission statement to define outstanding service for their employees.

So a clear mission can give employees guidance in their daily activities. Here are just a few benefits:

  • It provides a sense of purpose when they come to work.
  • It acts as a compass to point in the right direction in moments of uncertainty.
  • It reinforces what employees should be doing to serve customers.

For example, JetBlue has led J.D. Power's North American Airline rankings for 12 consecutive years. A lot of their success comes from using their mission statement, Inspire Humanity, as a shared definition of outstanding service.

Every JetBlue crewmember (i.e. employee) knows his or her job is to bring a human touch to service. In an age of self-service and automation, humanity is sorely needed.

JetBlue is one of the outstanding companies profiled in my new book, The Service Culture Handbook. It's due out in April, 2017, but you can download Chapter One when you sign-up for updates.

Why Employees Don't Know the Mission

There are three common reasons why employees don't know or understand the mission.

  1. It's never mentioned. The mission is almost never openly discussed.
  2. It's not trained. Employees receive no instruction on what it means or how to live it.
  3. It's not a priority. Employees are overloaded with too many statements like a mission, vision, values, credo, slogan, brand promise, customer service standards, etc. that create confusion about what's important.

That last one really stands out. Employees won't know or understand the mission unless you make it a priority. That challenge here is many leaders fall into the multiple priorities trap.

 

The Know Your Mission Challenge

Back to those three questions.

You can restore your mission (or customer service vision) to relevance if you can provide the training and coaching necessary to help each employee give a consistent answer to these three questions:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do I contribute?

Are you up to the challenge?


Introducing The Overlook, a New Customer Service Venture

In October, I started a new customer service venture with my wife, Sally.

We purchased a vacation rental cabin called The Overlook. It's a four bedroom, three bath home located in the Southern California mountain town of Idyllwild. There are huge sunset views overlooking the valley below, a nice fireplace to keep the cabin warm in the winter, and a hot tub on a private deck that's perfect for relaxing.

The Overlook is part vacation home (we love the mountains) and part investment since we're hoping the rental income will cover our expenses. Running a vacation rental also provides us the opportunity to try out some of the same customer service techniques that I advise my clients to use.

Each month, I'll report back on our progress and share a few things I've learned. This month's focus is customer service vision.

Photo courtesy of  Jonie Photo .

Photo courtesy of Jonie Photo.

What is a customer service vision?

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding customer service.

It's something I advise all my clients to have. When properly implemented, the vision guides strategic decisions, tactical choices, and even our daily activities. (Here's a handy explainer.)

Our vision for The Overlook is Welcome to your mountain community retreat.

Each word was carefully chosen:

  • Welcome: we want our guests to feel welcome throughout their stay.
  • Your: we want our guests to feel like the place is their own, so they'll treat it well while they're there and return on a regular basis.
  • Mountain: Guests come here for the mountains, so we'll emphasize that experience.
  • Community: We want our guests to experience that charming small-town friendliness that comes with being part of a rural community. 
  • Retreat: A mountain cabin like The Overlook is a place to get away from it all, so we want to help our guests relax.

We think this vision fits The Overlook nicely, but we'll be listening closely to our guests to make sure. (More on that in a future post.)

For now, we believe it fits the bill because town of Idyllwild is a popular weekend destination for people living in Southern California. It provides a perfect base for hiking, mountain biking, or just enjoying the fresh mountain air and scenery. It's also a great place to visit for local art, with an impressive array of artists, music, and entertainment for a small town of 3,500 people.

Many people I know tell me, "I love Idyllwild! My family has been spending weekends there for many years."

 

How a Vision Points the Way

Our customer service vision serves as a guide for every decision we make.

For example, we needed to hire a property manager to handle marketing, reservations, guest service, maintenance, and cleaning. The success or failure of the property rides on this decision, so it's important to get it right.

We hired Idyllwild Vacation Cabins to manage The Overlook because the owner, Martha Sanchez, embodies our Welcome to your mountain community retreat vision.

She goes out of her way to make guests feel welcome and has established a strong reputation for outstanding service. Martha is an integral part of the mountain community and seems to know everyone in town. And, she has a keen eye for what can make our guests' stay even better.

Here's another small example of how the vision guides the way.

When we hired Idyllwild Vacation Cabins, Martha walked us through a short questionnaire to spell out our rental policies. For example:

  • Would we allow pets? (Yes)
  • What was the maximum number of guests? (Eight)
  • How would we handle snow removal?

This last one was tricky. Snow is a special treat for most Southern Californians, but many don't realize how much work it takes to clear snow out of the way after a just a little accumulation.

Most cabins in Idyllwild charge an extra fee for snow plowing and shoveling. We decided not to pass this expense along to our guests because we thought it would make them feel less welcome. 

Not charging for snow removal raises our costs in the short-term, but we think it will pay-off in the long-run in the form of repeat business.

Snow came Thanksgiving weekend, and our guests needed some help clearing the snow so they could leave the cabin. Including this in our service for no extra fee undoubtedly made our guests feel more welcome. 

Best of all, they've pledged to return again next year!

Stay tuned for more customer service lessons from The Overlook. Next month's focus is the absolute need to prioritize.