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Creating Service Excellence – Examples of Companies Seeking to “Exceed the Need” of their Customers

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Last year I had the distinct pleasure of presenting our Customer Service Excellence program for the Carroll County Iowa Chamber of Commerce.

More than 100 people attended this workshop that was organized by Sue Schrad, and my friend and colleague Jim Gossett, Executive Director of the chamber.

Thank goodness for such opportunities as the Carroll County engagement. Such events truly inspire and excite me about the desire that many companies have to improve their customer service and be seen as excellent in the field.

I am always encouraged when I visit a community and folks come out to learn more about how to improve their customer service and apply new ideas and thinking to their business.

Since I am always on the look out for examples of exceptional customer service, I wanted to share some with you from the past several months. And I would like for you to send me examples of exceptionally good and exceptionally poor customer service so that I may share them on this blog. Please send them to me at drdarryl@aol.com. If you prefer I will not disclose the source.

American Home Shield Warranty Service

Headquartered in a cornfield at the edge of Carroll, Iowa is one of the world’s largest home warranty service centers — American Home Shield. More than 1.2 million homeowners trust this company to provide the exceptional service when it comes to repairing furnaces, air conditioners, appliances and related home systems.

The concept is simple. You pay a monthly fee and for that you get a contract that covers various systems that may need repair over the life of your home.

AHS says simply, “Our goal is to help relieve the hassle of repairing air conditioner, furnace, plumbing and appliance problems.”

Now, let me point out that I am not advocating or marketing AHS through this column.

In fact, I initially had some problems getting service from emails that I sent them and questioned their service philosophy early on.

Yet, when I visited Iowa last fall and met some of the customer service representatives, articulated my issues and problems, I was very pleased to see that customer service excellence is a concept they truly strive to achieve and they appreciate the feedback — an essential component for organizations seeking to implement a superior customer service philosophy. My issues and problems were resolved quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Since then, twice I have engaged with them  and although once they miss stepped and sent me an erroneous statement, they were quick to correct it when notified. The correction was prompt, sincere and very much appreciated.

Excelling in customer service does not mean that a company will always meet the need of the customer, especially if the customer’s expectations are outside the realm of agreed upon service.

For example, a plumbing problem in one of my bathrooms resulted in mold growth. AHS was prompt to point out that mold cleanup and decontamination was not part of my contract. They articulated the terms of my contract in a professional and straightforward, easy to understand and acceptable manner. They took responsibility for their contractual obligation and made suggestions as to how the mold problem could be handled.

However, excelling in customer service can and does mean that the company is willing to seek to resolve, explain and articulate the issue with the customer even when the outcome may not be one the customer seeks.

In other words, a company can deliver news a customer doesn’t want to hear in a manner and style that is not offensive to the customer and leaves the customer thinking well of the company. AHS excels at this.

As many companies today, AHS has a well-defined customer service philosophy that is articulated to all their employees, a condition that is essential if a company is to achieve exceptional customer service. I will share a copy of it in a future blog.

For a huge company with hundreds of employees in their customer service center, AHS is truly striving to set an example as a company that seeks to “exceed the need.”

Eddyville, Ky U.S. Post Office

Kenneth Ray is not your usual postmaster.

You have to trust me on this one. I have met and dealt with many over the years, I worked for the former Postmaster General, and I have never frankly had a high opinion of the postal service, or its customer service, even though PG Marvin Runyon sought to change that perception when he was at the helm in the 1990s and succeeded to a small degree.

However, Kenneth Ray, the Postmaster at the little Eddyville, Kentucky post office and his commitment to service is an exception to the rule of what I have always thought of the postal service.

In fact, he seems to break all the rules that are commonly associated with post offices I have visited over the years. This guy is a nice guy to be around, pleasant and knows his stuff!

For example, when was the last time you entered a post office to be greeted with a smile, called by name, and actually had a postal employee take the time to explain postal services to you that could save you money?

When was the last time a postal employee asked about your friends or family?

When was the last time you left a post office thinking to yourself this was exceptional customer service?

Now, before all you postal employees out there that might read this and get all miffed or go postal, I know, I know you are just like teachers — you are unsung heroes, not all of you are insensitive, rude, or uninterested in your customers. However, too damn many of you are all the above and many of you are unapologetic about it — a commonality among many government employees by the way not just postal employees. (And by the way I was a Federal government employee for almost 20-years and I dealt with way too many fellow employees who had “retired” in place.)

Kenneth Ray is not a typical government employee. He breaks that mold and I am pleased to report he provides the same level of exceptional service to all customers that come through the door.

It is amazing what a smile, an inquiring question, the sharing of insightful information, and simply a pleasant attitude from the leader of an organization can do for the entire organization.

As my wife has pointed out, it now seems that everyone that works at the Eddyville Post Office seems to enjoy their work and now enjoy working there. That is a welcome change.

Other post office all across this country should use the Eddyville facility as an example and role model of what “exceeding the need” for the postal customer is all about.

Keep up the good work Kenneth and keeping on smiling.

Akridge Ace Hardware

When you step into the Akridge Ace Hardware about mid-afternoon many days you are assaulted by the smell of freshly popped corn. Free to any customer. Just help yourself.

You are always greeted with a smile and a hello by the staff. Paul Akridge would have it no other way.

Now, let me confess I am not a handy man. My wife refuses to let me do plumbing any more because of a plumbing fiasco that I created almost 25 years ago. So, when I go into a hardware store I have to talk about “thingamajigs” and “whatchamacallits.”

I have no idea what size screw I need, what tool will best meet my needs, or how many board feet my project might require. That’s why I have a good and dependable handyman like my friend Patrick O’Neal around.

At Akridge Hardware, again in Eddyville, Kentucky, it is all about helping the customer fulfill their need, irrespective, of their level of expertise in the understanding of such stuff.

Women customers report the same level of respect and assistance as men.

Simply, Paul Akridge comes from a long line of family members that place service of the customer first. A well-run customer-focused store such as this has nothing to worry about when Princeton gets its new Super Wal-Mart. There will always be loyal customers for Akridge Hardware because they have provided loyal customer service for many years.

Go to the Eddyville Post Office, or the Akridge Hardware, and everyone knows your name. Sound like the old television show Cheers doesn’t it? Can we learn something from these models?

Lourdes Hospital

Hospitals nationwide are always challenged when it comes to “exceeding the need” in dealing with their clients. After all, when we are sick, need surgery or trauma care we are not usually the easiest person in the world to satisfy.

Lourdes Hospital in Paducah, Ky sets an example of how a hospital seeks out opportunities to excel in meeting their customers’ needs.

Recently when my wife had to have some minor surgery, Lourdes ever seeking ways to make it easier on the patient, provided pre-registration for her. Simply, she went in early and filled out all her paperwork and when we arrived the day of the surgery we were set and ready to go.

We were met on the day of the out-patient surgery by an efficient staff that explained everything in careful non-medical language that would occur, and they worked every step of the way to ensure that we were informed on a regular basis throughout the surgery.

If they told you they would call within an hour, they did. If they said the doctor would be available to explain the situation, the doctor was available.

The hospital has all the amenities for the patient and the family. Want a Starbucks coffee and scone – you got it? Healthy food? Next door to the coffee shop is Subway. Need a nice gift or flowers for the patient – you guessed it – it’s right next door to the Subway shop. How about reading materials? A Chapel? They even have a Resource Center where you can check your e-mail.

They have an excellent cafeteria with very reasonable prices that serve three meals daily. The facility is clean, well lighted, secure and just down right above average for an institutional facility.

Hospital staff and doctors and their photos and credentials are prominently displayed on posters throughout the facility.

Yet, it is all the staff that makes the experience exceptional.

Nurses, receptionists, doctors, orderlies, janitors, and volunteers all have been thoroughly trained to provide an exceptional experience for the patient and their family. Got a question, they will get you the answer quickly and with a smile and show their appreciation for your being there to use their services.

In today’s health care environment where competition is great and criticism is spread around like manure on an Iowa farm field, Lourdes Hospital has distinguished itself in customer service excellence.

Stay tuned coming next: Why companies should “exceed the need”

P.S. Don’t forget to send me your examples of poor and exceptional customer service that exceeded the need. Send them to me at drdarryl@aol.com

Thanks.

Until next time.Dr. Darryl

L. Darryl Armstrong

ARMSTRONG and Associates

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Written by ldarrylarmstrong

September 9, 2007 at 01:40

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