By Mark Lupo, CBCP

Back in the late fall of 2014, our UGA SBDC team conducted a tour of our service area of 11 counties in southwest Georgia.  Traveling through several counties, our travels put us in Meriwether County for the lunchtime hour and we decided to have lunch at the Bullock House. Many of you are familiar with this eating establishment, nestled close to the heart of Warm Springs.  After enjoying a great time of fried green tomatoes, vegetables and fried chicken with all the trimmings (not to mention all the calories :)), we arrived at the ever-present, final question the waitress brings to the table, “Did you leave any room for desert?” Most of the time at an-all-you-can-eat buffet the answer of ‘No’ is usually written on one’s face though, in this case, feeling adventuresome, two of our team decided to forge ahead and go for the desert. Upon one ordering a piece of chocolate cake and the other a piece of caramel cake, they eagerly anticipated the waitresses return with the sweet end to a fun lunch together.  As the waitress returned and placed the cake in front of them and they took a bite, they each mentioned that it tasted like it just came out of the oven.  It was warm, though not hot, and seemed to be served at just the perfect temperature.  How could that be?  As busy as this restaurant was at lunchtime during the holiday season, how could they bake their cakes so that each slice served came out at just the right temperature, tasting as if freshly baked?  Stay tuned and I’ll tell you the secret we found out…

Many businesses that we have the pleasure of working with through the years at the UGA SBDC, when asked, “How will you be different from your competition?”, look to separate themselves through exceptional customer service.   Providing just what the customer wants when they want it, going above and beyond the customer’s expectations, accepting the adage that the ‘customer is always right’… Wouldn’t you agree that if most businesses look to distinguish themselves through their ability to provide the best customer service possible, better than any of their competitors, that each would cancel out customer service as a differentiator?  At that point, they would all be the same in providing that exceptional level of customer service.

This then brings us to the point of how do you, as a consumer, define great customer service and, from a business owner’s standpoint, how can they then provide that great customer service to you, the customer purchasing their products and services.  In one of the upcoming UGA SBDC course offerings we provide is one focused on maximizing great customer service, what it is, how do we achieve it, and how can we measure it.  Within that course the 10 Commandments of Good Customer Service are discussed… Ten things that you can do within your organization to succeed in providing customer service that excels.  Here are three of those ten.

First, Know Your Products.  Understand the subtleties of the products and services that you offer.  So many times, the owner of a business enters that business with a passion to provide the best quality product or service and in the preparation and provision of that product or service and all that goes into starting the business, the owner is forced to know the product inside and out.  Transferring that knowledge to those other workers in the organization sometimes does not occur as effectively.  If you are a business owner, ensure that not only you know your product or service inside and out, be sure that all of your team members know that product and service intimately and if they do not, that they have a source for that information that they can readily access.

Second, Always Provide What You Promise. There is value in consistency.  If your business model promises ‘something’, your goal is to develop a system that can provide that ‘something’ in the same way, to the same level of quality, no matter the volume, in the same amount of time, that you espouse in your marketing messaging.  Insure that if you promise a certain level of service in your messaging, that you always provide what you say you can provide.

Third, Focus on Making Customers, not Sales.  Each of us have been in situations where we have felt on the receiving end of a sales pitch, where the focus of the communication goes from not satisfying our needs as a customer but in making a sale for the employee.  As a business owner, our goal as someone working with the public through providing a product or service, is to always hone in our ability to help the customer satisfy their need, not in necessarily making the sale.   If you remember in the Christmas movie, “Miracle on 34th Street”, the ‘real’ Santa Clause begins telling the Christmas shoppers of Macy’s where they can find that special gift for their children.  Sometimes that gift could be found at Macy’s but all too often he would direct them to Gimbles’ or one of the other competitors to Macy’s.  Satisfying the customer’s need became the focus, not making the immediate sale.

So, returning to my story of delectable delights at the Bullock House.  The chocolate and caramel cake was brought to the table and when my colleagues tasted them, they mentioned how the cake was just the right temperature, tasting like it had just emerged from the oven.  When we asked the waitress if the cake was fresh-baked, she stated that no, it wasn’t right out of the oven, but had been briefly reheated. How long, we asked, did they reheat the cake in order to bring it to just the right temperature to taste freshly baked.  13 seconds, she replied.  13 seconds. Not 10 seconds, not 15 seconds, it had to be 13 seconds.  During their preparation they had found that 13 seconds was the magic amount of time to reheat their cake within a microwave to bring it to that fresh-baked temperature.  Not only had they done the preparation work to determine that, but the company had insured that this waitress, as well as the others there, I am sure, knew that setting and could be sure that each slice of cake was served in that manner without the customer even asking for it.  To go back to our three ‘commandments’ of good customer service, this waitress knew her product, she could serve it each time in the same way, and she focused on us as customers, not on simply making the sale.   How can you build that culture in your organization that satisfies these three concepts (and the other seven) of creating great customer service? Join us for an upcoming Maximum Service course to learn of the other seven commandments of great customer service and more ideas of how you can move to the next level of providing great customer service.  Until next time…