Winning Customers Without Trying
February 19, 2013 /Forbes/ – I don’t know Captain George Force; and he doesn’t know me. But last week I began jetBlue’s quarterly board meeting by reading an email I’d received the night before – it was from a customer eager to share her experience after traveling on a plane flown by Force, a veteran airline captain:
“Since I was traveling with my baby, it took me a few extra minutes to get off the plane. Thus, I walked out behind the Captain, George Force. He saw me wearily carrying baby Helena. So, he took it upon himself to find my car seat and stroller amidst a mountain of gate-checked bags. Then, he put all of my baby gear together for me so I could pop her right in! I could’ve hugged him on the spot, but I refrained. Just thought you’d like to know that I’m now a loyal jetBlue customer.”
When Captain Force put the stroller together, no one was looking. No one was filling out an employee evaluation or a customer survey. He’d already done his job by landing the plane safely. But he still took a few minutes to help, when it mattered to a customer.
I don’t tell this story to plug jetBlue (although I do think jetBlue crewmembers generally do a remarkable job). The point of this anecdote is that George’s decision to lend a hand personifies one of the most important pillars of any great business – making your customer happy.
There’s a whole “values training” industry that tries to teach employees how to do the right thing in a variety of business situations. But good customer service doesn’t come from following a checklist, saying “yes ma’am,” or returning phone calls quickly. It’s not showing eight teeth every time you smile or shrugging off a customer’s harangue.
Great customer service starts with hiring great people – people like Captain Force, who don’t have to be taught how to treat others with respect, because it’s already second nature to them.
Of course, hiring a company full of people like that takes a lot of work and a long time. Strong business cultures are the result of years of painstaking effort – hire by hire and dismissal by dismissal. But the final result is something your competitors will find almost impossible to duplicate.
Twenty-five years ago at a gathering of young executives in San Francisco, I asked Jim Nordstrom to tell me about the way Nordstrom had developed its legendary customer service, starting with his grandfather and continuing to this day to become one of the nation’s largest fashion retailers. At the time, he was being mobbed by others and couldn’t give me a complete answer. Instead, he gave me his business card and hand-wrote a phone number on it.
When I called a week later, Jim himself answered. He spent the next 15 minutes telling me about the Nordstrom philosophy of customer service. To be honest, I don’t remember the particulars of what he said; but I’ll never forget that he gave me the number to his personal line and made time to speak to me about an issue that was this important to him and to his company. I’ve been a Nordstrom customer ever since.
Needless to say, Jim Nordstrom and Captain Force have at least one quality in common, the kind of attitude you’d like to bottle. It’s one that moves people to write letters of thanks—and one that makes it easy for people to become lifelong customers.
By Joel Peterson