customer service

A Service Culture

…is not merely doing customer service. A service culture exists if you are seeking to change people. Customer service is what we call it when we are nice to people. Customers, whether patrons in the butcher shop, students in class or parishioners at church, all have a problem to solve. Part of the problem is transactional…solved by merely providing what’s on offer…the cut of beef, education or comfort. Solving this part of the problem isn't customer service nor does it require a service culture. One step up, being pleasant and helpful, is what we’ve come to know as customer service. This wrapper around the transaction is part of the culture we’ve developed and come to expect. But it’s not worth extra…being nice just comes built-in. Alternatively, service comes from doing something else. It comes from acting with intent to change a person from someone who merely gets served to one who feels uniquely looked after. It’s a gift of focus, obsession on detail and caring that comes with no strings attached…and it’s usually a pleasant surprise. 

Customer service is an overused and misused phrase connected to what and how something gets done. But a service culture starts before that…it begins with the “why” something gets done. Purpose creates a cause and pins meaning to the act of serving. It’s what creates and drives a service culture. And it’s what changes someone fom merely being part of a transaction to someone who cares about changing the way people feel.

Purpose begets “wow, you did that just for me”.

Have a nice day.


It's Not Our Fault...I Don't Trust You

One of the takeaways from my trip to Zappos headquarters last month...they give every customer the benefit of the doubt. Not some people or when the burden of proof has been met. But, every customer, unconditionally. They do the opposite of what most companies do...if there's a hint of a problem, they assume it's their fault, not the other way around.

Since most of their sales have shifted on-line (like so many other businesses), many of the people that call-in to Zappos have a concern or an order question (at least that was my impression from my time in the call center). And, if Zappos handled these people like most companies, there would be a vetting process to get to the bottom of every situation to guard against unnecessary discounts and refunds. In turn, the call experience would be just as expected...a royal pain in the butt, too long, unsatisfying and more likely down right aggravating. Perfect if you're in the business of average. Thankfully, Zappos is in the business of happiness. So, they simply act that way. They trust you.

Of course, many companies use clever disguises to give you the impression someone cares...a 24 hour support line, a handy "e-mail us" option or even "live chat". I recently had trouble with my Garmin 405CX running watch. So, I called Garmin support, twice, because the first time when I heard my wait time was 35 minutes I thought there was a glitch...there wasn't. I decided on the email option, made my way through the myriad of toggle options and drop down boxes, described my issue and off it went. Moments later I was greeted with an email (see below)...we aim to respond to you within 3 days. So, 35 minutes on the phone or 3 days for an email which will likely just lead to more email. Hmmm, do you think Garmin really has my best interest in mind? Do you think they trust me?

Trusting your customer is required if you want them to trust you. You don't get to do it part time and expect a dividend. Sure, by going into it with blind faith you're going to get burned sometimes. But, not nearly as bad as if you're worried about always being right.

How Do You Do You Provide Exceptional Customer Service?

I saw this question on LinkedIn...

How does your hotel provide exceptional and memorable customer service?

Here's my answer...

It begins with careful reflection on why you do what you do. When you're an innkeeper because you simply enjoy caring for've found the key and most often lost ingredient. Any other purpose defines you as something else and moves you away from hospitality in it's true and root form.

You succeed as an innkeeper (notice I refrain from using hotel manager) by focusing on the meaningful delivery of service...not just the technical components of that service. Checking people in quickly might allow you to achieve productivity goals, but it can erode or destroy a warm, authentic welcome.

Use these filters for every decision...

Does it feel residential?
Does it feel familial?
Does it feel genuine?
Does it feel hand crafted?

And lastly, try to do things that are harder, not easier. Odds are, the guest will benefit.

Of course, there's a lot more to it than hiring the right people. But, this is a good place to start.

Good Service Disruption

This is what good service looks like...

  • Good service is attentive, friendly, warm and correct.
  • People who perform good service are polite, they smile and use your name.
  • Businesses providing good service are ethical, spend time training employees and apologize when things don't work out.

Here's the problem...if this is all you do, it's probably not good enough. Sure, there are plenty of companies that fail at the basics. And that gives you the edge. Being good enough earns you a fair share of a mediocre market and allows you to charge an average price for an average experience. But then there are also organizations that do more. They choose to do something really hard, create a new edge and be remarkable. They get attention, then trial and eventually erode your share of the average market.

So, you can choose to provide normal and expected good service and hope no one disrupts your plan. Or you can create your own insurance policy and be the disruptor.

Good service is the minimum expectation. It's the place to start. Not the place to rest or build an empire on.


In business, most decision making goes something like this...problem/opportunity arises, a path is chosen that solves it while satisfying the most people. Of course, the most people aren't always the customer. It's far easier to focus on solving internal problems first, than worrying about the customer. If this weren't true, we wouldn't have counters, automated call centers, or websites that don't work. We wouldn't have accounting processes that frustrate people. And, we wouldn't make people stand in lines without talking with them.

The best customer service organizations don't allow the wrong filters to cloud their judgment. They focus on customers first and everything else second. The companies who make it a priority to be the best at caring for customers don't use efficiency, market share or production goal filters to decide how to treat people. They use these instead: family, friends and home. Companies who care for people like they were friends and family and who welcome people like they were coming into their homes are far more successful than those that don't. It's the old and simple rule...treat others how you would like to be treated. Except, in order to be the best, you need to be fanatical about it. Anything less, and you might as well choose a different path.

Of course, it's no surprise that most of the hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and car repair shops that pull this off are small. There are exceptions. But, not many. Unfortunately, a by product of becoming successful and larger is that you stray toward the wrong filters. So, if you can figure out how to get big and remain win.

Boxed In

I experienced yet another one of those frustrating customer service moments today. This time a company promised through advertising to sell me something for a certain price. Turns out what I was attempting to buy had been discontinued some time ago...they just forgot to change the website. And, in the end, I was out of luck. Of course, this isn't alarming. It happens every day to many, many people. Like you, it happens to me on a regular basis...companies over promise and under news here. What made this particular instance alarming was how three of the five people I spoke with were actually interested in solving my problem and making up for the mistake. They each expressed a sincere apology and empathized. The real problem...they couldn't do anything. The "system", "policies" and "company processes" stood in their way. Here were perfectly capable, caring individuals who couldn't do what was most important...solve a customer problem. What a shame to waste their talent and time this way.

Makes you wonder how long system oriented organizations like this are going to survive. Probably until people like you and companies like this come along, change the rules and disrupt everything.

Reverse Customer Care

If your client had a blog, would you read it every day?

If your customers have blogs, do you and your team care enough to subscribe to them?

Why do you expect these same people to subscribe to your email newsletter or your Twitter stream when you don’t return the favor?

Hospitality is in the Details

Little Rock has a relatively nice airport...comfortable, easy, a pleasant experience by airport standards.

So, who makes the decision to let this sort of thing get in the way? I've seen this fan just like this for months. How many employees and managers are saying, "it's not my job to fix this" even though it clearly disrupts the marketing program?


Hospitality is in the Details from Michael Chaffin on Vimeo.

Real People

I'd be much more inclined to respond to this if a real person would have written it...perhaps the nice man who quickly processed my car return inthe parking lot. But,that would be hard. It's so much easier and cost effective to send out form letters.

Dear Michael Chaffin,

Thank you for your recent car rental at Thrifty T-RIC.
We continuously strive to improve our service to you.

Please take a moment to complete this brief survey. Your thoughtful response is very important and will help us serve you better in the future.

We hope to see you the next time you travel.

Click here to begin the survey

Estimado Michael Chaffin,

Gracias por su reciente alquiler de coches en Thrifty T-RIC.
Nos esforzamos continuamente para mejorar nuestro servicio para usted.

Por favor, tome un momento para completar esta breve encuesta. Su respuesta reflexiva es muy importante y nos ayudará a servirle mejor en el futuro.

Esperamos verte la próxima vez que viaje.

Para español, haga clic aqui


"I Like People"

is the response I most often receive when interviewing people for hospitality work. My hear it a lot as well. Interestingly, it's not how much you like people that counts most. It's how much people like you.

The most successful people are those which others naturally gravitate toward. The ability to demonstrate care and to deliver it in a meaningful way are extremely powerful. Some of it comes naturally...a friendly smile and positive approach to things. The rest you pick up along the way through experience and mentors...handling unexpected challenges, calm under pressure, etc.

Technical competence is necessary. You don't get far being dumb. But, the highest levels of success are achieved with more than smarts. They're attained by developing relationships, no matter if you're a waiter or a CEO. Hopefully, you have proof how much people have valued your hospitality. Perhaps you have a drawer full of thank you letters, a list of promotions or you can point to comments of appreciation on your Facebook page. Sometimes, it's more subtle...people want to work the same shift as you, or ride on the same bus.

Liking people isn't enough to get by on, especially if no one likes you.