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Good Points Blog


The key is under the mat: A lesson in exceptional customer service

From a purely financial perspective, memorable service may seem hard to justify. In a call center environment, we are often taught to minimize call length in order to contain costs. Efficient transactions are the trend, but what is sacrificed in terms of quality? What is the value of a human touch that can relate to your customers?

Let me tell you a true story that’s a great case study for memorable service.

An elderly travel customer wanted a copy of her itinerary for her trip from chilly Tennessee to West Meyers, Florida the following week.

In St. Louis, Deb, a Senior Travel Consultant, answered the customer’s call and began preparing to email the itinerary. But before she could send it, there was a crash and Deb remarked, “That didn’t sound good.” The customer didn’t reply. There was silence on the other end of the line.

With quick thinking, Deb and her colleagues looked up the number for the local police in Tennessee and alerted them to the possible emergency.

Officers were quickly dispatched while the team in St. Louis stayed on the line, trying to re-establish communication with the customer.

Still on the line, the customer, who had fallen in her kitchen, was slowly regaining consciousness. But the phone was out of her reach. The team could hear her screaming that her arm was broken. As she realized that the team was still on the line, she began yelling out numbers. Deb and her coworkers realized that she was giving them a phone number.  However, when they dialed the number, there was no answer so they left a message.

Meanwhile after 25 minutes on icy Tennessee roads, the police and paramedics arrived at the customer’s home, but the door was locked. Through the phone, the team in St. Louis could hear the customer yelling that the key was under the mat, but the police kept banging on the door. The team realized that the police couldn’t hear the customer. So, remaining on the line, the team placed another call to the police department to tell the officers on the scene that the key was under the mat.

That message got through quickly and within minutes, the police and paramedics were inside helping the customer.

That evening, the contact center received a call from the customer’s daughter-in-law. Her father-in-law had planned this trip, but he had passed away within the last three weeks. The daughter-in-law added that a day or two may have gone by before she or her husband would have called to check in on her mother-in-law. The family was most grateful for the action the travel service team had taken.

“The key is under the mat.” It’s a phrase that close neighbors or family might say to one another. It’s a phrase that grants access—an invitation to enter a home, to visit or to assist. It says, “I trust you. I know I can depend on you. You are an important part of my life.”

Understanding the deeper meaning of this simple phrase reveals the wonderful metaphor it is for memorable service. It communicates how we should take care of our customers—how we should assist them. Properly understood, it gives us the key to creating value and emotional loyalty. While it may look different for different businesses, the common thread will be customer loyalty that transcends concerns such as price and results in customers becoming advocates for a brand.

Obviously, not all service calls are as memorable as Deb’s, but all service should be. Deb went above and beyond to help a customer with a medical emergency. She and the company she represents will be long remembered for that. But the key to memorable service is not in responding well in a crisis, but in responding well every single day.

Setting aside the remarkable circumstances of that situation, let’s consider the original reason for the call—the request for service—from the customer’s perspective. The trip she wants to take is not merely about flying to Florida. No, her trip could be a chance to collect seashells with her sister’s children or to reconnect over dinner with lifelong friends. Perhaps she’s going to the wedding of her first grandchild.

The opportunity to serve and assist customers with these life events is never simply about the nuts and bolts of accomplishing a booking or making a reservation. It’s about the moments that our customers will experience.

And that all sounds great, but can customers really associate your brand with these kinds of memorable experiences?

In fact, they can and do. A growing body of research shows that this “brand bonding” is evidence-based, not merely marketers’ wishful thinking. Consider recent findings from the Journal of Consumer Research, mentioned in Marketing News, the American Marketing Association’s magazine: “Brands ‘extend the self’ and become powerfully linked to their users’ psyches at deeply emotional levels… Humans, after all, are not merely rational, functional beings. Emotions are fundamental to who we are. Objects, possessions, and, yes, brands, often engage our emotions in ways that bind us to these inanimate targets. Consider heirlooms, souvenirs, gifts, special locations, celebrities and sports teams. These can become imbued with personal meaning, memories and feelings that transcend the ‘object’ itself… Deep attachments form.”

What we’re talking about here is brand love and active endorsement—true advocacy.

Think about your business. Are you valuable to your customers? Does your level of service inspire their trust and dedication to the point that they will give you access to the key that is under their mat?

This article first appeared on loyalty360.org

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