The Simple Complexity of Outstanding Customer Service

But she could get by with the bare minimum. She could be pleasant but not super friendly. She could wait to be asked before providing a bunch of helpful information, or extras like looking at the availability of upgraded seats. She could seem like she’s doing her job competently, but she likely doesn’t get paid based on going above and beyond to be enthusiastic and proactively helpful.

Yet, she was. She clearly gets satisfaction out of being outstanding and helpful. And she absolutely MADE my morning of travel, putting me at ease and putting a smile on my face (which is a feat before I’ve had caffeine, as anyone who has encountered me in the morning can attest).

Outstanding customer service is not complicated. There was nothing particularly fancy here, no tricks or gimmicks or whizbang technology. But Fran was helpful, friendly, clearly enjoyed her job, and made me feel like she was glad I was there.

The problem is that these concepts are exceedingly simple, yet so few companies set the bar there. It’s not cheap nor easy to find the Frans of the world and keep them motivated, happy and continually rewarded for being exceptional, much less to have Fran at scale (it’s far easier in a concierge-like environment like this one). The basics aren’t necessarily sexy, or “viral”, or likely to make the media.

Moreover, when we find people like her, we promote them into management and remove them from the places where they can make an outstanding and direct difference, because our companies aren’t built to create authority, career development, and prestige in front-line roles.


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The Simple Complexity of Outstanding Customer Service - Brass Tack ThinkingSomeone at American Airlines, please give Fran a raise.

I travel a lot, so I fork over the cash each year – about $500 – to be a member of American’s Admiral’s Club. It’s a nice little airline lounge that they have in a lot of major airports, including my home base of O’Hare, and it makes waiting for a flight easier with some snacks and beverages, free wifi, comfortable seats and plentiful outlets. Way worth the money in itself.

I walked in yesterday before my flight to Austin, and was greeted by Fran at the desk. I handed over my card so she could check me in, and she asked my destination.

With a big smile, Fran went on to say:

“Well, welcome Ms. Naslund. Flight 3600 is departing out of gate G13 today, and I currently show an aircraft on the ground and a crew checked in, so you should be all set for an on time departure. We’ll be boarding at about 9:15 and we’ll announce the flight as it comes up, and if there are any delays, I’ll let you know.

Now let me see if there might be any upgrades available….ah, unfortunately not today, but I do have a bulkhead seat held if you’d like that instead of your current seat assignment.”

(I accepted with gratitude…)

She continued:

Coffee and water are inside to the right, restrooms to the left, and I see you have your laptop with you so there should be plenty of outlets, but the seating at the far end has a few extra just in case it’s crowded. Is there anything I can do to make your trip more comfortable today?”

:: insert me, dumbfounded. ::

I said a hearty thank you and promptly let @AmericanAir know how great the service was. A few minutes later, I watched Fran walk into the lounge to find someone personally and let them know that their flight was reading on time but that the crew hadn’t arrived yet, so she would come and get them when that happened so they didn’t have to rush.

Here’s the thing.

Fran was doing her job. Her role is to provide helpful service to the people who pay for the Admiral’s Club membership.

But she could get by with the bare minimum. She could be pleasant but not super friendly. She could wait to be asked before providing a bunch of helpful information, or extras like looking at the availability of upgraded seats. She could seem like she’s doing her job competently, but she likely doesn’t get paid based on going above and beyond to be enthusiastic and proactively helpful.

Yet, she was. She clearly gets satisfaction out of being outstanding and helpful. And she absolutely MADE my morning of travel, putting me at ease and putting a smile on my face (which is a feat before I’ve had caffeine, as anyone who has encountered me in the morning can attest).

Outstanding customer service is not complicated. There was nothing particularly fancy here, no tricks or gimmicks or whizbang technology. But Fran was helpful, friendly, clearly enjoyed her job, and made me feel like she was glad I was there.

The problem is that these concepts are exceedingly simple, yet so few companies set the bar there. It’s not cheap nor easy to find the Frans of the world and keep them motivated, happy and continually rewarded for being exceptional, much less to have Fran at scale (it’s far easier in a concierge-like environment like this one). The basics aren’t necessarily sexy, or “viral”, or likely to make the media.

Moreover, when we find people like her, we promote them into management and remove them from the places where they can make an outstanding and direct difference, because our companies aren’t built to create authority, career development, and prestige in front-line roles.

So instead, people like Fran and the experiences they create are exceptional. And while I have a suspicion Fran will always be the kind of person to do just that much more, it’s still pretty amazing that people even remotely like Fran are so remarkable instead of the standard we all strive for.

Great customer service is – conceptually – beautifully simple. It takes unrelenting basics – friendliness, flexibility, helpfulness – that are executed with consistent elegance by people who really and truly care about the outcome.

And yet that simplicity is truly the complexity with it all.

Thanks again, Fran, for making the start to my travel day so much better. I sure hope you get that raise, but I’m also really hoping that the Admiral’s Club members enjoy your presence for a long time to come.

About Amber Naslund

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Amber Naslund

AmberCadabra

AmberCadabra I’m at SideraWorks Austin HQ (Austin, TX)4sq.com/wF4XJ63 hours ago · reply · retweet ·favorite

Brass Tack Thinking is written by Amber Naslund, a social business strategist and the Co-Founder of this new project, launching in early 2012. She’s a published author, professional speaker, community and social media strategist, and has worked with businesses of all sizes to solve business problems through better communication.

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