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Above & Beyond: Creating A Culture Of Surprise And Delight

The Multi-Unit Franchising Conference was held in Las Vegas this past April. Would it surprise you to know that 70 percent of all revenue generated by Las Vegas casinos is non-gaming revenue? It's true. You can walk around the Strip and see that Las Vegas offers many experiences other than gambling, and that, after years of having the reputation of being "sin city," Las Vegas is becoming a family town. When someone pointed this out to me, I started to notice all the inter-generational activity. For those who attended, did you notice how many older men were with their 30-something daughters? It was great to see how the family is getting back together in Las Vegas.

I couldn't resist telling you that story, and I have a point to make. I continue to admire how Southwest Airlines is the only air carrier that uses humor to surprise and delight customers. By making fun of the boring announcements, they also get more customers to listen to those announcements than any other airline.

As a frequent flyer, I thought I had heard everything, but on my flight to Las Vegas I heard some new things. "Please turn off all cell phones. If you get caught with it turned on, you will lose your bathroom privileges on this two-hour flight. Also, the FAA forbids tampering with the smoke detectors, or with the recently installed cameras inside the restrooms."

Or, "In the event of a water landing on the way to Las Vegas, pull out the plastic yellow vest, inflate it, then just kick, paddle, kick, paddle, kick, paddle... all the way to shore. Your flight attendants will be right behind you with peanuts, pretzels, and free drinks."

Right after they made these announcements, there was a slight delay on the tarmac. So the flight attendant in the back of plane asked the passengers to please turn around and look in the last row and say hello to Alex, a 4-year-old who was celebrating his birthday. As Alex waved, the flight attendant said "Folks, please let's have everyone turn on their flight attendant call button and we'll light this plane up like birthday candles on Alex's cake. Then we can sing Happy Birthday to Alex and help him blow out the candles." That is exactly what we did, 130 strangers making the best of a slight delay and making a memory I am sure Alex's mom will never forget.

You can't script that last part. Only employees who have high service aptitude and who feel empowered to create special connections with customers can create those kinds of extraordinary customer experiences that people will talk about--just as I am doing now.

That spontaneous birthday sing-along on Southwest during an otherwise aggravating delay, is an example of what customer service expert John DiJulius calls "above and beyond" service, moments that create unforgettable customer experiences. In his best-selling book, What's The Secret? (to Creating a World Class Customer Experience), DiJulius lays out a very actionable plan that any franchisee can adopt to create a culture of high service aptitude.

To use these ideas, you (as the franchisee) have to really believe in the business model that says creating raving fans of your current customers is essential to earning their loyalty. If you don't have real passion around earning customer loyalty by delivering special customer experiences, then no "technique" that I describe will help you.

In fact, the trouble with giving examples of great service is that people often miss the "concept" and go straight to the technique. There is probably no other airline that can copy the Southwest techniques and get the same results. Why? Because humor is and always has been part of the DNA of Southwest. It is authentic. It is who they are.

Author Pat Lencioni has some great examples of skipping the concept and going straight to the technique: remember when United Airlines rubbed "Uni" off some of their planes and created TED? They thought they could copy the techniques used by Southwest and get the same results. But they couldn't. Neither can you.

Marcus Buckingham tells the story of a very successful store manager at a Best Buy in South Florida who completely turned that location's customer satisfaction and sales around. How? What was the technique? Before I tell you the technique, let me tell you that this manager bore a striking resemblance to a young Fidel Castro. In South Florida, this is significant.

So when our young Castro lookalike took over as store manager, he put up posters in the employee break room and the back of the house announcing "La Revolucion!" He had his assistant managers dress in Army fatigues to support the theme. He got all of them military-like whistles and instructed them to "blow the whistle" whenever they caught employees doing something right. The whole atmosphere of the store changed with this approach to recognition of employees and the theme of customer service "revolution."

I don't think you can use that technique, because it isn't who you are. But you can use the concepts of having fun at work and catching people doing something right and rewarding the behaviors you want so you can get more of those great customer service behaviors.

So let me share three service concepts and challenge you to apply them to your business in a way that is authentic and is, in fact, who you are. In other words, the exact techniques are up to you.

First, you must be brilliant at the basics. Whether you are cutting hair, cleaning homes, or serving meals, you must show your customers that you deliver on what you promise every time. That means you have achieved operational excellence in the area in which you compete. Keeping your service promise is how you win the trust of customers.

Second, you must create emotional connections with customers. That means your employees have to behave in ways that make customers smile or laugh or feel like VIPs. Being brilliant at the basics wins you trust, but creating emotional connections with customers makes them love you. In this deliberate effort, intent counts more than technique!

Third, you must create a service excellence culture that is so contagious that every new employee instantly feels it and understands what behaviors are expected--and which are unacceptable. Your company must have a set of service behaviors that you always do, and another set of behaviors that you never do. Culture is simply, "How we do things around here."

Do you have the vision and leadership to execute these three concepts?


SMG Vice President Jack Mackey helps operators improve customer loyalty and drive growth. Contact him at 816-448-4556 or jmackey@smg.com.

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