Customers want their stuff, but also a good experience
October 21, 2019
We’ve all heard the idea of being customer-centric, but how you utilizing your leadership to best serve your customers.
The very thirsty crow came upon a pitcher of water. But, the water was deep and the neck of the pitcher narrow. Aesop’s Fables tells us the rest of the riddle. The crow picked up small pebbles and dropped them one by one in the pitcher causing the water to rise high enough for a drink.
I needed a prescription refilled for an eye ointment, and my usual pharmacy was unable to get it for a week. So, I called the pharmacy attached to the local grocery store. The “I’m having a horrible day” cashier-receptionist answered my phone call to fill the prescription. When I arrived at the pharmacy, she stood guard over the cash register with a scowl telegraphing the same attitude I had heard on the phone. Behind her were the pharmacy manager and two pharmacy assistants.
“Are you having a great day?” I asked cheerfully in a rather loud voice. “Not particularly,” she said.
“Well,” I announced, putting a pebble in the water pitcher so to speak, “I am here to help your day get a lot better.” She was unmoved. One of the pharmacy assistants nervously smiled at my way-too-obvious attempt to get her “happy water” to rise in the pitcher.
“How much would this ointment cost without insurance?” I asked her in my very best happy-go-lucky cheerleader voice. I had Googled the answer in advance. “Three hundred and fifty dollars,” she answered. “Gee whiz,” I teased. “How much would it cost just to get new eyes?” The other pharmacy assistant laughed to herself without looking up. But the cashier was not joining in the fun. “I know you are going to fix me right up!” I added, still trying to alter the mood!
My last attempt at a bit of happy talk: “Is your day getting a little bit better?” I asked. “Not really,” she said, flatly.
The expressionless pharmacy manager standing six feet from her finally looked up from his work. His countenance clearly conveyed his condemnation. He was not amused at my attempts to elevate the attitude of his front-line ambassador. This pitcher of customer delight remained out of my reach as I vowed to go back to my old pharmacy where I didn’t have to work so hard to get a fraction of positive service.
Customer-Centric Leaders Set the Tone
A casual observer would quickly conclude that the focus of the pharmacy manager was on prescriptions and pills—outcomes only another pharmacist could judge as excellent. The focus said, “Customers come here for their pharmacy items at a fair price, and we deliver on that expectation.” The truth is, however, while customers may come in for pharmacy items, unless you are the only business of your kind in the area, they come back because of the experience your organization creates.
Instead of smiling at me for my obvious efforts at feedback, he frowned at my noisy upbeat tone that interfered with his real work. Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart, was fond of saying, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he (or she) can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
Customer-Centric Leaders Communicate Expectations with Customers in the Center
The pharmacy cashier was performing right in front of the person who would complete her performance review, determine her pay increases, and pass judgment on whether or not she kept her job. With such power and proximity, one would think she would be on her very best behavior. And, she was! Her definition of “best behavior” obviously reflected the expectations her leader had communicated—customers are an insignificant part of what we do here. He no doubt expected her to be accurate in making change, properly, working the cash register, answering the phone, and “other related duties.” Customers were just ancillary, not primary.
Customer-Centric Leaders Require a “Performance” on the Stage of Service
Customer service is a performing art. After leaving his role as CEO, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, came back to run the company. His goal was to rekindle what he labeled the “romance and theatre” of coffee-making he believed had been diluted or eliminated in the company’s rapid growth. Customer-centric leaders insist front-line employees remain “in-character” and customer-focused when serving. As your mother taught you, “You do not get a second chance to make a good first impression.” It means paying attention to interpersonal style, upbeat attitude, and demonstrating the spirit of a host.
Customer-Centric Leaders Affirm Thirst Quenchers Who Nurture Customer Joy
Today’s social media savvy customers do not talk or tweet about good service anymore, only service that is unique, special, and personalized. Your frontline employees are compared to Disney theme park employees because your customers have been to Disney. Your website is compared to Amazon; your responsiveness to FedEx, Zappos, and UPS. As customers’ expectations climb, what may have received a B+ last year might not get you a C this year. It means affirming those who go the extra mile and take the initiative to solve customers’ problems in a fashion that exceeds their expectations.
I am back with my old pharmacy. It feels like being with friends who care about me, not just my prescriptions. The pharmacist even wished me “happy birthday” when he saw it in my record. When I mentioned the pharmacy attached to the nearby grocery store, he shook his head from side to side but did not say a negative word. As the cashier rang up my prescription, she said, “We are glad you are back with us because you help us all have a great day.” I thought about the crow enjoying a drink from a long-necked pitcher.