Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Build Lifetime Customer Loyalty…From the Inside-out

A Spirit of Service is an element of caring, a spirit of interest, and an air of hospitality that is woven into the very fabric of a company’s culture. It’s reflected in the way employees think, talk, and act. It’s a genuine, authentic way of doing business that reveals the character of the people who work there and the nature of the environment they work within. A Spirit of Service is what causes people to go above and beyond the call of duty and give something of themselves beyond just doing a job. People who possess a Spirit of Service are usually people who have consciously decided to choose service over self-interest. For example:

  • At American Express it’s the Call Center Operator who gets a call from a card member needing immediate cash because he has to have emergency surgery. When the bi-lingual operator learns that English is this customer’s second language she responds by purchasing some basic necessities for the customer and his wife, driving to the hospital, and serving as their interpreter well into the evening during the initial preparation for his surgery.
  • At Red Robin International it’s the Restaurant Manager who saw some kids admiring the store’s Christmas tree and asked them what they thought of the tree. When they said it was beautiful the manager said, “What does your tree at home look like?” The kids responded, “Well our Daddy couldn’t afford to buy a tree this year.” So this store manager recruits a couple of team members, packs up the tree, ornaments and all, and puts it on top of the family’s car.
  • At Southwest Airlines it’s the Customer Service Agent that encounters eighty five-year-old Mimi with a heart condition sobbing on the curb. The agent discovers that Mimi’s flight had been canceled due to weather, she missed the bus taking passengers to the hotel because she got disoriented in the airport, and she was scared to spend the night in a hotel room by herself. After learning Mimi’s story the agent drives her to the Holiday Inn, spends the night with her, takes her back to the airport the next morning, and ensures that she gets on her flight safely.

The key to lifetime customer loyalty

Why is creating a Spirit of Service so important to your success? It’s your major point of differentiation. Let’s face it, anybody with the necessary capital can build a store and inventory. The difference is in the spirit and attitudes of the people who work for you. Competitors may be able to compete with you on price and model but it’s very difficult to compete with you on cost, quality, and service because all three depend on the commitment and enthusiasm of your people–spirit and attitude are extremely difficult to replicate!

A lot of carriers are trying to emulate Southwest Airlines today. Anyone can go out and buy a Boeing 737 and hire pilots, flight attendants and ground crews. What Southwest’s competitors haven’t figured out yet is how the company gets its people to be so incredibly productive, so detail oriented and so nice. As a matter of fact people frequently ask Libby Sartain, Southwest’s VP of People, “How do you get your people to be so nice?” Libby says, “We don’t get our people to be anything, we just hire Nice People!” Competitors are still trying to figure out how to generate the enthusiasm and sense of urgency that causes Southwest people to run for an airplane while others meander. Most of the Southwest “want-to-be’s” have focused on the tools and techniques that support the company’s operating strategy and not its culture and its people. Why? Because operating strategy is more tangible and therefore easier to emulate.

Many quality and customer service efforts fail today because businesses have reduced quality and service to a series of programs without understanding the spirit of the people that infuse those programs with life! Programs become nothing more than sophisticated ways to manipulate employees into a prescribed set of behaviors if they aren’t grounded in a corporate culture where people have a deep-seated passion to serve. Training programs can be powerful tools, but they lose their impact if they’re not supported by a culture where people enthusiastically live the values of service.

Creating an organization where people take personal responsibility for sensational service is much more a hiring endeavor than it is a training endeavor. Hiring people who are more inclined to choose service over self interest must become a key strategy in your journey toward building a Spirit of Service within your company! When it does, the effect will be a workforce that is passionately involved in and personally committed to building lifetime customer loyalty!

Pull a team of your employees together and discuss the following questions:

  • What do we want our Spirit of Service LOOK like and FEEL like for all the customers we serve? In other words:
  • What do we want our Customer to think, to say, to feel about doing business with us?
  • What do we want employees to think, say and feel about us as an employer?
  • And what do we want the community we work within to say about us and the way we do business and participate in the community?
  • If this Spirit of Service existed within our company what would we be doing differently?
  • If this Spirit of Service currently exists, how can we turn up the volume?