Scanning the quality literature i was amazed to discover that the majority of the most powerful concepts on quality start with the letter 'c'. Others may have their own list, but here is mine: communication, cooperation, coordination, conviction, constancy, consistency, customer, change, concentration, commitment, consideration, convention, and challenge. Now let's add care.
Others have written about the other Cs, so let's look at CARE. How do you show the customer that you care? You buy flowers for her? Visit her on her birthday? Tell her 'I care.' All those have a role to play but let me relate a story as told by Laurie Beth Jones in Jesus CEO. Now, this is an emotional story. A truly life and death story that could have ended in tragedy but for the prescient mind of an angel of outstanding service. I like this story because it encapsulates the whole essence of the care dimension of excellence. Laurie was talking about Art Huskey, an estate agent in San Diego. The story recounts an episode where Art, having not heard for a while from an elderly couple (clients) he'd sold a house decided to pay them a surprise visit. Art found the elderly couple utterly dehydrated and rushed them to hospital and took care of them until they were discharged. Even after they were discharged from hospital Art bought them hot chicken soup for weeks not minding the cost.
It turned out the elderly couple had been stuck by a severe cold, which was so acute that they could not even make a phone call to any one to ask for help. Art in short saved this couple's lives. Laurie Beth Jone, the author, who said she taught the story from her mum commented "It seems every time I meet someone who knows Art, he has a similar story to tell." Art Huskey according to the author "outsells all other estate agents by five to one where ever he goes." Tom Peters, the quality guru, preaches "staying close" to the customer. Art Huskey would not have saved this elderly couple if he had not "stayed close." Art may lose money directly by his acts of kindness but he gets hundreds of referrals from his grateful clients.
Horst Schulze, the then president and COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, the 1992 winner of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award, in writing about the need to deliver service with care and sincerity, painted the following hypothetical service situation. Assuming you go to a bank and request to change a ten dollar bill and the teller greets you warmly and goes ahead and gives you your correct change, then he has done his job. According to Horst Schulze, it should not stop there. The teller should also show care. The caring aspect comes on top of the product. Horst Schulze said, "The product, is giving correct change. But if the teller then adds, 'Sir, I'm happy to give you the change, and please have a wonderful day,' then he has served me." By giving the correct change, and displaying enthusiasm and courty in the process andishing the customer well, Schulze reasoned, the teller is "rendering both quality and service."
There is more to customer service than gimmicks. It's important to learn to think out of the box. Be imaginative and passionate about what you can do to make a difference. The past week was "Customer Service Week" (something Ken Blanchard has dismissed as an oxymoron) in almost all the banks in Nigeria and they went out of their way way to show how much they "care" for their customers. In most banks, the staff adorned tee shirts emblazoned with the words "Bank Ambassador." In one big bank, the receptionists wore white hats, put on big smiles, and gave out candies. I happened to visit the head office of one particular big bank on the Lagos Marina at the height of the "Customer Service Week," and on that day it was raining heavily as I was leaving their head office, and no one offered me an umbrella . The unmistakable message the bank ambassadors sent across to me and I took away was "we do not car."
Care is the most powerful four-letter word in quality service. Sometimes it requires hard work, but more often than that, all that's required is a simple imagination. Is umbrella important during the rainy season specifically in a place like Lagos where rain can be so unpredictable? So why did not the management of the bank think about umbrella? That service failure goes to show that in customer service, there is no rule-book, no one-size-fits-all formula. Only imagination counts! A committee must have sat down and decided let's make tee shirts and hats for the staff and write on them "Customer Service Ambassador" but all those are internally focused. How does a hat help the customer's cause? Umbrella on a rainy day sure does. Show the customer that you care in words and in deed.