Posted by: Christine Donovan | May 18, 2009

Exceptional Customer Service: Everyone Plays a Role

Delivering exceptional service is an art AND science in itself; it just doesn’t happen magically, as a lot of people seem to believe.  (i.e. If you just smile a lot and say “Can I help you?” you have instant customer service).

I won’t attempt a dissertation about it here (although a potential book has been rolling around in the caverns of my mind), but I think that to do any “customer service” discussion justice, it should begin with a definition.

The concept of “customer service” has a plethora of meanings, especially in this era of call centers, help desks, telemarketing, and internet sales.

Case in point: I recently participated in an evening of Bunco ( ) with some fun and interesting women, and found myself seated at a table with a lady whom I’ll call Michelle. Michelle asked me what I did for a living, so I mentioned that one of my areas of expertise was “customer service consulting and training.”

She said, “Oh! That’s what I do! Customer Service.”

Anticipating the answer to my next question, I asked, “Well that’s a big topic. What kind of service do you do, exactly?”

She looked at me oddly and explained, “Well I work in the Customer Service Department for the (—) Energy Company. My title is ‘Customer Service Rep.” By the tone of her voice and the shrug of her shoulders, apparently I had asked a stupid question.

And, I thought, this is one of the issues upon which the current customer service dilemma is built. Customer service is not a department. It is not a job nor a job title. It is not a call center nor a help desk. Customer service is not conflict resolution; it is not mediation nor negotiation. Customer service is not running a cash register or scheduling appointments or selling a computer.

Customer service is first, the definitive attitude of excellence. Second, it is the implementation of that attitude. And third, it is a commitment to sustaining and expanding upon that high level of excellence. (Per Christine’s Dictionary of Important Definitions, of course). This service attitude permeates throughout every level, nook and cranny of the organization.

In my customer service training programs, I often have a variety of jobs and professions represented in the audience… especially during in-house corporate seminars.  In addition to front-line customer service staff, I might also have IT professionals, landscapers, accountants, engineers, maintenance workers, etc. – a fairly diverse group.

So, I often begin by asking them, “How many of you here are responsible for customer service?”

They will look around the room for a moment, and then the obvious service people from sales, food service, retail, or the call center will raise their hands. So I ask the rest, “Why didn’t the rest of you raise your hands?” And they quickly respond the “obvious” answer – because “We don’t do customer service!”

“Aha!” I tell them, “But you DO!”

At this point there is usually immediate silence.

So I seek more information. To the accountant I say, “Jerry, why don’t you think you are in customer service?” And he will tell me because he works in finance and he only deals with department managers and sometimes employees. (I’ll write about “internal customer service” at another time.)

I ask a few more people – the landscaper, the maintenance guy… and they offer similar answers.

So I draw a small circle in the center of a white board and inside it, I write “CUSTOMERS.” Next, I jot down all the professions represented in the room surrounding the circle. Then I draw an arrow from each job title to the center circle to visually demonstrate everyone has customer service responsibility.

Anyway, this is how you build a corporate culture of service excellence. It has to start with a clear definition of service and who is responsible for it: EVERYBODY, without exception.

How is the engineer, IT guy or accountant responsible for service, you say? Well, I don’t know exactly what each of them does in a typical day, but I would say if the lights go out, or the computers crash, or the elevators break down, one or all of these people have some connection to the incident… and that affects customers. (If you’re wondering what the accountant has to do with the lights going out, keep in mind that bills must be paid on time.)

Also… imagine this scenario. Let’s say you are a guest at a big resort and have been walking around for 10 minutes trying to find the swimming pool. You’re hot, your feet hurt, and you’re getting frustrated. Up ahead you see a landscaper trimming an azalea bush. “Ah!” You think to yourself, “Finally I’ll get some help!”

So you make your way to the landscaper to ask where the pool is. What if he/she responds, “Gee lady, how do I know, I only work this area.” Or, “Que? No Ingles.” Or, “Mister, I’m not supposed to answer guest questions; you’ll have to go to the Front Desk.”

How would you feel about that? Like a “treasured” guest? I doubt it.

And keep in mind that the same situation could develop as the accountant or engineer is walking through the building or property sporting a name tag or badge.  If the customer asks a question and gets an unsatisfactory answer, it is a clear reflection on the entire organization.

So, the first step in leading the customer service experience is DEFINING IT, and assuring that everyone in your business… from the receptionist, to the accountant, to the president (sometimes they can’t answer a question either), is trained and knowledgeable in your service standards.


See you tomorrow…


  1. Well written thoughts. You’re absolutely right that everybody coming into contact with guests should have an understanding of what it means to provide exceptional service, and WHY it is an important part of their job. It’s even better when you have somebody in the dishroom who can envision the spot-free dishes in front of the guest, or in somebody in laundry services who can picture clean, crisp sheets on the guests’ beds the following night. And, it all starts with great leadership…

    • Thanks, Nick. You obviously know customer service! To be an exceptional service company, the concept of service needs to be woven into the entire fabric of the organization — then it becomes part of the “culture”!

      I just visited your blog and think you have some great information out there also. I’ll stop by later and add a comment. Christine

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