A lesson in exceptional customer experience

Recently, you may have seen this great story featured on the news and in your personal social media news feeds. It’s an incredible story about the power of service and its ability to create emotional connections: Target Employees Help Teen Prep for Job Interview

As the story goes, a young North Carolina man was about to go on his first job interview, so he went in to his local Target store to purchase a clip-on tie. But, the store did not sell clip-on ties—only traditional neckties—so the workers went a step above and beyond. First, they assisted the young man by showing him how to put on a traditional necktie. Then, they tucked in his shirt, doled out some advice about looking the interviewer in the eye and offering a firm handshake, and wished him luck before sending him on his way.

What makes this story remarkable is that this great service moment was not shared by the Target company itself—or even by the customer himself—but rather by another customer who happened to be shopping in the store that day. As the customer observed this moment and realized she was witnessing a heartfelt and genuine interaction between the worker and the young man, she snapped a few photos and shared them via her personal social media accounts. And, of course, the rest is history as the photos went viral and appeared on news media outlets worldwide.

So, what business lessons can we take from this?  The power of service lies in its ability to create an emotional connection, rather than a purely rational connection. In the service moment cited above, the Target worker recognized the opportunity to turn a simple transaction (i.e. to help the customer find a tie), into an interaction, resulting in an emotional connection with the customer, and with other customers who were not even directly involved.

This story also demonstrates how social media can so quickly and easily become the vehicle through which customer interactions and service-delivery moments—both good and bad—can be shared worldwide. In other words, now more than ever, organizations must assume that their customer service experience is completely transparent to the public through social media.

Remember, customers will tend to talk about poor service, and they will tend to talk about exceptional service, and they are now using social media to do so in both cases. So, make sure your service is exceptional! And, if you’re curious to know how the young man fared in his interview after he left the Target store, click here to see how the story ends.

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The four secret tenets to creating exceptional customer experience

Creating great customer experience comes down to having great people and treating them well. Looking after your people makes them feel more engaged with your organization and more committed to your service goals. But how do you put principle into practice?These are the four tenets adopted by the best companies.smilepeople7846fyListen to your employees

If you want your employees to take good care of your customers, start by taking good care of your employees. Treating them respectfully and fairly goes without saying. But go a step further, and get personally involved in tackling their issues and needs. Ensure you have formal mechanisms for employees to express their concerns, either at regular open meetings, through anonymous channels such as internal surveys, or via an ombudsman. Then take action. Communicate what you are doing and how long it will take, and involve the employees themselves in the solution. Clearly there are limits to what management can do, but by taking tangible action to address employees’ concerns, you demonstrate the strength of your commitment to your front line.

Hire for attitude, not aptitude

If you want friendly service, hire friendly people. Put another way, you can train for skill, but you can’t train for attitude. Imbibe this conviction in the front-line hiring process. To recruit individuals with a natural service bent, use group interviews. Watching how applicants interact with each other enables the interviewer to assess candidates’ communications and people skills to an extent that wouldn’t be possible in a one-to-one setting. Having hired people with the right attitudes, leaders need to ensure they reinforce the behaviors they want to see.  Leaders actions are visible to all and every leader is telling a story about what they value.

Give people purpose, not rules

To ensure consistent execution across all their operations, large corporations need to define standard operating processes. However, rules and guidelines go only so far. Front-line employees participating in infinitely varied customer interactions won’t always find the answers in manuals. Besides, mechanically following a script saps interactions of authenticity. Instead of detailed lists of process steps, the best companies supply front-line staff with common purpose backed by clear quality standards. Common purpose – a succinct explanation of the customer experience you are trying to create at an emotional level – motivates employees and gives their work meaning. They choose to go that extra mile through personal passion, not passive compliance.

Tap into the creativity of your front line

Giving front-line employees responsibility and autonomy creates a sense of ownership that inspires them to do everything they can to improve the customer experience. When they see a problem, they fix it without waiting to be asked. The best companies recognize that front-line staff are also a rich source of customer insights. They can help leaders understand what customers want – and how to provide it – without the time and expense of market research. To get the most value from these insights, organizations need to build good and robust channels to get information up the hierarchy to leaders who can act on it.

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