A Vision of Perfection: The Key to Improving Customer Service

A chat with Ken Blanchard, management trainer, business visionary, and author of several best-selling books, including The One Minute Manager

August 1, 1997

What are the five skills involved in good customer service?

BLANCHARD: The first is to see your job from the customer's standpoint. Empathy is one of the greatest life skills. The second one is to listen to the customers--listen, listen, listen. If the Lord wanted us to speak more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.

Then try to exceed the customer's expectations--that's what "wow" is all about. Going that extra mile is a wonderful life skill. And then recovering when necessary. The easiest way to wow people is to not get defensive when you make a mistake but to focus instead on the customers and see whether you can regain their loyalty.

And finally, the last skill is to have fun with all of these things.

In your book Everyone's a Coach,you and co-author Don Shula talked about the concept of "over learning" and going on what you called "auto pilot." How does that relate to customer service?

BLANCHARD: You have to train your people to treat the customers the way you want.

When Don Shula and I were together in Chicago for a training session with 2,500 people, I asked how many of their businesses had an orientation program that all new employees had to go through before they could show up at their regular work site. Only 10-12 people out of 2,500 said they had such a program, and Shula said, "That's absurd. If I did that in coaching, it would mean that when rookies and free agents came to summer camp, I'd say, 'Here's your locker number. Why don't you go and talk to your teammates and see how we do things around here?' "

If you're going to wow your customers, customer service has to start right at the moment that people walk in. You have to make customer service a major priority in everything you do.

Another point you bring up is the idea of creating a perfect vision based on the customer. How does that fit into everyday relationships with the customers?

BLANCHARD: Vince Lombardi said that if you don't go for perfection, you never have a chance at excellence; and what Shula's really saying is that you need a vision of perfection about anything you do.

In terms of your customers, what that means is that if you had anything to do with it, how would they be treated? If a friendly television show was coming in to do a story about howyou were wowing customers, what would the crew see? What would people be saying? What would they be doing? And how can you create that vision of perfection?

And it doesn't mean that you're going to do it perfectly every time. But if you don't have a sense of how customers should be greeted, how the phone should be answered, what you should do when you make a mistake, and all the other things that go into dealing with customers, you never have a chance of even getting near perfection.

You mentioned anticipating tomorrow's customers. How can people go about that? They have to be thinking ahead at the same time that they're working today. How do you anticipate what tomorrow's customers will need?

BLANCHARD: A good deal of that has to do with looking at where technology is going. One of the things I talked about in Mission Possibleis that this is the first time in the history of business that you can be fabulous at what you're doing today and be out of business tomorrow.

A company like Blockbuster--I can't imagine anybody in five years renting videos when you can just order them from your TV at a cheaper price. Now, if the people at Blockbuster aren't looking at what they're going to do with all those retail stores in the future, and understanding that they're in the communication business, not in the video rental business,they're going to be in trouble. Even take something like the post office. I mean, can you imagine mailmen still around in 10 years? How much are people going to be using the mail in the traditional way?

So you have to think about what the needs are going to be out there, what kind of customers you're going to have, and how you can possibly respond to those needs and serve them well.

Tell me about "deliver plus one." What does that mean?

BLANCHARD: What it really means is that once you have a vision of how good you want to be in serving your customers, and once that vision is part of what you think you want to do, and you listen to customers and bring those ideas together, what you need to do is "deliver plus one."

What I mean by that is really get good at executing the vision you have. And the "plus one" means that you constantly want to get a little bit better.

But you want to be careful not to do too many things at the same time. A lot of companies get confused about the difference between services and service. Services are something you provide your customers, like valet parking. Service is how you go about doing that. I've been at restaurants that have valet parking but haven't taken time to train the people, and they go whipping through the parking lot leaving rubber on the road. People aren't going to be excited about that particular service.

So you want to constantly improve, but don't add things before you're ready to deliver on them.

Ken Blanchard talked to Today's REALTOR® from the site of a customer service seminar, which was part of the Lessons in Leadership international teleconference series.

For information on upcoming Lessons in Leadership teleconferences near your location, call 800/689-9771 or fax 800/233-0937.

Who Is Ken Blanchard?

Ken Blanchard is chairman of Blanchard Training and Development Inc., a management training and consulting company that he and his wife, Marjorie Blanchard, founded in 1979 in San Diego.

He received worldwide recognition for the best-selling book The One Minute Manager, coauthored with Spencer Johnson. His most recent book is Mission Possible: Becoming a World-Class Organization While There's Still Time. Some of his other books include Everyone's a Coach, coauthored with Don Shula, and Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute, coauthored with John P. Carlos and Alan Randolph.

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