The call that came in was a regular call. A customer notified the dealership that he would bring in his car for service. The request, however, was very unusual. The customer requested a loaner car but not just any loaner car, the top of the line loaner car, a Mercedes S550. The truth is that the Mercedes S550 is not available as part of the loaner fleet. The dealership usually provides lower-level C class vehicles instead.
This request was a moment of truth.
The service advisor could easily dismiss the request by citing the policy “the S class vehicles are not in the loaner fleet. I am really sorry sir.”
Instead, the service advisor approached the customer in a genuine and friendly manner and asked: “May I ask why would you require an S class loaner?” He took a personal interest.
The customer then proceeded to explain that he was diagnosed with cancer and his treatment appointments are 3 hours away from his home. He was hoping to drive the S class, a sturdier vehicle that delivers a smoother less painful drive.
Another moment of truth. Now what?
The service adviser asked the customer to give him an hour. He then called back to confirm he was able to secure an S class vehicle from the certified pre-owned inventory. The service advisor then offered to go and exchange the vehicles at the customer’s home. So far pretty nice.
The following day as they exchanged the vehicles, the service adviser told the customer, “Today sir, I will be your driver. I will take you to the hospital and wait for you until your treatment is over so I can take you back home. We also arranged a meal for you in the back seat.” The customer was stunned. He began to cry and expressed immense gratitude.
This story is one of 5,000 stories we curated during our customer experience transformation with Mercedes Benz dealerships across the USA. We unified 25,000 employees around a commitment to excellence and away from a sole focus on consistency.
For years, customer service operations have focused on a consistent response to customers. Adherence to policy reign supreme and customer service agents were expected to be fast and efficient. With the rise of self-service, apps and digital transformation, we have experienced a very different type of engagement.
Organizations that are engaged in digital transformation are practically outsourcing their customer service to their customers. They expect customers to serve themselves in the name of convenience. While it has merit, digital transformation has a crucial side effect. It reduces the value delivered by the organization to the customer, who is loyal to those who serve them. If customers serve themselves, they see little reason to pay high prices or stay loyal with a certain brand.
To combat this side effect, we usher the era of excellence delivering exceptional service at the moments of truth. Moments of truth are moments where the typical service tools do not apply. They are moments when there is a unique situation or when a human need emerges. A moment of truth is when customer service ought to evolve and rise up to a different type of response - a human solution. A solution that recognizes the unique circumstances and crafts a bespoke solution to the problem in front of us.
Working with hundreds of organizations in transforming their service operations worldwide, we learned that consistency is often the enemy of excellence. Employees learn to follow processes blindly. They often feel frustrated with policy compliance, knowing that as human beings and customers, they would resent a company that enforces the policy.
To evolve from consistency to excellence, organizations ought to provide employees with a safe environment where they can be courageous and listen to the person before they listen to complain. Focus on the emotional narrative and then empower employees to solve problems in a unique way. Give them permission to think and behave differently. Excellence in service is dependent on the ability to customize, personalize and craft a unique human-centric solution.
Every company has one or two hero stories like the one I cited above. The key is to move from a few heroes to a culture of heroes. Every employee ought to feel that they have permission to be amazing. Employees should feel that they are empowered and be inspired to deliver uniquely human solutions to customers. That was our goal when we worked with Mercedes Benz — to create a culture of heroes. A culture where employees dare to go outside the framework of policies and consistency, and better yet, are excited to deliver exceptional service.
Just issuing a memo to tell people to focus on excellence, will not be sufficient. After years of operating in the consistency framework, many employees become well trained to ignore unique requests and just stir customers back to the policies.
The shift from consistency to excellence requires several steps:
- Define what excellence is, what it looks like and how to achieve it
- Identify the empowerment toolkit you are willing to provide employees
- Train employees to listen to the emotional aspect of customers’ request
- Role-play difficult situations to develop confidence
- Publicize examples of excellence as the new standard
- Measure and track customer excellence stories
Excellence does not happen by posters and announcements. It requires a dedicated effort to uproot old behaviors and provide productive conditions for employees to activate excellence.
One lesson we learned on organizational transformation journeys from consistent service to excellent service is that most employees have it within them. The story I shared above was not a script. The employee didn’t have an “excellent service annual” to draw from. He drew upon his human experience. He had it within him. All he needed was an environment that encouraged and expected him to do what was best for the customer. He had the confidence and safety net that his decision would be respected no matter what.
It’s time to remove the obstacles of the old consistency service mindset and clear the runway for employees to take off and deliver above and beyond excellent service. Customers expect it and employees will be exhilarated to deliver it. They will gain a new sense of purpose and meaning in their life.
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