Feature Article - April 2002
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The Art of Customer Service

What goes around comes around when you give customer relations more than lip service

By Elisa Kronish

Go the extra smile

If you want to be known for great customer service, you can't just meet expectations, you have to exceed them. But it might not be as hard—or as costly—as it sounds. The CEO of KOA Campgrounds recently presented a talk about wowing customers, and he discovered something that might surprise you.

"He asked the audience how many people have had a wow customer service," says Lori Regele, a Billings, Mont.-based KOA customer service coordinator. "It turned out that the little things were what make the customer feel special. It can be simple; it doesn't have to cost a lot."

For example, after the tragedies of Sept. 11, the CEO sent out coupons to value cardholders for a free night's stay.

"Kind of a get-back-to-the-basics-with-your-family, think about the good things in life, and thanks," explains Regele, who saw complimentary letters to KOA increase as a result.

"You don't have to give the customer everything free," Nasser reiterates. "But you do have to make them feel special."

She says if a guest checking into a hotel has lost his luggage, "Ask him, 'What can we do? Can I offer you a shirt and sandals to sit by the pool?'" These are small things but, Nasser says, "You become the person who took away the customer's pain, and that could produce revenues far beyond the cost of a shirt."

The last line of The Ritz-Carlton Credo states that an experience there "fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests." Although the company is willing to spend money to achieve this goal—like the two years spent developing a guestroom child safety program—it doesn't usually have to spend much at all.

"In the restaurant, if a meal comes out and it's not to the customer's liking, that doesn't mean you have to comp their stay," Marlow says. "Ask the customer what they would want, maybe they would just want a glass of wine," she says.

Another easily implemented—and cost-free—service idea is stated among The Ritz-Carlton's 20 service Gold Standards: "Escort guests rather than pointing out directions to another area of the hotel." And another motivates phone etiquette: "Answer within three rings and with a 'smile.'"

Good Service Resources

The Ritz-Carlton Learning Institute


Get information on
workshops and speakers.

Purdue University Center for Customer-Driven Quality


Find out about conferences focused on service issues,
membership information and best practices.

CAS, Inc., Kate Nasser


Get information on workshops, consolation
and speaking engagements.

American Society for Training and Development


50 Powerful Ideas You Can Use to Keep Your Customers

by Paul R. Timms, Ph.D.

301 Great Customer Service Ideas

edited by Nancy Artz