John DiJulius | Customer Experience Blog

Cracking the Code to World-Class Service

What’s the Secret to why many businesses struggle with a team of 15, 50, or 125 while companies like Disney, Nordstrom, and The Ritz-Carlton get tens of thousands of employees to consistently execute world-class customer service?

     Look at front-line employees, the ones counted on to deliver service, and time and again you will see two trends:

      1.      Lack of service aptitude, and

      2.      Declining people skills.

Lack of Service Aptitude

What is superior service? The answer depends on the person you ask because without proper soft skill training, it’s relative to one’s life experience. If I ask you what is world-class, you may think of a five-star hotel, but if I ask the front-line employee you just hired about his or her best hotel experience, it may be Red Roof Inn.

      Webster’s Dictionary defines common sense as “one’s judgment based on their perception of the situation.” Essentially, your employees’ ideas of superior customer service are based on their experiences of customer service. The level of customer service a person is innately capable of giving is relative to his (or her) life experiences up to that point. Where has he traveled and been? What has he experienced? What manners and code of behavior was he taught at home? In all likelihood, there is a huge discrepancy between your vision of customer service and your new employee’s vision. He ­doesn’t know how others, namely your customers, want to be treated. You need to be prepared to train your front-line employees to recognize how others want to be treated. This book tells you how to do it.


Don’t blame me for giving lousy customer service, how should I know?

—Your new front-line employee


      Would you hire a banker to perform heart surgery on a family member? Would you hire a biologist to do your tax returns? No! And why not? Because neither has the formal training nor are they certified or licensed. Then why do you expect employees to know how to deliver customer service? None have had any formal training or have been certified. It isn’t a class we took in high school. There certainly is no one majoring in customer service in college.

      Most businesses conduct interviews with job applicants (hopefully more than just one interview per prospect) where the applicants smile a lot, provide glowing references, and respond properly to questions. So they hire them. Then it is discovered that the new employee has absolutely no concept of how to take care of a customer or how to defuse a simple problem, let alone how to think on his or her feet in a crisis and make things right for the customer. This leads to management being disappointed in the employee’s lack of good judgment and then we have turnover and the cycle continues with their replacement.

      Front-line employees in nearly every industry make between $7 to $20 per hour. You don’t typically see them flying first-class, driving luxury cars, or staying at five-star resorts. Yet, many managers, supervisors, and owners expect these front-line employees to deliver that level of service to customers who are accustomed to those types of experiences.

      This ­doesn’t mean that we should pay front-line employees $100,000. Nor do we need to restrict our hiring to people who have certain types
of backgrounds. The ability to deliver world-class service has everything to do with a person’s service aptitude, and that can be learned and improved. The customer service level of your organization is based on the service aptitude of your employees, starting with your management team down to your front-line employees who have the most contact with your customers.

Service aptitude is a person’s ability to recognize opportunities to exceed a customer’s expectations, regardless of the circumstances.


      The key to that definition is the last four words, “regardless of the circumstances.” High service aptitude is not as critical on your slowest day of the week or on a day when everything is running smoothly. True service aptitude is revealed in a difficult situation, such as when you are short-staffed, or in a crisis, or when service recovery is needed.

       In most cases, our most recently hired, least-trained, lowest-paid employee deals with our customers the most! Although most people enter the business world with a very low service aptitude, it can increase dramatically with the proper training in soft skills to start with and with continuous training in customer service. Unfortunately, most companies spend the vast majority of their training on the technical side of the job, usually because they are hiring reactively, filling an empty position with a warm body.

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