John DiJulius | Customer Experience Blog

World Class Starts at the Top


World Class Starts at the Top


There are two primary reasons why many companies will never dramatically improve their customer service levels:

1) Executive Sponsorship, and 2) Service Aptitude at the top.

Executive Sponsorship – It is a proven fact that any big initiative, project, or revolution has to have the support of the senior leadership team, otherwise it is flavor-of-the-month or management-by- bestseller. The senior leadership team has to provide the necessary resources to create long-lasting change and move the dial. That isn’t just writing a check or increasing the budget for customer service. It is having someone in charge of the project, i.e. a CXO (Chief Xperience Officer), who is dedicated and loses sleep at night over the customer experience program and the results. The customer experience is a staple that is talked about every time the CEO/President speaks. People know they mean business.

Service Aptitude at the Top – Typically when I get done speaking at a conference, I get two types of questions from attendees.

1) Can we really get our front-line employees to buy into this and treat customers better? I respond with, “Absolutely. If you follow the 10 Commandments, you will create a world-class customer experience organization. It takes time, but be relentless.”

2) How can I get my boss, my president, my CEO to buy into this? And I respond with, “Have him or her come to my next presentation, and get them What’s the Secret?“. But what I am really thinking is, “You are sunk.” If the top people/person don’t passionately believe in service, the company will never embody it. Yes, every CEO preaches service, incorporates it somewhere in their annual address, but that is just lip service. There is a reason why their customer service is poor; many CEO’s do not make it a priority, only focusing on sales and operations and they truly do not understand the magnitude of the competitive advantage that being World-Class at service provides (see smoking gun article).

Worst of a bad bunch – The CEO of Spirit Airlines is a perfect example. Spirit Airlines leads the airline industry when it comes to customer complaints. That is tough. We are talking about the airline industry, and very few like their airline (except Southwest & Virgin passengers). You have to be pretty bad to be the worst. And worse than that, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said, “That’s an irrelevant statistic”!

The Customer Service Hall of Shame – Spirit reached a new low a few weeks ago when a 76-year-old Vietnam veteran and former Marine tried to get his $197 back after learning his esophageal cancer is terminal and being told by his doctor not to fly from Florida to Atlantic City. Airline officials told him to forget it, and Baldanza reaffirmed the company’s hardline in an exclusive interview. “A lot of our customers buy that insurance and what Mr. Meekins asked us to do was essentially give him the benefit of the insurance when he didn’t purchase the insurance,” Baldanza said. “Had we done that, I think it really would’ve been cheating all the people who actually bought the insurance … and I think that’s fundamentally unfair.”

Baldanza will NOT be speaking at this year’s Secret Service Summit – It is safe to say that The DiJulius Group will not be reaching out to Mr. Baldanza to present at the 2012 Secret Service Summit. We are talking about $197! The social media has exploded over this controversial topic. Within days, there was a Boycott Spirit Airlines page that has over 40,000 likes. Customers pay extra for each additional service or amenity, including a new policy unveiled this month in which they will pay $100 for carry-on bags that go in overhead bins.  You can’t believe it until you  read the entire article and you can watch the interview with Baldanza.

The Customer Service Hall of Fame – Restaurants Unlimited Inc (RUI), a client of The DiJulius Group, is headquartered in Seattle and owns 20 different brands in 46 locations. They are a great example of a true commitment to creating a customer service revolution. It starts with executive sponsorship and high service aptitude at the top, which is exactly what President/CEO, Chris Harter, demonstrates better than most. Chris Harter, who was the former President of Levy Restaurants, was named President of a 44 year old restaurant chain in the past year. In 2011, under different management, RUI had 117 strategic action plans. In 2012, under Harter’s leadership, RUI has ONE: to become a World-Class Customer Experience Organization, from top to bottom. At their annual GM conference in Phoenix, AZ, in April, I had the pleasure of helping them launch their new Service Vision — TO MAKE EVERY GUEST FEEL LIKE OUR ONLY ONE. This is supported with their Pillars and Never and Always, non-negotiable list.

Service Vision


Never & Always


Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, re-read Rule 1  

John R. DiJulius III best-selling author, consultant, and keynote speaker, is the President of The DiJulius Group, the leading customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on customer experience trends and best practices. Learn more about The DiJulius Group or The Secret Service Summit, America’s #1 Customer Service Conference.

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