A few months ago, a photo of a lanky young shop assistant helping a visually impaired old lady in a UK department store went viral. The picture was taken by customer Toni Gibbs, who posted it on Twitter and also wrote to the store, applauding their employee’s actions. It turns out the assistant, 28-year-old Sam Warren, had noticed the old lady struggling with the stairs, took her to the elevator, then called her a cab and waited with her in the store’s cafe until it arrived.

Sam Warren was totally overwhelmed by the praise heaped upon him, insisting he was just doing his job. Naturally, the store was delighted both with Mr. Warren’s fantastic customer service skills and the pure PR gold it generated.

sam warren

Image courtesy of Toni Gibbs

Contrast this then, with something witnessed by my wife and her cousin recently at a spa in Fiji. They had just managed to snap up the last two available treatment slots and were waiting for their rooms to be prepared when two tourists came in. They politely asked if they could have a massage as they had three hours before their boat departed. The spa wasn’t in the resorts and didn’t appear busy, so you can understand why they thought they might be in luck.

Oh boy, had they picked the wrong place!

The response of the therapist to this daring request?

“Sorry, we’re busy.”

That’s it. A cold blooded emotionless response.

spiderman at desk

After an awkward silence, where no doubt our bewildered tourists were hoping for some crumb of additional information or even an acknowledgement that they existed, they mumbled “OK then,” and left, never to be seen again.

Now, what do you think Sam Warren would have done in this situation?

Why, he would have escorted those tourists to the juice bar, set them up with two young green coconuts while they waited for the next treatment slot to become available. He’d have asked them about their holiday in Fiji, perhaps even given them vouchers for next time they were in the area if he really couldn’t help them today. He’d have bent over backwards to make them feel valued and cared for and appreciated.

Good customer service – it isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense!

An American Express Study tells us that 96% of consumers are more likely to share their bad experience with others.

american express study

Make no mistake, those tourists will share their “You’ll never believe this” story to other people. The spa might as well have taken out an ad saying: “We hate our customers, so don’t come here.”

massage fiji customer service cartoon

Although good customer care comes naturally to the Sam Warrens of this world, some employees need that extra bit of training to get them caring as much as you do. So here are my three take-outs on how to make the best of a similar situation:

1. Thank them for choosing you

We’ve all tried to grab a last minute appointment. You know the chances are slim, but you give it your best shot! Yet getting a “no” feels like a rejection, even if you were expecting it. As a business, you have to cushion the “no”. One simple way is to thank the customer for considering your business in the first place and explain to them why you’re busy. It’s in our nature to seek validation and not accept rejection without reason.

2. Connect at a personal level

I don’t mean asking if they are dating or the name of their cat. But remember your customer is a person, not just a transaction. In the scene witnessed by my wife, it was obvious the customers were tourists. The therapist could have followed up her “no, sorry” by asking about their experiences of Fiji (how long are they here for, where are they staying, can they fit in an alternative day/time) Connecting like this is far more likely to leave potential customers with a positive impression.

3. Shall we meet again?

You can’t help today, but what about another time? Give them your card and ask them to get in touch in advance. Or get their number and call them on a specific day to see if they’re free. Or offer them a discount if they return. If they need an immediate resolution, don’t be afraid to refer to another business you respect. It can be discomforting sending a customer to your competition, but if a referral is what fulfills the customer’s needs, that should be your prevailing motive. I’m a firm believer that good karma comes back to you twofold.

Be like Sam Warren. Make every encounter with a customer a positive experience. Go the extra mile. To quote the prominent words of Roger Staubach (former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback) “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”

And if you can’t help people immediately, then remember the three magic steps: thank them, connect with them and invite them to return. That way, even a rejection can make customers feel all warm and fuzzy, and who wouldn’t want that?

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