High Altitude CX


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Encouragement and practical wisdom for those ascending the mountain to better customer service.

If you’ve never been to Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s one for your bucket list.  The 5.5 mile trek up the mountain along the iconic Alum Cave trail is as breathtaking as it is challenging.  What makes this particular hike unique, however, is the unexpected treasure you’ll find at the top.  LeConte Lodge seems to come out of nowhere as you break through the trees and enter a small clearing.  At 6,360 feet, it brings new meaning to staying in the penthouse.  I had found a rocking chair with a fantastic view, when just a few yards to my right I was privy to a high-altitude customer service lesson.

How does one obtain food and supplies for 35 guests on the top of a mountain?  Pack IMG_7097 - Copysmall2llamas of course!  A small herd of llamas forms the epicenter of culture for the lodge.  Not only are they essential in the most practical sense, but they are also mountain celebrities.  People could not get enough of these four legged, backpack-bearing creatures.  One group of day hikers from the mid-west was especially curious.  As they approached the animals (getting far closer than I dared to go), out came The Shepherd of the Llamas to protect his herd.

In many ways, The Llama Shepherd was exactly what you would expect of a person who lived in a mountaintop lodge.  A huge beard, earth tone clothing, and Teva sandals were a few of his Appalachian attributes.  One thing, however, set this man apart quite definitively.  On his left leg was a giant brown tattoo of a llama.  He clearly loved these furry creatures more than many parents love their own children.  I braced myself for a sharp reprimand as the tourists encroached on the animal’s personal space.  After all, they were not even overnight guests of the lodge, but just dime-a-dozen day hikers.2014-09-19 15.59.14 - Copysmall

I was shocked at what actually transpired.  The shepherd welcomed them with enthusiasm…answering a barrage of questions, allowing them to be touched, and even helped the tourists with their llama selfies.  With all the people wandering around atop this mountain, it really struck me how polite, patient, and personal this man was.  It challenged me to think about how we treat customers in our service environment.  Here are two wisdom nuggets from the Llama Shepherd:

Find the thing you really want to share with other people, and support that! – It may not be pack animals, but you’ve got a thing.  It’s fairly easy for many service professionals to fake a smile or warm tone (at least for a period of time.)  What you can’t fake is a sense of pride in a product or service.  If you truly believe in it, customers will discover this and it will resonate with them in a powerful way.

If you cannot authentically stand behind the thing you are supporting, ask yourself how you can be a change agent to make it better.

Keepin’ it Fresh – The Llama Shepard encountered dozens of people every day oohing and aahing over his burdened beasts.  Even so, he brought energy and enthusiasm to each of them.  In many cases, CSR’s who get the same question over and over again will burn out very quickly.  As a customer, I am often frustrated by the robotic nature of a “broken record rep.”  Find ways to keep it fresh with each interaction.  Perhaps it is a game you play with yourself or a conversational question that you ask to different customers to learn about them.  As a manager, I try to bring variety to my agents through gamification, unique projects, and unexpected rewards.  Customers will notice these things and leave the transaction engaged and refreshed.


Whether your service center is on the top of a mountain or the bottom of the sea, customers deserve to be treated well.  Hats off to you, Llama Shepherd!  May you never lose your zeal for furry creatures or great customer service!

Nate Brown
Nate Brown is a perpetual student of the world’s greatest experiences and the people who create them. Having spent the first decade of this career managing a complex technical support environment for Occupational Health and eLearning software, Nate transitioned to Customer Experience 2015. After authoring The CX Primer, Brown was dubbed the “CX Influencer of the Year” by CloudCherry in 2019. As a passion project, Nate created CX Accelerator, a first-class virtual community for Customer Experience professionals. Nate currently serves as the Chief Experience Officer for Officium Labs.


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