Take Out the Papers and the Trash

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“Take out the papers and the trash” were the opening lines of a song by the Coasters that spent weeks in 1958 as the number one hit on the charts. Many teenagers wore out their shoes jitterbugging to “Yakety Yak.” The words hold a strong message for imaginative service.

All service has a certain amount of garbage. And, in a competitive world in which customers demand more value for their diminishing dollar, if you don’t “take out the papers and the trash,” as the words of the hit song go, “You don’t get no spending cash!”

What are the biggest changes in today’s customers? Their expectations are higher, their patience is shorter, and their propensity to go elsewhere with their cash is greater. That should be a wake-up call to ramp up close attention to service garbage–whatever hassles your customers. It means paperwork should be easier; lines should move faster; and customer facing employees should be more helpful. If we get someone at a call center in India or Singapore, he or she should be graded on how well they made the call comfortable…not more rushed or more robotic.

Start a Service Garbage Patrol

Organize a “service garbage patrol” to spot and report places where service is a hassle for customers? Start with the parking lot. Are the parking lot’s users (customers) favored over the parking lot’s owners (your people, especially senior leaders). If the customer’s experience in the parking lot were a picture of your whole service system, what would it tell them about what you value, how you felt about customers, and your real priorities?

Take a close look at the reception area, the entrance, or the security check-in—customer’s earliest encounters with you. Are they user-friendly? Is it easy for customers to figure out where to go, who to see, and what to do? Examine all objects, forms, web sites, systems, or procedures required for all service transactions. Are they clearly written, easily navigated, and really necessary? Will your customers perceive them as customer-focused? The most precious commodity for most customers today is their time – and if you waste it with confusion or discomfort they probably won’t come back for more.

Review the in-bound call process. Is the system large enough and sophisticated enough to handle the call load, easy to understand and use, efficient, and time-effective? Can customers quickly and easily get to a live person if they desire? Are phone encounters rushed to meet some artificial time standard? Is first call resolution a primary goal? If customers must be transferred, how will it feel and sound on their end of the line? What do they experience when put on hold–silence, elevator music, boring advertisements, or long waits? What is the garbage you need to take out?

Kill a Stupid Rule

TD Bank (formerly Commerce Bank in the U.S.) created a “Kill a Stupid Rule” program. Any employee who spotted a rule that kept employees from wowing customers got a fifty dollar reward. Put everyone on notice to spot and find purposeless processes and illogical boundaries. Hold gatherings for people to report their learning’s. Make busting bureaucracy more valued than protecting those “sacred cows” long in need of slaughtering.

It is not unusual for physicians to fall behind on scheduled appointments due to an emergency that ran longer than planned. When possible, Milwaukee-based St. Luke Medical Center patients were contacted to have their appointments rescheduled. However, some patients could not be reached and showed up for an appointment that had to be rescheduled. A group of receptionists came up with a solid solution: they worked out an arrangement with a gas station next to the center to give the patient a $5 gift certificate for gas. The gas station bills the medical center each month for the gift certificates used.

Make it a Calm Day

Making service comfortable is all about making the experience calm, secure and accessible (you can reach the organization easily and when you want to). Customers of Cox’s Dry Cleaners in Dallas know comfort starts with owner Sam Cox. If you need to get your clothes on Sunday when Sam is normally closed, regulars know a call to Sam at home will get him there in a heart beat. He was one of the first in the dry cleaning business in Dallas to put both an after hours keyed drop box in the front of the store and a drive-in pickup service in the back.

Walk in the Four Seasons hotel lobby in Carlsbad, California and near the entrance are a stack of paper cups and two large glass dispensers—one filled with lemon flavored ice water (with large slices of lemon) and one filled with strawberries and watermelon (again, featuring sliced strawberries and chunks of watermelon). What could a fountain do for you entrance? What music could you play that could reduce customer anxiety? What fragrance should customers smell? You can manage the sensory experience of customers. Why not make the experience focus on calm and comfort? What did your realtor tell you about getting your house ready for a showing? Fresh flowers and the smell of fresh apple pie. Your customers deserve the same idea.

Customers have a low tolerance for hassle today. While they do not expect perfection all the time, they return to those organizations that consistently demonstrate a commitment to taking the garbage out of the process of getting service. Service comfort requires vigilance as well as caretaking. It calls for employees willing to raise their hand when they spot customer dissonance. It takes staff members who see continuous process improvement as vital as continuous revenue improvement. And, it requires associates who make preventive maintenance an integral part of their stewardship of the organizations’ resources and reputation.

There seems to be a rise in service garbage. As organizations cut costs, trim staff, and reduce trust in customers, the by-product is more papers and trash littering the service encounter. Be the organization that takes out the trash and your customers will reward you with their spending cash!

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group (chipbell.com) and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.

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