What do Sunscreen and Customer Service Have in Common?

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Today, we define the customer experience as a complex maze of myriad options for engaging a customer. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the most important aspect of the customer experience is the one they have with a company’s employees. An IVR with voice recognition is a nice toy, but a friendly and helpful agent that provides a memorable experience is where customers are won or lost.

In Mary Schmich and Baz Luhrmann’s late 1990s cult hit, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen), the audience is advised to “live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” I was reminded of this during a recent trip to San Francisco.

Although I grew up in the South and attended college in the Midwest, the East Coast has been home for the past 10 years and will likely be for the next 10 years. There are many things to love about the East Coast – the proximity to major cities, abundance of historic landmarks, variety of great ethnic cuisines and eclectic neighborhoods, passionate sports fans and public transportation that encourages a colorful nightlife. You really feel like you are in the center of the action at all times.

It is easy to get caught up in life on the East Coast, forgetting that the majority of Americans live outside our frequently frosty confines. You become nearly impervious to the “always busy” personas of people who are nearly as frosty. It took awhile, but I eventually realized that people are not trying to be rude, but such a transient, heterogeneous population does not feel the need to be overly conversational to the millions of locals and tourists that clog thoroughfares or refuse to stand on the right side of the escalator. You’ll never see the same person twice, so why waste time on a first impression?

Back to San Francisco – not exactly Springfield in its own right. The rent is similarly unconscionable, food equally tasty and neighborhoods just as original as anything the East Coast has to offer, but my wife and I were “shocked” by how personable a majority of the people seemed. My wife was suspiciously taken aback by a convenience store clerk who looked her in the eye when he asked how she was enjoying the city and apologized for “such bad weather” (60 degrees and rainy is paradise when it’s snowing back East) and the trolley driver who waited for late passengers who were running to hitch a ride. At one point, I stopped to soak in the sounds of a rush hour in which honking horns did not provide the soundtrack of the evening commute.

Even the rude people were laid back. One influenced bus passenger refused to put a sock in his clarinet, so the bus driver stopped the bus until he exited. What’s nice about that? She did not curse or yell, simply stated that the bus was not moving until he was off the bus. The passenger complained, but did not make threats, only pleaded in vain for a few minutes. Perhaps there was more than air in that musical instrument. In DC, you can believe that other passengers would have made sure that he either left promptly or was unable to ever play the clarinet again.

The sights and sounds of the Bay Area were tremendous, but the helpful and friendly people allowed us to enjoy our trip exponentially more than we anticipated. We were actually relaxed after a vacation for a change and much of that was attributable to the people. I doubt that I will ever live on the West Coast – an eight hour drive to the nearest metropolitan area is part of the reason I fled “flyover country” in the first place. I will be back to spend my hard-earned money as often as possible. If only Europe were not closer than California.

People are more accessible today than ever before. Customer service methods are no longer just an in-person or over-the-phone experience. We are constantly surrounded by people via phone, email, chat, SMS and social media. The less formal nature of these communications is tremendous opportunity for service oriented organizations. Today’s royalty may not dress as regally Elizabethan, but the customer is still king. You can be assured that in a time of outsourced call centers, undertrained agents, and the consistent downward pressure on costs, a simple return to the basics of customer service can elevate your brand.

The best part? You don’t need $1,500 shoes to be memorable.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Koller
Serving as the Senior Business Analyst for VIPdesk, James works with internal teams to develop solutions for new opportunities. He has more than eight years of relevant experience in business analysis, project management, proposal writing and strategy execution. In his free time, James enjoys traveling, reading business and leadership books and cooking foods that he can neither pronounce nor replicate.

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