Customer service gives business its true value. It’s more than just giving clients what they need, or making them feel important; it’s creating respect and trust in the company-customer relationship. And yes, we all have the power to step up and create more value to clients, colleagues, and even simple enquirers.
And in this very special one on one interview, Ron Kaufman, customer service guru , motivational speaker and international bestseller, discusses how creating customer service value can change the lives of business-from being merely operational, to becoming fully functional.
Ron Kaufman has been living in Singapore for almost 20 years, and he has served as a customer service consultant for many of today’s global businesses. He is currently a New York Times bestseller, via his new book, Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues and Everyone Else You Meet.
In this podcast, Ron highlights the simple ways in which we can add value to customer service. It’s pretty surprising that these actions are way easy to implement, and how big the change they can make not only in companies, but as well as the whole business environment. He also touches on how social media has changed the quality of customer service, and how its platforms can be utilized to further promote customer service value.
Listen/download the interview here.
Total read time (bold highlights): 5 minutes
Total read time (whole transcript): 25-30 minutes
Check out the interview below:
Clement: Hi this is Social Media Hub today we have a very special guest, Ron Kaufman, international bestseller, uplifting service, the proven path to delighting your customers, colleagues, and everyone else you meet.
Ron’s book is New York Times’ bestseller, and he’s been based in Singapore for nearly two decades already. He has been a consultant and educator for Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport, and Marina Bay Sands and also to Singapore agencies. Ron, welcome to the show.
Ron: It is a pleasure to be with you.
Clement: Ron, firstly, the big question: what got your started championing customer service?
Ron: I am one of those very fortunate people in the world who got turned on to actually taking care of other people when I was very young. my grandmother taught kindergarten for 40 years and so I had the privilege of seeing her take care of classrooms full of kids and their parents who would come to drop them off and pick them up and I was in her class… so she really role modeled for me on how uplifting it can be when you put your energy on what’s in it for me, but instead you focus on what I can do for you. And the thing that’s so uplifting with my grandmother is not just what she did for other people, but her own energy level was incredible. It was like every day of her life was a gift and she was delighted to wake up and do it, and that impacted me very much as a very young person, and I carried it in my heart ever since.
Clement: Yes I can see that and I can see the spark. That spark that your grandmother had translates in your book especially. In your book particularly, the way you translate that energy into a particular architecture in building and uplifting service culture.
Ron: When you talk about architecture, it is a language used in engineering; it’s used in construction and development of things that stand and offer a lot of value. I think it’s a very important perspective to use when we talk about service and building a service culture. Because for too many people in the world, you use the word service and they go “oh that’s the soft part of business.” when you say the word culture, and they think it even more fluffy. It’s not a constructive point of view, and that doesn’t have to be that way. And in the book, uplifting service, when I talk about what I teach, is how do the global best practice organizations, like Singapore Airlines, like Changi airport. How do they architect and engineer a powerful service culture that gives them a sustainable competitive advantage not only with their customers in terms of their reputation and customer loyalty, but also with their staff, so that they attract the best people, they keep the best people, they retain and develop the best people with a strong service culture.
So the architecture for building that is actually taught inside my book, uplifting service.
Clement: To expand the point of architecture, there is this point that’s really interesting, that SIA’s really one of the world’s best, but for one aspect of their business, and that’s the immigration point. Can you tell us more about how using that architecture found that problem and solved it?
Ron: So you’re talking about Changi International Airport and there is a particular perception point at the immigration counter where 40 million visitors a year are going through immigration handing over their passports and the airport wanted to be sure that perception point, that moment of interaction with passengers was considered a positive one, or a friendly one. Well, let’s understand it; immigration’s job is really a regulatory function. They are a government authority, so their job is not only to smile and make you happy. They have a regulatory function to fulfill. So the airport got innovative. What they did was to put on the counter a box of sweets. and that simply says “Welcome to Changi Airport, enjoy the experience,” and now all the immigration officers have to do after asking for your passport is to point to that box and say one word: sweet. And in that unexpected moment, people smile, they see that the airport is doing something to make them smile and feel good, and of course the friendly score shot up. What does this have to do with the architecture? In building an uplifting service culture, there are three fundamental areas. One is a foundation of service education. The other is a top of service leadership, and in the middle of these two elements are what I call the 12 building blocks of service culture. And anyone listening to this they would want to see the architecture can find it easily in upliftingservice.com.
Well one of those 12 building blocks talks about creating an experience for your customers that is uplifting at each point, at each moment. And what you pointed at Changi Airport is simply an example for doing that in an innovative way.
Clement: That is really interesting. Before reading your book, Uplifting Service, I didn’t perceive this as a conscious decision by the company to put this small box of sweets. I thought it was more like an afterthought and it’s really interesting how a company has a conscious decision to the customers and such as small perception points do make a bulk of change by having just small steps taken by the company. And I think this really leads to the next question. Because right now, feedback is very immediate, and feedback can be done via feedback forms, but now with Facebook, through social media, Twitter. What do you think first from the company’s side, how has social media changed how customer service is being delivered?
Ron: What a fantastic opportunity social media has created. As you said, now the customers are able to comment on the quality of service that they receive exactly that they receive it. When in the past maybe I had to write a letter of complaint, or make a phone call and try to get through to somebody to make a compliment, it’s not that way anymore. We can tweet a complaint or a compliment right on the spot. and that gives the company the opportunity, if they are listening to also be able to respond on the spot, not only to that particular customer, but also to that particular point of delivery where they can fix a problem, they can take care of an upgrade, they can put more staff there, so that other customers who come along that same point will have a positive experience as well.
Clement: I see…
Ron: There is another side to social media of course that people would use social media as a space not to communicate with the company, but to communicate with the universe of all other customers and share their opinion, and from that standpoint the customer has already become significantly empowered. And companies must now realize that the balance of power has shifted and be even more attentive and be listening to the voice of the customer as it shows up on social media.
Clement: Moving this forward, about people being the source of influence, what should companies do? Because now the customer is empowered, but what if the customer is not right? How should they deal with it?
Ron: That’s a great question, and that just doesn’t apply to social media, but to all of us all the time. When someone comes with a complaint, the number one thing that they want is to feel right. It’s even more important for them to feel right than to actually be taken care of in terms of the action. Let me give you an example. if you are married, or in a relationship with someone, and your partner comes to you with a complaint, and your response is no no no, that’s not right, excuse me, but you’re about to have an explosion at home. but what you do when your spouse or partner is actually wrong, they made a mistake, they get their facts mixed up, their exaggerating, sometimes customers even lie, but when they come to you with a complaint like that, you make them feel right, by agreeing with them with whatever it is that they value.
So let’s say for example that a customer complains on Facebook, and says “that company is really slow! I waited for so long, bla bla bla.” well, let’s say you’re that company and you did your research and the customer never gave you the accurate delivery information, the customer didn’t provide the right payment details, that’s why things were delayed. Rather than going back to that customer and say “hey, it was late because of you, you’re wrong!” don’t do that. What you can do instead is say “hey customer, you have a really good point. Speed is important. We agree with you that you should get very fast delivery every time you order. We’ve looked into your situation, and in order to deliver for you quickly like you deserve, we need the accurate delivery information.” but notice I never made the customer feel wrong. In fact, I deliberately made that customer feel right.
Clement: I see. This kind of customer service, is there any difference between a B2B company, or a B2C company?
Ron: Yes. In a B2B situation, it’s normal to have many more layers of contact between a contact organization and the product provider. So for example, you could have the sales person, then the finance department, a delivery team, the operations, training, service support, installation. In a b2b environment, you have more than 1 person communicating with more than 1 person. So the reputation of the organization is then dependent upon numerous people within the organization to create a positive experience. That means that you need everybody inside an organization to educate and understand the importance of delivering uplifting service. It can’t just be the person at the point of sale. It can’t just be the person at the service counter, which is often at a B2C situation.
Clement: So it’s really more layers and really more effort, and much more coordinated and concerted effort must be done in a B2B customer service level.
Ron: Yes that’s true, and it’s also true when companies start to look at their customers not on a transactional basis, like how much money did they make. But rather, is this the first time we’ve ever met that customer? what did they get from us in the past, why did they purchase what they did, how can we help them get more value from it, what kind of offer or upgrade can we extend to them that would have them come back to us again, how can we support them to make sure that they can get the best possible value from whatever it is that they purchased from us. All of what I just said is not happening just in the moment of purchase. It’s extending the lifetime of that relationship into a service partnership, and that means many more points of contact.
Clement: Got it. And in your book, Uplifting Service, there are many great actionable steps. For audiences who haven’t read your book yet, what is the one action step can our listeners take really action right now and find immediate results?
Ron: Great. Well, the number one thing that I point people to is why are those two words the title of the book. What does it mean, to offer someone uplifting service? I want to start with the word service, and talk about a clear definition. To me, service is taking action, to create value for someone else. in other words, service is “what can I do that someone else can value or appreciate, that will make them successful, that will give them more value, that will help them succeed, that will help them achieve what they want in their lives.
Uplifting is “what can I do that would deliver one step more value than they expect”. what can I do to offer one step greater value that they can from me last time?” uplifting service is not just meeting customer expectations; uplifting service is I’m going to meet your expectations but I want to do something more. I don’t want to just satisfy you. I want to do something that would make you feel uplifted. so the number one action that I think anybody in any situation, any time could apply, would be to do what you’re going to do in a way that will leave the other person, customer or the colleague feeling better with what you did for them.
And when you’re writing an email, it simply means putting a nice note in the end that says “p.s. thanks so much for having this opportunity to serve you, I really hope you have a great day.” if you’re on a phone call, before you hang up, you say “thanks a lot for this opportunity, I really hope you have a great day, anything else I can do for you” -with a smile on your voice. If you’re face to face, it could be a compliment you could give to them, a nice connection eye to eye. something that lets the other human being know that you care about the experience they’re having, more than just fulfilling their KPI or following your procedure.
Clement: Got it, got it. Hmm… this thing about KPIs really lead to the next question. You know for big companies how can management draw a link from what you spoke in your book “unbelievable service” and link that to investments, link that to resource allocation. For companies who are not big in customer service, how can you make sure that management like this works, and how do you convince, and how should it happen?
Ron: you’ve asked the most powerful question that most people in business struggle with and that’s “what is the ROI in improving our service? Is that what we should really do?”
I want to answer this in a really solid way. A ROI to many leaders is increase in customer sales, increase in profitability, increase in stock price, increase in share of wallet, increase in share of market, and that’s totally legitimate. All those are the ultimate objective in business. But there is a precursor to that, something that is a valid leading indicator to getting those ultimate objectives and that is and that would be your scores are going up. Customer satisfaction score goes up, customer loyalty score goes up, net promoter score goes up, employee engagement score goes up-if all those continue going up, you’re going to have that bigger share of wallet and share of market. But wait, there’s a leading indicator in having your survey scores go up, and that’s getting lots of compliments.
If your customers and your staff are giving you positive feedback, giving you good compliments, and you’re getting a lot of them, then you know you’re scores are gonna go up and you’ll achieve your ultimate objective. Now, here’s the final point: what is the precursor, what is the leading indicator of getting positive comments, of getting compliments and constructive positive feedback?
Well somebody has to do something that’s new or different, that a customer or a colleague will actually give you that compliment. So in other words, the place to focus is: are we doing enough new things that are causing people to give us new compliments that are leading to the higher scores that are earning us the ultimate objectives. so rather than people saying “show me the ROI,” and looking at the stock price and share of wallet, they should say, show me the ROI, how many new things have we done for our customers this week? How many new ideas have we implemented? How many new actions have we taken? That’s the place to focus to get the ROI.
Clement: Got it. And speaking about constant improvement, in your book you’ve spoke about the escalator system, where what is desired becomes expected, and there everything would just drop or atrophy. How will, with a much bigger involvement with digital, bigger involvement with mobile, how will it affect customer care, customer service, and really delivering unbelievable customer experience change, alter in the next 2-3 years.
Ron: As the world becomes more digital, become more mobile, the expectations to have questions answered, to be able to fulfill requirements and get things done, is going to continue to climb. What that means is that from a service provider side, we must educate, empower and enable people throughout the organization to be able to work and serve in that digital space.
Let me give you an example. in the old world, when you’re staying in a hotel and you want to make a big dinner reservation, or you want to get tickets to a theater, or you want to travel from one point or another, the person that you could usually to ask would be the concierge. And the concierge’s job is usually to know how to call, where to go, which map to use, what was the short cut, etc. but today, people can answer those questions themselves using their own phones, or using a tablet, or using a computer. What then is the role of the concierge? Well if I walk up to the concierge with a question, the first thing that I would want the concierge to ask me is to say, “Have you got a mobile? Are you on android, blackberry, apple, windows? Great! Let me help you” and then pick up his or her version of the device and beam an answer to my phone. Or be able to take my phone and show me “here you go; I just downloaded for you the app that you’re gonna want, that will help you navigate through the city. And oh, by the way, I’ve loaded my contact card on your contacts, and I put it in speed dial so if you need something, you can dial 1 number and I will answer your call. Concierges were never taught to do those 5 years ago. Yes that’s a huge transformation, and it just doesn’t apply to the concierge, it applies to all of us.
Clement: Got it got it. So I see that the concierge moved from a content library of knowledge into the conduit of the content, adding a personal touch between the knowledge and also the user. Speaking about this, what is the very unique experience that you just shared from the two decades of customer service, meeting clients worldwide, what’s really the best customer service that stuck to you?
Ron: Well, what really stuck to me was the one that I decided to stick to for the rest of my life and to be honest it’s my wife. I met my wife in Australia, when I was there scuba diving with whale sharks. And she was actually managing a scuba diving shop where I was the customer. So there I am on vacation walking into this shop, when I saw this attractive gal behind the counter, and she was taking care of people, and over the course of the week I got to see her a number of times and after a while I wanted to see her a lot, and one day I walked in and I saw that she wasn’t having the best day, you know. Something must have been going on in the company and she was not in her 100%. And while I see that, and now she allowed me to see it because I was already a familiar face, all of a sudden a German couple came into the Australian dive shop with a question. This woman looked down, then looked back up with a beaming smile on her face, and greeted the German couple with “Hi how can help you today?”
And from that moment of totally letting go of whatever was going on for her personally, and focusing herself totally on giving value for the customer, I looked at that woman and said, “Wow, this person understands uplifting service. I need a service partner like that in my life.” and let me tell you, I was after her like-whoa! And it worked!”
Clement: And that’s a whole new different book now together!
Ron: And I just want to say, the last thing that you look at the book Uplifting Service is the acknowledgements section, and that’s true. That book that just hit the New York Times bestseller, USA Today, Amazon, Barnes and Noble –that book may not have come into existence if it wasn’t for the phenomenal service that I get from my wife.
Clement: You know, talking about your book, what really struck me was the front cover. You’re living your motto by uplifting service and really delivering an unbelievable experience. I noticed blue ink on your book, and I said “Hey, I don’t remember him signing it” and that small personal touch really made an emotional impact… I thought it was really special, no other authors or copiers of the books I have did that. I noticed that was a fine touch.
Ron: Thank you, thank you! Signing books for people really changes the book from being a content experience to also having a personal connection as you just pointed out, so I’m delighted that you have a copy and certainly I invite the listeners of this to really go to UpliftingService.com and you can download there free, the preface, the introduction, the first chapter, and a whole range of resources that help you apply what’s in that book, uphold an uplifting service culture in a sustainable advantage for your customers, for your company, and for your career.
Clement: For you who are listening to this podcast right now, I went through Ron’s book. It stands out from other books because of the examples. Other customer service books they are more on the theory. What I got from Uplifting Service was primarily a system, and that is really important-to have a system of customer service. Other customer service books provide examples and tactics, but Ron’s book delivered a cushion, a strategy for customer service that for me as a businessman, I never had a system of customer service and his book has really set a framework for us to further customer service. It’s one of the good books of this year, and just before we go, Ron, would you like to share a little about your customer service experience with Lee Kwan Yew?
Ron: Ah, thank you! For our listeners, Lee Kwan Yew is the founding father of Singapore. A prime minister of so many years, an incredibly powerful human being, he was truly devoted to uplifting the quality of life on this small island nation. And because of his power, his position, he is not an easy man to get to. I’ve been in Singapore for about 20 years, and my wife and daughter and I, on New Year’s Eve-New Year’s Day, we’re having a walk in front of the Merlion, down in the Fullerton area, in the very heart of Singapore. And as we were walking along… I was behind my wife and daughter, and suddenly they spun around-and then they looked at me and I was shocked, and I said “What?” And they said, “There goes Lee Kwan Yew!” I turned around and sure enough, the founding father of Singapore, was walking out of the Waterfront on an evening stroll, and he was surrounded, as he should be, by four security guards, one at each corner with him on the middle. When I spun around I said “I’m gonna say hello!” and I started walking towards Lee Kwan Yew.
Then one of the guards actually saw me coming, and it’s their job of course. And as I approached, I saw his hand come towards me gently saying, “Stay back.” But I had already built up my momentum, and my inertia was driving me forward, and I whispered, just like a stage whisper, “I just want to say thank you.” And the guard saw me and understood my intention, and his hand turned softly from palm facing me to facing the other way, and he guided me forward so I can walk right past him and walk up to Mr. Lee. And as I walked to Mr. Lee, he turned and he’s quite tall and he’s looking down on me and I shook his hand and thanked him for his vision, guidance and leadership of Singapore for over so many years. And he looked at me and asked me, two questions. Number 1 he goes, “What are you doing here in Singapore?” and I said, “For 20 years I’ve been working to raise Singapore service levels to world class. Then he looked at me and said, “Where are you from?” and I said “I’m from the United States” and he smiled and said one more thing: “Good. Stay here!”
And there he was, being a role model of continuing leadership of uplifting service in Singapore, but I also want to call out that that security guard-his action of gently holding me back, and appropriately guiding me forward was also a phenomenal act of uplifting service, and it just goes to show that every one of us, in every position, in every day, have the opportunity to make a choice between just doing our jobs, or doing our jobs in a way that we create more value and more uplifting experiences in the world. All of us can be leaders of service. All of us can be role models in our lives.
Clement: And for that Ron, thank you for your time, it was a pleasure, a great learning experience of our time together; many golden methods of information that we can take action immediately and that is phenomenal. This is Social Media Hub, Ron’s book, Uplifting Service, New York Times #1 bestseller, also Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and personally, this is a great book. This is available everywhere-a must get. A good read that may take you one to two weeks of reading, but to implement it, it will be a great journey. His book talks about implementing all the steps in one year. Great book, funny guy! Visit his website at UpYourService.com. Ron Kaufman, thanks so much!
Ron: Pleasure to be with you both. Have a good day!
Download the full transcript here.
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