Pickles, planes and getting personal ­– good customer service is good business

A few years back some colleagues mentioned they were out for the day to go to “pickle training”.
 
 
This statement perplexed me. Now I like pickles but we didn’t work in an area that had anything to do with food.
 
They went on to explain that pickle training was about providing exceptional customer service and how it makes great marketing and business sense. It made sense to me that good customer service is central to your marketing, and it all comes back to a pickle.
 
What’s your pickle?
 
The pickle philosophy comes from motivational speaker Bob Farrell.
 
Farrell co-launched his ice-cream parlours and restaurants in 1963, and sold the 55 store chain 10 years later to the Marriot Corporation. Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurants are still open today in several locations in the United States.
 
Farrell explains in one of his customer service videos that pickles are “special things you do for your customers that keep them coming back”.
 
Why is it called a pickle? It all started with a letter from a customer who had been visiting Farrell’s restaurant several times a week for three years. He always asked for an extra slice of pickles that he was given for free. Until one day the waitress said she would only sell him a side of pickles. The customer said he only wanted one extra slice of pickle, and was told they would only sell him an extra slice of pickle. The disgruntled customer wrote that he would never go back t the restaurant again.
 
Farrell immediately contacted the customer, thanked him for this letter, apologised and offered him a free hot sundae. More significantly a catch-cry was born. “Give ’em the Pickle.”
 
Farrell puts it simply. “When something happens with a customer and you’re not sure what to do? ‘Give ’em the Pickle!’ Do what it takes to make things right!”
 
“It may be about going the extra mile to make customers happy or putting your own personal stamp on customer service that sets you apart from your competition. At my favourite tyre store they literally run to greet me when I step out of my car in the parking lot. I’ve met garbage collectors who stop to start lawn mowers and coffee baristas who add a heart or other designs in the latte foam. Those are all pickles.”
 
Farrell’s philosophy is based on connecting with your customers, treating them how you would want to be treated. If you look and listen, customers will tell you want your pickle is.
 
Good customer service breeds goodwill between a business and its target audience and in the long-run it should improve sales and your brand reputation.
 
This is certainly not a new concept. Jan Carlzon, who is most noted for being CEO of SAS Airlines (1981-1994), championed customer service in his book ‘Moments of Truth’. His unrelenting focus on customer service quality brought the struggling airline back from the brink of collapse.
 
The airline went from losing $17 million a year to making a $54 million profit within a year.
 
Planes, people and profit
 
Carlzon’s ‘Putting People First’ program was focused on delegating away from management and giving front-line staff the authority and responsibility to make decisions so they could resolve any issues on the spot. He promoted a culture where employees regardless of their level were empowered to make decisions, if they could immediately solve a customer’s problem.
 
He said at the time: “Problems are solved on the spot, as soon as they arise. No front-line employee has to wait for a supervisor’s permission”.
 
“If anything goes wrong, the customer doesn’t care whose fault it is. He’s the one who’s going to suffer anyway. If we help each other we can put just about anything right and spare our customers a lot of grief.
 
“The only really valuable assets we have is a truly satisfied customer.”
 
Carlzon accepted that by delegating decision-making down the chain, sometimes mistakes would be made occasionally, but these mistakes could be forgiven.
 
“Mistakes can usually be corrected later; the time that is lost in not making a decision can never be retrieved.”
 
Let’s get personal
 
For me the corner-stone of good customer service and customer relationship marketing is personalising your interactions.
 
Personalised hand-written thank-you or acknowledgement notes and cards to your customers go a long way to building relationships. Happy birthday messages and discounts for special occasions are also great tools.
 
Customers remember and appreciate personal touches and hopefully will think of you first, the next time they need the product or service you offer.
 
Treat every customer according to his or her individual problem or request. And remember one size does not fit all.
 
You need to get to know your customer and having a customer relationship management (CRM) system is crucial to making real connections with people. Your CRM can be a simple spreadsheet or you can use sophisticated software, as long it captures key information about your customer and their purchasing history.  Just remember you need to ensure you follow relevant privacy laws when capturing and using information from your CRM.
 
After you have completed a service or sold a product, follow-up and ask for feedback. Create a dialogue or mechanism that allows you to identify customer problems and resolve them immediately.
 
Make yourself accessible and if you are a senior manager, get face-time with your customers. Put yourself on the front-line occasionally and ask questions, you’ll never know unless you ask. Being accessible also means responding to comments on social media, both positive and negative, in a timely manner.
 
So start having a conversation with your customers today. Identify what your pickle is. Strive for exceptional customer service.
 
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