Like most business travellers who fly extensively, (in 2015 I took more than 200 domestic flights) I’m loyal to one particular airline. For me that airline is Virgin Australia, a brand that consistently demonstrates the power of a brand that is truly customer centric.
In May 2015 I was on a flight from Perth to Brisbane. The ‘red-eye’ flight, as it’s known, is a brutal five and a half hour overnight flight that gets into Brisbane at 5:50am, which is actually 2:50am Perth time.
It was my fifth flight in three days and I was beyond tired. Halfway through the flight, adjusting my position trying to get comfortable, I felt my lower back twinge, followed by a shot of burning pain down my right leg. Within ten seconds the entire right side of my body was in a spasm and I was in serious pain.
The cabin manager walking past observed I was in discomfort and immediately came to my side. I explained what was happening and over the next two hours, he not only administered pain killers, water — and a shot of vodka at my desperate request — he also got me additional pillows and even brought me his personal Virgin overcoat, tucking me up like a baby in an attempt to get me comfortable. While the spasm and pain barely subsided, his genuine care and sympathy made it a little easier to endure.
This type of customer care won’t be found it any customer service manual at Virgin Australia. It’s an approach to customers that isn’t procedural; it’s proactive, empathetic and spontaneous. It comes from a mindset that puts the customer’s needs above those of the organisation.
We’re entering a new era of customer centricity. Where customer advocacy is more than delivering wow customer service. It’s about an organisation being truly customer centric from the inside out. It’s seeing customers as the most integral part of your business. It’s demonstrating that you care and have a consistent and ongoing priority to delight your customers and deliver magic moments — however small and whenever possible.
When it comes to refined service and a customer-centric approach, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company sets the standard. With ceaseless attention to every luxurious detail, the Ritz-Carlton brand demonstrates an envious commitment to understanding the ever-evolving needs of its customers and empowers employees to create memorable experiences for its guests.
Not only does Ritz-Carlton management train their global workforce in service excellence, they entrust those staff members (‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ as they’re referred to in Ritz-Carlton land) to go the extra mile to ensure guests are truly delighted.
The Ritz-Carlton has for many years given staff $2,000 of discretion (per employee per guest) to be used to solve any customer complaint in the manner the employee feels is appropriate.
Many business owners and managers would ask ‘How could so much creative and monetary freedom succeed? And succeed without bankrupting the business?’
It works because it changes how employees view customers–and how customers view employees. If an employee starts off defensive, rigid, or withholding, a customer tends to respond by escalating their demands. It’s a classic vicious cycle. But when employees are able to start the interaction from an accepting, flexible, and generous position, customers naturally feel inclined to be reasonable in return. The cycle turns virtuous.
Indeed, Horst Schulze, who during his tenure as founding president of The Ritz-Carlton initiated this policy (in the 1980s, no less, when that $2,000 would buy a ten night stay on the club level of a Ritz-Carlton), and his team verify that an employee has never had to resort to using all of that discretion. Still, knowing it is there has been a great builder of strength and responsibility for employees. It also ensures that The Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to customer centricity is an integral part of the company culture and consistently demonstrated at every level of the organisation.
How empowered is your team to put your customers at the heart of every decision? Are your staff encouraged to meet and exceed the needs of your customers in proactive and unexpected ways?
This is an excerpt from my new book, Turning Customers into Advocates. Click here to download your FREE five chapter sneak peek.