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a blog by Chris Barrow

Customer Service Champions

Have you ever noticed that you walk into a retail establishment occasionally (whether it’s a clothes shop, a restaurant, a hotel or some other place) and the person who engages you in conversation immediately gives off an attitude of enthusiasm? Sam Walton, the founder of the Wal-Mart Supermarket chain, described them as ‘three baggers’ – a term used to describe the fastest of his supermarket till operators (loading the customers groceries into brown paper bags). Seth Godin has recently described them as ‘linchpins’ in his book of the same name. There is a certain light in their eyes. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for them. Their motto is ‘no problem, leave it with me, I’ll get it sorted’. They always seem to be smiling. They work really hard but appear to enjoy every minute of it. Even when the going gets tough – they are at the centre of things making sure that the correct conclusion is reached. They don’t focus on problems – they focus on solutions. They are passionate about what they do, loyal to the aims and objectives of the business and deeply caring for their fellow workers as well as their customers, clients and patients. If they are experiencing problems in their personal life – those problems are left at home when they appear ‘on stage’ every day. If they are experiencing problems in their work life – then they seek out solutions and remedies straight away – no messing about. And, finally, here’s the most intriguing fact of all:

  1. They can be either 18 years old or 80 years old

  2. They can be straight or gay

  3. They can be male or female

  4. They can have a list of qualifications as long as your arm or absolutely no qualifications whatsoever

  5. They can look like super models or ordinary kids on the block

So it begs the question – how is a customer service champion formed? And I would suggest that Isadore Sharp the Chief Executive and Founder of the Four Seasons Hotel chain probably had the answer when he says that customer service champions are just ‘brought up that way’. Something seems to happen to them when they are children and teenagers. Perhaps they grow up in a family environment which recognises core values. Perhaps they grow up in educational establishments that build on winners rather than focus on losers. Perhaps the way that they interplay with their parents, their siblings, their friends and colleagues has an influence on the way that they evolve. Whatever it is – I’m not aware of any scientific study that has pin pointed the cause or for that matter any chemical analysis of what goes on inside a customer service champion’s head. But you know, intuitively, when you meet one. If you yourself are a customer service champion then it’s almost like having a paranormal experience. You meet each other, you make eye contact, you smile, perhaps you shake hands and in the first millionth of a second you know that you are in each other’s company. You also know when you are not. Which makes the whole interview process obsolete as far as customer service is concerned. It doesn’t matter what it says on the CV or how they sound on the telephone – what matters is that first millionth of a second when you meet them. Because it will be just the same for your best clients – they will ‘know’ that you have somebody in your organisation who shines. I love meeting people like this. There’s a shoe shop in Truro in Cornwall with one guy who works behind a counter who is a one man cabaret. He looks like a mature student, he has got scruffy hair and he’s slightly unkempt but he is a customer service champion who brings a light into the day of every single person who buys a pair of shoes in that shop. I have met them all over the country – in fact all over the world. Some of them are very highly paid and others are not. The challenge to you in your business is to interview enough people until you find one – and then pay them whatever it takes to stay in your organisation – because it will be the best investment you could ever make.

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