How to Succeed in Business by Actually Trying

Dec 18, 2013

There’s no doubt that today’s US economy is primarily a service economy. That means the new ‘goods and services’ now translates as plain, ‘good service.’

But not all businesses know how to make the most of their customers’ service experience.

We’re not talking about something as egregious as an employee chatting on a cell phone during your transaction or other clearly rude behavior, but with so much riding on the service in our service economy, it’s the little things that make all the difference. 

 “If you want to gain a customers full attention in your service environment, do a little something to surprise them.   Because we’re flooded with so much information, a lot of times we tune out routine things," says Virginia Tech Business Professor Vincent Magnini.

Vincent Magnini
Credit Virginia Tech

Magnini’s new book is called, “Performance Enhancers: Twenty Essential Habits for Service Businesses.” He goes around tracking what he calls these small moments of delight that emphasize the ‘serve’ in service industry.

“In a hotel, the hotel manager trained the valet to clean guest’s windshields when a car is in front of their hotel.  It’s just a little thing that the guest did not expect and it was a script deviation, something they didn’t expect that surprised them,” he said.

Magnini uses the word ‘script’ intentionally.  It’s an idea he calls “the drama metaphor” that began with the Disney properties, that employees need to think of themselves as being part of the cast of performers, who don’t drop out of character during the customer’s experience.  

“And we see this broken all the time as we're doing our Christmas shopping out at the mall, you see employees, not all, but some, when they’re clocked out on their breaks they think they can smoke or do whatever in front of customers and this drama metaphor gets broken all the time in a retail environment, as it does in a hotel environment and other types of environments.”

He says in the contest to create customer loyalty, there are some words and phrases employees should never use, such as ‘can’t, won’t, policy and you will have to.’

“This verbal communication, even on a subconscious level, affects the customer.  The old adage in the service sector is that you should never ask, if you’re an employee you should never ask ‘Is everything OK?’ because number one, OK is a low standard. If someone were to ask me how are you doing Vince and I said OK, I’m not doing very well and another problem with asking is everything OK, is that the customer can answer that with yes or no and it doesn’t create much of a rapport.  So at a bare minimum the service employee should instead ask, how is everything because that creates more of a conversation perhaps.”

It’s not only the way you treat customers once you have them, it’s also important in this increasingly segmented economy that businesses focus on which customers they want to attract. Magnini explores what’s known as the majority fallacy, the incorrect assumption, he sometimes sees in his work as a consultant that the largest market segment or is automatically the one that every business should go after.  

“An example that I give in the book is, there was a popular music artist, her name is Norah Jones and I remember when she was winning a lot of her awards in 2003, 2004, and a lot of younger consumers were illegally downloading her music off the internet and she was able to be successful in what she did in that she appealed to baby boomers and it was much less likely that baby boomers would download music on the internet.  They would go out and buy CDs one because they were not as technologically savvy and they had the money, they had the wherewithal to go out and buy these things. “

50 million of them at last count.  And while strategies will vary for each business, there is one common goal, making today’s customer a loyal patron for tomorrow.