The book, which is subtitled “The Insider’s Guide to Executive Travel” is a rambling series of tips and anecdotes from McCormack about business travel. He covers hotels, airlines, taxis, expense accounts and more. He’s repetitive, and in some places confusing, but all and all it’s an interesting listen with some potentially useful information.
The greatest insight I’ve gleaned from the book, though, is McCormack’s approach to service, something he encapsulates as “the personal touch.” His explanation of this approach has made me think I might have it all wrong about customer service and, indeed, that I might have been digging my own holes for a long time.
My approach to customer service is based on a notion that people offering customer service should always be honest, genuine, hard working, well paid, and supported by the resources and management they need to get their job done. It’s also based on the notion that companies should want to give me good service, and that when they do not do this, it is my duty to inform them, sometimes in public, sometimes very loudly.
In some particularly dire situations — like those I’ve found myself in with Island Tel/Aliant over the years — my approach has been extended to include not only public complaint, but also an attempt to extract good customer service, or at least some customer service, from where ever I can get it.
And I think I’ve got it all wrong.
Here’s the anecdote McCormack offers to describe “the personal touch:” you’re in a restaurant and they have a special on, say it’s a ham sandwich and soup for $5, with no substitutions written in big letters underneath it. If you take my approach to customer service, you approach this caveat as an affront, and so when ordering you ask the server if you can get the special, but with turkey instead of ham: “I’d like the special, but could I get the sandwich with turkey instead?” Nine times out of ten, the server will say “sorry, there’s no substitutions” or “I’m afraid not.”
The McCormack suggestion is to take a different approach: make the server feel as though if they are able to achieve the miracle of getting you the sandwich with turkey, you will think very highly of them. He suggests asking something like “do you have enough influence over the chef to get me the special with turkey instead of ham?” My gut tells me that this will actually work much better most, if not all of the time. I know if someone asked me this question in this way, I’d probably take it as a personal challenge to get them turkey.
Indeed I know from my own working with clients that when clients phrase requests like “I know this is probably impossible, but could you…?” I’m usually quick out of the gate to prove to them that it is possible. And, conversely, when clients say “we need this by Monday at the latest, and it has to work like this,” I’m just as likely to slide the project to the bottom of the pile.
My one Big Success with Island Tel was getting them to install DSL service to our old World HQ in Kingston. Our house in Kingston was about 1km beyond the normal limit for DSL installations, but by working with a sales rep who I knew otherwise, the situation was turned from that of a demanding client into a challenge for the engineering team to see how far they could push the technology. And they rose to the challenge and provided me with the service I was looking for.
And so I’m starting to think that I’ve got it all wrong. Rather than taking bad customer service as some sort of bubonic insult that must be trumpeted and extinguished at all costs so as to not lessen human perfection, perhaps I need to become more Machiavellian and use social engineering to shape the world, or at least my little corner of it, into a place that naturally molds good customer service around me.
More thinking needed on this.