The Secret to Outstanding Customer Service


I’ve been paying very close attention to customer service lately. It’s amazing how some businesses get it and some fail miserably. I think I’ve finally put my finger on what makes customer service “good”. But first a couple of stories.

A while back our family went to eat at a local Mexican restaurant. We were planning on a nice quick dinner (hence the Mexican option) and then see a show at our community theatre. Everything was going just fine until we walked in the door. It pretty much went downhill from there. Here’s just a partial list:

  • We had to ask for menus. Now I’m no expert in restaurant management. I have never worked a day of my life in a food establishment, but I’m reasonably certain that giving your customers a menu is a top priority. Perhaps second only to…ummm…no I’m pretty sure it’s the top priority.
  • We had to ask for chips and salsa. I hear that some Mexican restaurants give them to their customers without a specific request.
  • We could barely understand our waitress. Not because of any accent or language barrier. She talked so softly and she seemed downright unhappy to be there. I don’t think she smiled even once.
  • The food took an extraordinarily long time to be cooked and brought to our table. Most Mexican restaurants I go to seem to be clairvoyant and bring the exact food you ordered before you even place the order.
  • They goofed up two of the four orders. Our low-talking waitress was quick to point the blame finger at the kitchen staff (several times).

On the whole, it was a miserable dining experience (the show was fantastic by the way). We will NEVER eat there again. They will never get a second chance to make a good first impression with me.

A few weeks later, I traveled to Pennsylvania. A colleague and I flew into Philadelphia and rented a car to drive to Harrisburg. (Note to self: Try to find out why Pittsburgh ends with an “h”, but Harrisburg ends with just the “g”.)

From the moment we stepped onto the Enterprise shuttle bus we felt like we were their most important customer of the day. The driver was genuinely friendly. He told us his name (Bidwell, in case you were wondering), he asked how our flight was, and proceeded to tell us we’d be at the lot in just three minutes.

Once off the bus a young man welcomed us and had our paperwork ready within minutes. I didn’t need an upgrade but he said we were welcome to take a larger vehicle anyway.

Last stop was to give the guy at the exit booth the paperwork. Again, he greeted us with a smile and promptly took care of us and we were on our way.

I’ve rented a lot of cars in my day. Some experiences were downright painful. This was not an isolated experience with Enterprise either. Two weeks prior I rented from them in Utah. The attitudes of their employees were equally positive.

I will rent from Enterprise again.

So what is the secret? Treat every customer as if you were expecting them. The Mexican restaurant treated us as if they weren’t expecting us to walk in the door. Enterprise treated us as if we were long lost friends and were thrilled to see us again.

We are all in customer service regardless of our profession. How are you treating your customers?

Are You Too Comfortable?

Photo of the author, Gary Thomas, on stage.Earlier this month I had an amazing opportunity to address an audience of my peers on introversion. Yes, I am an introvert. Now I now what you are thinking: The photo above (which is of me) seems to contradict my pronouncement. But the truth is, at my core I am an introvert. I’m also an engineer by degree, training, and vocation. Now it may come as a complete surprise to you, but the engineering field tends to draw a lot of introverts. I know…you’re shocked, but it’s true. So when I was asked if I was interested in doing this talk I jumped at the opportunity. But it really forced me out of my comfort zone.

I’ve never really had an issue with public speaking. I’ve heard more people cite public speaking as their number one fear (over death, spiders, and snakes). Not me. I still remember the very first speech I ever gave. The subject was the mechanics of flight. And it was an excruciating FOUR minutes in length. Four minutes was an eternity as far as my seventh-grade self was concerned. Since that time I’ve given hundreds of presentations. I got nervous before almost every one. Interestingly I found that if I’m not nervous, the talk doesn’t go nearly as well. I need to be on that edge of comfort.

Back to my talk last month. I addressed a crowd of mostly engineers. There were likely some planners and other technical specialties in the room too. They may have been expecting a typical conference session where a panel of people talk about some aspect of engineering followed by some Q&A. That is something I have done more times than I can count. Instead, what I treated them to was an hour and fifteen minutes of changing their way of thinking and acting. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone!

While introversion is my status quo, I’ve recognized that you can’t let it be your only state of being. Introverts can learn to be extroverted when the need arises. Even though it can take an enormous (or is it ginormous now) amount of energy, I still think it is easier for an introvert to venture over into extrovert-land than the other way around. All it takes is some practice.

That means you can’t use “I’m an introvert” as an excuse or an avoidance technique. Introverts don’t get a free pass. You can be an outstanding leader in your profession, in your community, in your church, and in your home. You just need to recognize when to put away that invisibility cloak for a while. Even if just for a short time.

I’ve brought out some extroverted qualities by doing community theatre where I live (hence the photo). It has given me a great opportunity to break out of my nice little comfort zone. There are a lot of other avenues to achieve this such as joining Toastmasters, volunteering to speak at schools or local organizations, even starting a blog. However you do it…just do it.

Photo courtesy of Alan Bryant.

Don’t Treat Your Life Like a Roundabout

Photo of a yield sign at the entrance to a roundabout

Roundabouts are becoming more and more prevalent in the United States. Many cities are taking a closer look at building modern roundabouts as an alternative to intersections controlled by traffic signals. The research is pretty clear that roundabouts offer distinct safety advantages to regular intersections. Roundabouts typically experience far fewer crashes; and those crashes that do occur are of a far less serious nature.

One of the primary rules for driving through a modern roundabout is to yield to traffic already in the circle. Yield signs are typically installed on the entrance legs to a roundabout. This is very different from other roadway circles that are either controlled by traffic signals (many of this type can be found in the DIstrict of Columbia) or have a yield to entering traffic rule.

Are you treating your certain aspects of your life like a roundabout?  I sometimes feel like I am doing that. I started this blog last year with grandiose plans to blog at least every other week and possibly every week. But I quickly lost what little momentum I had and started making up all sorts of excuses in my own brain: I’m too busy; I don’t have enough time; plenty of others are already blogging.  And that last excuse is like a roundabout. I was yielding to those already in the circle. But then the problem was that I never got in the circle. I was frozen on the outside looking in; never taking the opportunity to go in the circle.

So now I’m going to try and get in there. I may have set the bar a little too high on my first go around. Your goals should be both ambitious and realistic. Once a week blogging was ambitious but not realistic for me with a regular day job, a wonderful wife, two very active boys, a sometimes hectic travel schedule, and a lawn to mow. But twice a year seems a bit unambitious (even though I could probably hit that with very little effort).

So instead of treating some aspect of your life like a roundabout; treat it more like a freeway entrance ramp. Start it up, accelerate, and merge in with others already on the freeway. You can always take an exit if you find a more interesting place to go. Need some help? Then I strongly urge you to get Jon Acuff’s new book: Start. You’ll find a link to it on my Good Reads page.

You Got a Problem For Me?

Photo of a business man thinking.I was originally going to title this blog post: How to Talk to your Traffic Engineer. But I actually want people to read beyond the headline. And that one just didn’t scream: KEEP READING!

In leadership development, we are taught to not solve other people’s problems for them. If a team member comes to you with a problem, don’t let them leave it on your desk as they make a hasty retreat for the door. Make sure they take it with them. In other words, don’t solve their problem for them – even if you know the best answer. If they come in with a problem and no solutions, send them out and tell them to come back when they have several solutions. Repeat as necessary. Read more

That was a Great Flying Experience


Now there’s a statement you don’t hear very often. I recently took a trip to Atlanta, Georgia for a transportation conference. I must say that when our nation’s transportation system works, it works well. Every leg of my trip went off without a hitch. I left my house in Texas around 6:00am to get to my wonderfully small, local airport for a 7:00 flight. We are really blessed here in College Station to have commercial air service, even if it is only two airlines.
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Driven to Distraction

How many times have we seen it: A driver with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a phone to their ear? In and of itself this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. After all, we’ve been driving with one hand on the wheel for years. Heck, that was the cool way to drive when I was a teenager. Although to be honest, my name and the word “cool” were seldom used in the same sentence. Sure, they told us ten and two o’clock were the proper places for your hands. But outside of the on-the-road test, a lot of us didn’t follow that advice.

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