Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Now, if he would just get rid of those wire hangers...

Friday, April 15, 2005, 11:45am
Steve's office

"Steve, Dan Johnson for you."

"Go ahead."

My phone rings.

"MIS-ter Johnson."

"Steve! How are you?"

What? Why didn't he ask me what I've learned today?

"I, er, I'm fine, and you?"

"I would ask you what you've learned today, but I don't want you making any more jokes at my expense!"

We both laugh.

"I guess I've got an informer in my ranks, eh?"

"I saw the video, actually. Great speech, Steve. I actually got a little choked up."

"No kidding!"

"No kidding. Actually, that's what I wanted to speak to you about."

"I'm listening."

"As you know, several times a year, we do customer service training here in home office for anyone who has customer contact. It's just a way to keep them focused on making the customer their top priority."

"Right. Coincidentally, I just signed an authorization to send a couple of my people down there for that next week."

"It's not a coincidence. I want you to come down here and speak to them. It'll be a group of 30. I need you to do 45 minutes or so."

"Alright, no problem. Is there an agenda you need me to cover?"

"Do whatever you want. Just leave them with the impression that the customer is the most important person in the world to them."


Friday, April 21, 2005, 10:00am
Corporate office training room

I'm standing at a podium in front of 30 sour-faced customer service people. I can tell they're all pissed off that they had to come here: They're probably thinking of the work that's piling up on their desks this very minute.

No matter how engaging of a speaker one is, it's hard to get through to a group who doesn't want to listen to you. The best I can do is try to make this interesting, and get out.

"Good morning, everyone!"

Mumbles wash lazily back at me, like the waves of a receding tide around my ankles.

"Ah, boy. I guess they're watering down the coffee again," I say. There's a couple of laughs.

"Let me ask you guys a question. WHO is the most important person at Microsoft corporation? Right off the top of your head, who comes to mind?"

Silence. Then, from the back of the room: "Bill Gates."

"It makes sense!" I say. "He started the company, right? Without him, there'd BE no Microsoft. He MUST be the most important person, right?"

A couple of heads nod.

"WRONG! Anybody else?"

"Didn't Bill Gates step down as CEO?" says a man in the front row. "Who's the guy who took over, Steve Ballmer? Gates is probably just a figurehead, and that guy's doing all the work."

"Good theory. But wrong!"

"How about the head programmer?" says a woman from the third row.

"GREAT idea! After all, if there's no program, there's nothing to sell, and no money. Right?"

A few people look at each other.


There's some laughter.

"Come on, guys. What are you all here for?"

"The customer service manager!" Shouts a voice from the back.

"Customer service manager? How many of you have ever SPOKEN to Microsoft customer service? Does it even exist?"

The room is silent again. "Think! You're almost there!"

"The CUSTOMER!" A man says, finally.

"You got it," I say. "Who CARES if the company would be there without Bill Gates, if they're not selling anything? Who CARES who's programming it, if it's just sitting on the shelves? How many billions would Mr. Gates have, if there weren't customers buying his product? Don't lose sight of that. Neither THIS company, nor any company out there, will ever be so big that it doesn't need customers anymore."

Some heads nod.

"My dad's uncle Jerome used to run a laudromat," I say. "Sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon, we'd go visit him at work. One day, I was looking at one of his receipts, and I noticed his home phone number was printed on it. And when I asked him why, he said, 'Sometimes my customers need me when I'm not here.'

"Years later, we were at uncle Jerome's house on Christmas Eve, and his phone rang. It turns out a customer needed a suit for church the next morning. And sure enough, he got up and went to the laundromat, and drycleaned that man's suit. On CHRISTMAS EVE."

There's a lot of head-shaking and sheesh!-ing.

"Now, I don't pretend that uncle Jerome was necessarily in the right for doing things like that. There's something to be said for managing the customers' expectations, and once you set the bar that high, the customer will expect 24-hour service, and will get angry if they don't get it. I didn't tell you that story so that you'd all give out your home phone numbers to your customers. I told you because I want you to think about how important my uncle's customers were to him. Remember it, when your phone is ringing, and your coworker is right in the middle of a good joke. Remember it when your phone rings at five minutes to five, and you REALLY don't want to answer it, or when you've just stood up to go get a cup of coffee.

"If you're not sure whether the customer really needs to know something, find out for him. If you're not sure whether someone else has handled something, find out. Don't leave things to chance, and give the customer the benefit of the doubt. Just aspire to care about customers as much as my uncle did, and if you are half as dedicated as he was, you'll be a superstar."