Through high school, college, and graduate school I had a variety of jobs to pay for my expenses. Each job reinforced the importance of customer-service skills in terms of building better relationships with my customers, peers, and bosses. I came to work daily with an attitude to do more than was expected of me; to be an eager, lifelong learner; to be compassionate; and most of all, to apply common sense to all customer-service situations. I learned to trust myself, to be unafraid of challenges, and to embrace change and growth, and to have confidence in my own judgment and abilities.
The master of these traits was Dante Nigro, owner of the deli at which I worked when I was 17. He made each customer feel important. He looked them in the eye, listened to them, talked to them, and served them. He didn’t always know their name, but it didn’t matter, because he knew them – what they bought last, what their favorite meals were, what ingredients they preferred, what specials would make their day. He was quick with a joke, a smile, and a witty name for many regular customers, some of whom would visit up to three times a day. At the core of Dan’s common-sense customer-service philosophy was his uncompromising work ethic – he set the standard and expected us to follow suit. Everyday was a new adventure. We looked forward to coming to work. We worked hard. We had fun. We enjoyed serving our customers. It was the epitome of the corner-grocery store service model – always personal, pleasant, and productive.
Simplicity is underrated
I find myself now doing what older people do from time to time, regressing about the good old days. When I first started my career in IT with PepsiCo in 1984, work and life seemed simpler then. There wasn’t a technical solution for every business problem and we were not bombarded daily with the rigors of process and project management inspired by six sigma fraternities. We didn’t live in an on-demand world that gave people the ability and means to access us 24/7.
We were people-focused and actually spent time developing relationships with customer and peers. We knew it would make a difference in how well we worked together and in the quality of the end product or service. Our plates were full, but not overflowing because someone was managing business demand and customer expectations, and saying “no” when called for. I was empowered to make educated decisions, take risks, and use a common-sense approach to handling problems and challenges. It didn’t always work out perfectly, but the solid relationships I had with peers, customers, and bosses always helped me with the recovery and what to do or not do next time.
Timing is everything
In all my IT roles – programmer, network administrator, business analyst, help desk manager, service and support consultant – my relationship with people always led me to believe that it was better to do the right thing than always do things right. The principles of common-sense customer service are value-based and are driven by what’s important to people. They choose customer-service careers because it’s in their DNA, and the principle of doing the right thing is pivotal to their confidence and success.
Are you utilizing your people, customer-service and relationship-building skills in your workplace to maximize your performance? If the majority of your time is spent in your office or in formal meetings, chances are you are not finding enough time in the day to:
It is important that we live by a set of principles that guide professionals in all decisions and situations. When asked about the difference between personal and business ethics, the late Wayne Calloway, inspirational CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo, replied to a reporter, “There is no separate set of ethics for business. PepsiCo managers are expected to bring their personal ethics to work with them everyday and use them as a guide for how they conduct themselves in day to day decision-making.” Along that same line, the role of a service and support leader is to create an organizational culture that promotes and rewards doing the right thing for the business and the customer.
It is also our job to simplify the complex. This includes automating business processes, empowering employees to use common sense and good judgment in all situations, and to listen more than we talk. Callaway once stated the single biggest stumbling block to a manager’s long-term success was arrogance. He observed that once a manager felt as though he knew it all, he would always force his way onto customers and employees and destroying all sense of team collaboration and cooperation and grinding to a halt innovation and success.
Perhaps the most famous, as well as most effective, set of behavioral guidelines is the legendary Nordstrom employee handbook. New workers are given a 5” x 8” gray card that reads:
How does Dante’s corner-grocery model apply to today’s IT workplace?
all service and support leaders to stop, look, and listen for opportunities
to personally influence your organizational culture by practicing a
common-sense approach to customer service. Everyone you interact with
daily wants to know one thing and one thing only: do you care?