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MONDAY MORNING MANAGER

Keys to developing red-carpet customer service at your company Add to ...

When clients or prospective clients arrive at Talent Plus in Nebraska – which helps companies around the world to assess prospective employees – their hosts literally roll out a long red carpet. Employees stand along the carpet, and applaud. At the end of the procession, the astonished visitors will note an electronic sign with their names on it, embellishing the greeting.

It’s not just visitors who receive red carpet welcomes. Each of those employees, on their first day of work, was similarly saluted when they entered the building.

Such an approach appeals to Donna Cutting, whose North Carolina -based company, Red Carpet Learning Systems, helps companies to improve employee engagement so they’ll want to treat their customers as stars.

Talent Plus, Ms. Cutting explains, epitomizes the two sides to delivering better customer service: You must focus on your employees, not just your customers. That means treating your own staff like celebrities so they will be engaged in their work and in turn treat customers as extra-special. But beyond that, you need to develop systems and training so your staff can improve their skills.

“Every organization probably has pockets of red-carpet service. But your overall service is only as good as your least-engaged employee,” she said in an interview. “Whether you have 10 people or 10,000 people in your company, are you developing the structures to deliver red-carpet service?”

Often it starts with imagination. But you need to back your ideas with resources and a system. Take Mama D’s Italian Grill in Newport Beach, Calif., one of the operators she celebrates in her book 501 Ways To Roll Out The Red Carpet For Your Customers. Instead of just one host greeting guests for the restaurant with its 86-seat capacity, there are six or seven. Even before taking your name, they offer you freshly baked focaccia bread and then, as you wait, you’ll be brought foods to sample and drinks. If you’re waiting outside on weekends, there will be a street magician or other entertainment to enjoy, and in chilly weather, you might be offered a blanket.

Its general manager told her: “We have the best meatballs ever. But people don’t come for the meatballs. They come for the experience.”

Beyond imagination, you need the right people. Hiring is so important that the Durham Performing Arts Center in North Carolina does it over and over again. Each year, front-line staff have to reapply for their jobs. Sometimes, more than 20 per cent don’t make it back the following year. That fact often brings a gasp to audiences when she speaks about customer service. But she asks them: “If every employee at your company or in your department had to reapply for his or her job annually, how many would you be rehiring?”

Of course, employees need to be trained. High Point University, also of North Carolina, puts every new employee through an all-day “culture class” to introduce them to their new operating milieu. KSL Resorts boils down its approach to four things that will create guests for life:

Warmth

Genuine sincerity in every contact. Guests should receive a sincere welcome and a fond farewell.

Personalization

Staff should seek out the guest’s name, use it, and share it with others. Beyond that, they should understand the nature of the person’s visit and how to help them.

Awareness

They should be able to read a customer, evaluating what is happening in a situation. A businessman anxiously looking at his mobile while registering should be sped through, but a tourist family of four might be shown the pool and told about attractions the children might like to visit.

Proactivity

Take actions to delight the guest.

She’s fond of Toronto-based travel company G Adventures, which has a “mayor” whose responsibility is to ensure employees are engaged and happy, running various events such as scavenger hunts, with cross-country teams drawn from its employees around the world.

The last job interview takes place in the company’s ball pit – yes, one of those rooms where kids love to frolic – and candidates spin a wheel to determine the questions they have to answer. It signals what kind of company they are joining – and the joyous spirit they’ll be expected to share with customers. “If somebody is freaked out by the ball pit, they won’t fit in,” she notes.

With the right people, a system, training, and some imagination, you can deliver red-carpet service, treating the person in front of you or your staff as the most important people in the world.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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