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Responses by Rote

ISS Guest Blogger Gina Six Kudo uses two valuable customer service lessons she learned while traveling to evaluate her own facility's rote responses.

Amy Campbell

March 30, 2009

4 Min Read
Responses by Rote

Gina Six Kudo is the general manager for Cochrane Self Storage in Morgan Hill, Calif. She is one of four recipients of the Inside Self-Storage 2009 Humanitarian Service Award.

We recently had to make a road trip for a funeral, so we made a hotel reservation. I had mentioned to the hotel reservation clerk that we would need an easily accessible room for a 95-year-old ambulatory traveling companion. I phoned again on the morning of our arrival to confirm our request, and again at the desk when we arrived.      

What greeted us was repeated negativity. No easily accessible room, lobby construction that exacerbated our problems and an attempt to charge a much higher rate than when we booked the room. In a customer service-driven industry, this was a prime example of what not to do.      

Making our way back home the next day, we stopped for a late lunch at a local coffee shop chain. In years past, the food was exceptional, the service was borderline perfunctory at best. Tired and hungry we walked in anticipating lackadaisical service. However, we were pleasantly surprised; the entire staff was upbeat, and it was a beehive of activity.

We were seated within seconds in a busy restaurant. The waitress was prompt with place settings, drink orders and the daily specials. The food was good, and the portions so large we all required take-out containers. They also sold wonderful cakes, pies, brownies and cookies by the slice or whole.      

As I approached the register to pay our bill, I was asked, "How was everything? Is there anything else we can get for you? A slice of cake to go, maybe?"      

Instead of my usual "Everything was fine, no thank you." I responded out of character. I had just been thinking if only we had a couple of bananas at home, I would be happy to put off the grocery store run for another day. "Everything was wonderful, but it would sure be great if you sold bananas," I replied.      

I was taken aback when the gentleman responded with, "How many would you like?" He had actually listened to my response, and did not reply negatively. "Really?" I replied incredulously. "Ah, two would be great."      

The man left and returned seconds later with two beautiful bananas. When I asked how much, fearing a high price, he replied, "No charge. We just want to invite you to come back again."      

By the way, the above-mentioned hotel lost a previously loyal repeat customer. However, hearing a two-bananas request equates to a returning customer and referrals to the coffee shop, and I'd say that is one great ROI.      

Using these two actual customer service situations, analyze your own responses: Are you stuck in the rote question-and-answer trap? Or, are you actually listening to your customers? Are you extending the invitation to return and going the extra mile?    

The entire experience above had me reflecting on our own office. I asked myself, "How are we doing?" My honest answer was not bad; we've had our shining moments, but we could always do better.      

Some examples: We had a cross-country move delayed by a gypsy moth inspection. As luck would have it, an inspector was one of our customers. A simple weekend phone call to our inspector/customer was placed. He in turn expedited the inspection saving our new customer thousands of dollars.  

Or the time when we had a weeklong power outage during the dog days of summer. We brought our elderly tenants in to get coolers, fans and such from their units. We passed out free ice from my home refrigerator as all the stores were sold out. Some of these customers depended on refrigerated medications for survival. Our generator kept us running during it all, so we had minimal air conditioning, cold water and ice, and therefore, became a refuge for those in distress.

Through both instances we learned by the simple acts of listening and problem-solving. A good exercise to practice your listening skills would be to play "stump the boss" with your employees. Give them a day or two to devise their most difficult tenant situation imaginable, be it a new or existing customer. Have them role-play their scenario, and be prepared to take on whatever comes your way. What better way to teach an employee how to respond, while enjoying a creative way to hone your collective listening skills?

Imagine learning new skill sets, thinking outside of the box, the ensuing laughter and team-building all in one slow afternoon. Isn't your time better spent in this mode than staring at a silent telephone?    

Do you have another or an even better idea? Share it with us by clicking on "post a comment" below. I'd love to hear more ideas for our own repertoire.      

About the Author(s)

Amy Campbell

Editor, Inside Self Storage

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