Doing the Best In the Worst

I’ve always believed that great leaders attempt to anticipate the often unanticipated negative consequences of their forward moving decisions.  In other words, they try to figure out what might go wrong despite their intentions to make things go right.  Conversely, I’ve been noticing that a lot of leaders are trying to make things go right while their peers are preoccupied by what is wrong.  Put more simply, some leaders today are taking advantage of the economic downturn to raise the bar on customer service.

I’ve had a number of personal experiences recently, that have simply WOW’d me.  Although I can’t say that the businesses that  delivered those WOW moments weren’t providing the same amazing service in more robust economic times, I can say they are at the top of their game in today’s economy.  To me this high level of service is noteworthy, because some companies clearly have cut their staffing well beyond the fat, deeply into the muscle, and even into the bone.  So what are my extraordinary service examples? One is Auto Owners Insurance Group!

The amazing thing about the service I received at Auto Owners headquarters in Lansing, Michigan was that they directed it powerfully to me – even though I am not formally a customer but rather a vendor.  Not only did the president and senior leadership make time to share dinner with me and enlighten me to their culture and values, several senior leaders travelled three hours to see me present to a community group in Southern Michigan.  The most profound WOWs came when I arrived for my tour of their headquarters building, and sales leaders greeted me at the door upon my arrival, and later offered a fond farewell that included anticipation of my needs by providing printed directions to the airport.  That’s WOW times 10.

Just a day earlier, I was equally overwhelmed by extraordinary service provided my Mark Whitwam the president of the Boulevard Inn in St. Joseph’s Michigan.  I’d spent a terrific night at Mark’s hotel  and checked out early to conduct a full morning of presentations.  As it turned out Mark was in my audience at those presentations.  After my core event, I was still at the speaking venue working with the client who had brought me to St Josephs.  One of the client’s representatives received a text message from Mark advising that he had returned to his hotel and found an electronic device of mine that I’d left in my room.  Rather than making arrangements to mail it to me, Mark personally drove the item over to the speaking venue and had it returned to me.  That item turned out to be my IPOD.  If that act of exceptional service had not been enough to truly WOW me, I opened the IPOD’s case for the first time a couple of days later and found Mark’s card, along with an ITUNES gift card.  Guess where I will be staying the next time I am in the area!

I don’t think I am alone in noticing improved service these days.  In fact a Nation’s Restaurant News article  headline read, “Study finds economy-driven strategies boost guest satisfaction.”  The article went on to note that “improvements in guests’ perceptions of service and value at some of the country’s largest restaurant companies contributed to another quarterly uptick in the American Customer Satisfaction Index… The national economic indicator, which measures customer evaluations of products and services in several industries, rose 0.4 percent for the first quarter of 2009, to a score of 76 on a 100-point scale.”

While 76 out of 100 isn’t bad it still warrants a letter grade of C on most grading systems.  Auto Owners and the Boulevard Inn get A’s in my grade book.  What score would you get from your customers? What can you do to earn the headline “economic-driven strategies” boosted YOUR customers’ satisfaction ratings?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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