Get Off The Phone!

Two times, in as many days, I went into a retail store only to be served by people who were on the phone. In one case, I couldn’t find any one in the store. After about 5 minutes, I roamed toward the back and poked my head into an office, where a woman motioned something that suggested she would be out front soon. When she finally arrived, she obliviously explained that she was frustrated because she had been placed on hold by a call center thus resulting in my delay. If she had something to complain about, what about me – plus her explanation did little to address my wait.

In the other case, I approached a check-out stand as a young woman continued a call, on what appeared to be a personal cell phone. While I tried not to overhear details, it was clear she was not on a business related call. As she scanned my items, I found myself trying not to interrupt her as I had to provide information about my credit card zip code. The check-out process ended with her handing me my bagged items without breaking stride on her conversation.

I am sure you’ve had your share of customer experience horror stories but these two back-to-back episodes remind me that service basics aren’t so basic. It’s much like humorist Will Roger ‘s comment that “common sense isn’t so common.” As such, I thought it worthwhile to review a couple of concepts about service excellence offered in my New Gold Standard book. The first is Ritz-Carlton’s three steps of service and the second is my business principle “it’s not about you.”

Ritz-Carlton emphasizes a very simple approach to customer service – described as the three steps of service:
1) Offer a Warm Welcome (something missing from my two failed service events this week)
2) Fulfill the stated and unstated needs of the guest (the transactions in the examples described above barely met my stated needs and missed unstated needs like promptness and attentiveness)
3) Provide a fond farewell (alas, neither example above suggested that my business was valued or a return visit welcomed)

I wish a manager could have gently nudged the two service staff providers I encountered in the direction of these three actions, but in any case, we can remind our staff of these steps for the weeks to come.

On to the, “it’s not about you” concept. In my first example, the woman shared her frustration about being placed on hold at a call center, thus resulting in my delay. What she didn’t get was that her problem and her delay were explanations but not excuses for my delay. She also did not get that I was her customer and that her breakdowns were not my concern. Not meaning to be rude here, put simply her job was either to rise above her breakdowns to be of service or to at least focus her caring my inconvenience not share how she had been inconvenienced by another. In the words, of an executive I worked with lately, “customers just want you to get it right, they down want you to take them through your dirty laundry explaining how you got it wrong or why you can’t get it right. Make all that invisible.” As for the lady on the personal phone call, she didn’t understand that “Just because someone could call her at work didn’t mean that her social life took precedence over the needs of a customer.”

We’ve all been in a heated discussion with a family member when we get a phone call and our tone shifts from angry to pleasantly gracious. In the family conversation we are invested in being right but we shift our focus and tone to answer the call and courteously address the caller. We go from having it be about us to having it be about the caller. This week it might be helpful to remind our staff, that it is show time when we hit the sales floor, call center lines, or face the customer. We yield ourselves to the needs of the customer – offering warm welcomes, fulfilling stated and unstated needs, and sending the customer off with a fond farewell.

It’s between those customer interactions that we can drop character and make it about us again!

Smoke over black background

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


  1. Mary on May 23, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Unfortunately, more and more people finds it necessary to be on their cell phones while at work and driving.

  2. Joseph Michelli on June 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    It is interesting how people come to conclude what is a “need” and what is a “want.” Cell phones while working and driving seems more like a want than a need. What do you think?

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