Working Wounded Blog: Extreme Customer Service

Have you ever felt like you were an imposition on the staff of a retail chain? That somehow you were getting in the way of what they were meant to do -- namely, talk on the phone to their friends or discuss the social goings on of their fellow employees? You're not alone (and yes, I'm a bit jaded on the current state of customer service).

Customer service seems on track to become the biggest oxymoronic statement this side of jumbo shrimp and military intelligence. But there is suddenly hope on the horizon, and the lessons come from Safecatch, a Washington state program to thwart bank robberies.

First, some background. Washington was at the top of the bank robbery charts in the United States. Who knew that the rain drove a percentage of the population indoors for this kind of activity?

But please note the use of the past tense in describing the state's bank robbery status. Suddenly robberies are down by almost half in Seattle, thanks to the Safecatch program. And it's now being rolled out in cities across the state and country.

So what is the Safecatch secret? Armed security guards in every branch? Better alarms to signal the police? Better exploding dye packs? Better profiling to spot potential bank robbers as soon as they enter the bank?

No. Safecatch has been called "customer service on steroids." It's a program where bank employees greet every person who enters the bank, look 'em right in the eye and give a big "Hello" and "How are you doing?"

In this high tech age, it seems almost laughable that such a low-tech strategy would impact someone carrying a gun with an intent to relieve the bank of a pile of its cash. "Hello" and "How are you doing?" evoke quaint memories of a bygone era, not a cutting-edge crime-fighting strategy.

But it turns out that bank robbers often crave anonymity. They want to slink in and slink out -- all the while hardly making an impression on anyone. So many are unnerved when they are acknowledged and clearly recognized.

"Hello" and "How are you doing?" … How often do your customers get this basic acknowledgment in your business? Chances are, not as often as you think they do.

Even more important, how often are your employees acknowledged and recognized for their efforts? I know what you are thinking to yourself, acknowledge and recognize -- isn't that the purpose of a paycheck? Well, yes and no. Paychecks are great, but they quickly become wallpaper to the average employee, something easily overlooked. Acknowledgement and recognition keep it real.

If extreme customer service has had such a big impact on bank robberies, imagine what it will do for your employees and customers. Extreme indeed.

Quote of the Week

"Every crowd has a silver lining." -- PT Barnum

Book Excerpt of the Week

From "Branded Customer Service," by Barlow and Stewart (Berrett Koehler, 2004)

"Salespeople have to be effective communicators of the brand's attitude, values, positioning and promise. When you consider that most managers, and many executives, cannot tell you what their brand's attitudes, values, positioning and promise are, we have a huge task ahead of us to get all levels of salespeople consistently communicating these messages."

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker, and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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