As you step into your room at the brand spanking new Virgin hotel in downtown Chicago, you’ll find a simple telephone on the asymmetrical end table. The phone has only one button, aside from the dial pad: a central button marked by enlarged, red print exclaiming “YES!” Press this button and you’ll find a Virgin employee on other end ready to assist you with your issue, no matter what it is.
Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal explains: “I decided to design our phones this way after I had a frustrating stay at a competing hotel brand. One of the things that bugged me at that other hotel was that the phone in my room had nine—literally nine—different icons on the phone: to call housekeeping, valet, bellman, doorman. As a guest, I just wanted one button. So that one button is all we have now at Virgin Hotels.”
Indeed. As a customer, all you would want is one button, so you don’t have to worry that you’re misdirecting your query. And you’ll want to know that the answer will be “yes,” regardless of the question–rather than having to formulate your question, make sure to dial the right department, and then worry what the answer might be.
Mr. Leal, in redesigning the telephone, has put his finger on something crucial to building a great customer service organization in nearly* any industry or context. It’s the secret, the creamy nougat center, of creating a culture of customer service excellence: You have to succeed in getting everyone in your organization to share a goal of getting to a “yes” for every customer, rather than a goal of figuring out ways to say “no,” “not my department,” “it doesn’t work that way around here,” “sadly, we cannot accommodate that request,” or “if you call back in the morning, perhaps we’ll be able to help you.”
This should be self-evident, right? Yet, well-meaning employees can still find a dozen ways to say no to their customers. Which makes it incredibly important to set, and as often as necessary re-set, your cultural default to yes.
Doing so is an absolute requirement for creating a culture of customer service excellence. And you can only make it happen if you are obsessive about the following corporate and leadership behaviors:
• Model a spirit of “yes.” If, as a leader, you’re constantly mouthing versions of “I’m sorry, we cannot accommodate that request,” of course your employees will follow suit.
• Tell the right stories. If you, as a leader, tell stories only about how customers take advantage of you, all the times you caught customers who were trying to get the upper hand, and “all the tough, hard-earned lessons I’ve gotten on human nature in my career,” your employees will absorb, and reflect, this attitude.
• Reinforce a spirit of “yes.” At the start of every–every–shift, celebrate the times that employees made things work for, solved problems for, exceeded the expectations of your customers.
• Reward a spirit of “yes.” I’m not really talking about a system of financial rewards and prizes. (Employees are smarter than you are, and most systems along those lines will be gamed faster than you, the boss, can blink.) What I mean is this: you can either punish your employees for going the extra mile for your customers (because it takes extra time, reduces employees’ so-called productivity, etc.) or you can make them a hero for the same. The choice is yours—and it makes all the difference.
• Hire for a spirit of “yes.” When I was eating in the Commons Club at the Chicago Virgin hotel, I overheard one of the waitstaff–Alessandra–confessing to a co-worker her love of the Disney repertoire. So, I asked her to sing me something Disney, which she did, gamely and with great style (and, I might add, in tune). Now, although Alessandra learned to sing these tunes while working princess parties at her previous job, her willingness to go out on a limb and sing a few bars, sans the crutch of wearing a bravery-inducing Disney costume, is something inherent in her character that Virgin’s hiring process, under People Services head Clio Knowles, unearthed in her and hired her for.
* I say “nearly,” because there are security and privacy considerations that can appropriately lead to a different attitude in certain contexts.
This article was written by Micah Solomon from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.