Human customer service – observations from a ‘mini-retirement’

When you search the term “Human customer service”,  you get listings of sites which provide back doors to real people who can help you when you run into problems with large corporations.

Understandably, if a consumer around the world hits a process brick wall, a computer that ‘says no’ or an automated system which doesn’t provide the option you need, they look to real human beings to solve their problems.

It’s not surprising really. It’s human nature after all – corporations don’t deal with people, people do.

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I’ve just returned from a 6 week ‘mini-retirement’ (thanks Tim Ferriss) – and while I was away,  never stopped observing and thinking about all things customer service and satisfaction. After all, it’s what I do for a living.

It was a fascinating experience for me – and one of my biggest observations was this:

It’s humans which make the truly memorable experiences.

We saw some amazing things on our journey, however it’s the people interactions which got me smiling, thinking and talking… and most importantly, will get me referring and recommending to friends and colleagues. 

Let me give you some simple examples.

Singapore Airlines

If you have ever traveled to or around Asia, you can’t fail to come across Singapore Airlines – one of the world’s best. We had a choice of airline to fly. We chose them because of our memories of their customer service.

Mr Copeman, what can I get you to drink after take off…?”

Singapore Airlines human customer service

The cabin staff don’t read your name off a list in a robotic fashion, they memorise your name and use it from their first interaction with you, to the last. They ask your children’s names and refer to them by their first names the entire flight.

Nothing is too much trouble.

As it happens the food and seats are pretty special – but that’s not why we chose to fly with them – we chose them for their human customer service.

Marina Bay Sands hotel

I’ll be honest, we chose to stay here, because it’s extraordinary. You’ll see that from the photo below. It’s owned and managed by Las Vegas Sands. They know how to do hotels. And yes, that’s an infinity swimming pool on the roof.

They employ 10,000 staff!

A good test of a hotel is how they deal with problems. When we arrived in our room, whilst it was a non-smoking room, you could tell it didn’t use to be – I’ve been in enough hotel rooms to know a room that has been smoked in.

One phone call, answered with a personal greeting – “How can I help Mr Copeman”, and 10 mins later, there was a fumigator device whirring away – issue solved.

Marina Bay Sands - customer service at its heart

Every interaction with staff was immaculate from restaurants to front desk staff. Nothing was too much trouble.

We’ll be back and we’ll recommend. Yes, it’s an amazing building, but if the service had been lousy – that would have been the talking point.

Westin Langkawi

It’s hard to know where to start here – the whole ethos of the resort was all about customers.

Our daughter is allergic to peanuts and so for us, travelling to Malaysia is something which makes us a little nervous. Our host checked us in (on a sofa, not at a desk) and I told her about the allergy. She promised to ensure everyone in the hotel knew.

We all know that when a hotel staff member says says something like that, there’s a 50:50 chance it’ll happen. This is where human customer service comes in. If you say you’re  going to do something to a customer, do it. And she did.

When we arrived at dinner that evening, we were greeted like royalty… Every night from then on, we were given a personal tour of the buffet by the head chef (which featured a different cuisine every night). Each item was explained and we were told which contained nuts.

Westin Langkawi chefs (alongside Mark Copeman)

One evening, our daughter had pesto pasta… one of the chef’s noticed it was being prepared and rushed out to stop it from happening – we politely explained pine nuts were fine – but we were so impressed.

Raj deserves a special mention too, who made every mealtime a personal experience.

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It doesn’t have to be just the big guys either – human customer service can make memorable experiences with the smallest of businesses too.

Nitrogenie ice cream, Brisbane

Ice cream shops normally just sell ice cream. This particular one makes the ice cream in front of you, using frozen carbon dioxide – where vapour comes over the sides of the bowl- attracting the eyes of children for miles around.

Imagine the staff members engaging with children (and adults), telling them the story of how it works, the science behind it, explaining freezing temperatures … and then making it in front of their eyes.

Nitrogenie Brisbane with happy children

You’re then happy to pay a premium for the ice cream thanks to the full experience.

Kings Canyon Resort

So much about human customer service is about creating rapport – that’s such an important skill. Whether you work on a helpdesk or front of house in a restaurant, it’s so important to look for a chance to create rapport… to find something in common. Kings Canyon resort is one of the most remote places in Australia. It’s tough working there and staff could be forgiven for being a little off hand.

They weren’t. With so many European backpackers working there for months on end – there were so pleased to talk to you – to find something in common – particularly when you found out that you lived around the corner from them back in the UK.

You can pay $$ go on courses to learn rapport. Or, you can just be interested in others, ask questions and go the extra mile when helping customers.

The breathtaking Kings Canyon

In summary

Running businesses using processes is essential, however that doesn’t have to be at the expense of personality, rapport and being human. Allow your teams flexibility, allow them to take decisions, to delight customers whatever the situation and allow them to create memorable experiences, however small – because your customers will talk about you.

Our Ministry of Magic customer support does exactly that. Find out how we run our support team – download our support handbook here.

When you allow your customers to tell your team members directly how they’re doing – human customer service starts to happen naturally. We can help you with that.

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