The Ice Pick, The Taxi and Getting Wet- A Lesson In Outstanding Client Service

We have just trained 1,000 of our people across Australia on how to deliver outstanding client service. Suddenly, I was reminded why this is insanely valuable – and by getting it wrong, we (and you) won’t survive in business. Read on or risk oblivion. Here’s why.

We are obsessed with the critical importance of delivering outstanding service to our clients. So we designed a brilliant five hour training session- filled with stories of getting it wrong, and getting it right. It’s time consuming to roll out, as we lead the sessions 100% ourselves. We do occasionally question: “Is this a ‘nice to do’, or is it a critical imperative, and right for us to be devoting so much time to?”

Yesterday I got the reassurance. It’s mission critical. Here’s why. It relates perfectly to what Harold Burson told me 30 years ago, and there’s a great story to prove the point:

“When someone hits my client with an ice pick, I bleed.”

Harold knew a client does not care about how much you know until they know about how much you care. We have to really care about our clients, put them first, make it ‘all about them’ and go the extra mile when it’s needed.

And the most critical ‘Moment of Truth’ with a client is when the client is in trouble- has screwed up, needs help, is under pressure. That’s when they are making up their minds as to whether we are worthy- irrespective of how good the work is we’re doing.

Here’s my story. Maybe it shows me as a bit of a jerk. Don’t care. It’s true and this is how I felt.

I was in City X yesterday, had heard about a new boutique hotel, decided to stay there, and would personally pay the difference between the normal rack rate we pay, and this hotel’s much higher tab. The hotel was fine. I woke early, and left in (I thought) good time to get to the event where 100 executives were waiting for me to kick off the training session at 9 am sharp. It was raining hard. I asked the front desk to order me a cab. They did. I waited 15 minutes, it hadn’t arrived, so asked for an update.” Oh, cabs often don’t turn up, particularly if it’s raining.”

While wondering why on earth they had not told me the ‘cabs don’t turn up’ line when I ordered one, I asked anxiously what I should do. I had 20 minutes to get to my event, 15 minutes away. “Best to go into the street and look for a cab,” was the bored reply. I stood on the dry verandah looking out at the sheet of rain belting down onto main street. Four hotel staff looked out with me. They knew my predicament. There were no other customers around. “Could I have an umbrella please?” I asked. A few minutes later, one was produced. 15 minutes to go. Director Dave had already called asking where I was. Stress rising,  I made my way out into the traffic and rain, umbrella raised, brief case in hand. I stood in the street, dodging traffic, searching for a cab. The four staff watched intently from their dry porch.

Eventually, I got a cab. My heart was beating fast with stress. My clothes drenched. The four staff waved me off through the pounding rain.

“When someone hits my client with an ice pick, I bleed.”

Here’s my point. At top rates, someone from the hotel should have ‘got wet’. Not me. Think about it. I know I would have gone out and got that cab for my client. Absolutely no question about it and without hesitation. That hotel miserably failed a moment of truth. I was under pressure. Needed help. The response was simply not good enough. When we pay top rates, we can expect top service. Our clients do. And so do I.

So never forget it. “When someone hits my client with an ice pick, I bleed.” And now a new mantra : ”When the client needs a cab urgently and it’s raining, GET WET!”

Deliver outstanding client service. Become a client service ninja. Deliver on those critical Moments of Truth. Even if it means getting wet sometimes. If you don’t like it, get out of the service industry. As fast as you can. Harsh- but true.

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13 Responses to The Ice Pick, The Taxi and Getting Wet- A Lesson In Outstanding Client Service

  1. Sing Ling April 3, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    This is a great story Chris. I’ve enjoyed your posts as usual.

    I like to think the person I do business with will “get wet” for me. I will only know when it rains. If he or she does, then they will get repeat business from me. The other question, is that person getting wet for me now because I have yet to sign the contract? Will that person get wet for me after I sign the contract?

    I think we don’t have to wait for rainy days. Here’s a simple test, how many people you know remember to say “happy b’day” to you on the day?

    • Chris Savage April 3, 2013 at 10:36 am #

      Thanks for the comment and perspective Sing. Chris

  2. Adrienne Carlson April 3, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Terrific story. Last week I spent large chunks of two busy days showing the sights of Beijing to two young Kiwi guys. One is the employee of an industry peer. This must be the 8th time, at least we’ve been to the Great Wall, The Schoolhouse, Forbidden City, not to mention the clubs and restaurants at the Workers Stadium….and thats perfectly OK! I agree with you on service beyond questioning, it extends to the way we live, and It’s easy to do when we see the human being in the client, the colleague or the friend of the friend.

    • Chris Savage April 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Thanks Adrienne. Appreciated. Chris

  3. John Skinner / Catalyst April 3, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Congratulations to you, Mike and Dave on the latest series of Client Service EXcellence series – all our guys got a lot our of it. We’re still working through the follow-ups, to ensure the learnings roll on.

    Your “Get Wet” story is a tragic reminder to all of us that have experienced similar ‘customer service standards’ at hotels!

    It also reminds me of the “I’M NOT IN THE MOOD FOR YOUR ANGER” article, written by Martin Grunstein – that I’ll send to you via email.

    Best wishes…John

    • Chris Savage April 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Thanks John. Appreciated. Chris

  4. James April 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    I like the ‘get wet for’ service analogy. Reminds me, I was told at the start of my career that a key to success was to become friends with your client. It’s hard to let down a friend. And a friend is less likely to sack you. A bit mercenary, but a fair point. Right?

    There’s another lesson in your story. While we MUST service all our stakeholders as your training program will surely demonstrate, we must always have a plan B, just in case. Your plan B was improvised, ie to get wet. You thought that a top hotel would go the extra mile, but they didn’t; remember Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), in the classic Casablanca? Everybody’s friend. But he’d stick his “neck out for nobody.” Well, that’s still true of the restaurant and hotel industry here in many places, including Singapore. They’ll get wet for nobody! Was your tale a Singapore tale?

    To that end, it’s worth noting that good negotiation (win-win) is key to client servicing – and to friendships! Am sure your training covers that too.

    Good idea, time to organise more training for our teams. Do you share/ syndicate etc your training programs?

    • Chris Savage April 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

      Thanks James. I like the Casablanca line. No not a Singapore hotel. And no. We don’t train our stuff outside of STW. Thanks for commenting. Chris

  5. Tony Bonney April 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Hi Chris

    Thanks for this. I always look forward to my weekly installment from you.

    It’s always great to be reminded that the hard moments are the moments where you win a client’s admiration, respect and business.

    Enjoy the day

    • Chris Savage April 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Thanks Tony!

  6. Joseph April 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Hi Chris, a first time reader – I enjoyed the article.

    There seems to be this belief that expense = better service. It makes sense I guess. But in my experience service thats genuine, warm and real (as opposed to someone who’s been instructed to be ‘nice’) is much more common in the milkbar than in the mansion. For me its because the underlying energy in some of our more ‘elite’ institutions is exactly that: elite. Is it about people? or is it about money? Which one of these comes first?

    So reading you article left me to ponder what is service? and what does it look like? Perhaps its just treating people with equal respect?

    • Chris Savage April 8, 2013 at 9:21 am #

      Thanks Joseph- it’s a good point re whether expense=service. Thanks for reading and writing. Chris

  7. Mohamed El Kadi April 5, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    I enjoyed reading ..very nice article..

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