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Systems and Smiles: the Two Key Elements of a Successful Customer Experience

Service with a smile

Here’s a simple formula that encompasses what it takes to a successful customer experience: systems and smiles.

I offer this in gentle contrast to the customer service philosopher Carl Sewell, who years ago proposed that it’s ‘‘systems, not smiles’’ that matter in pleasing customers. Sewell explained his point as follows: If the food in a restaurant is lousy, no matter how much the staff smiles and apologizes for it, you’ll likely not eat there again.

Of course, Carl’s kind of right. But the flipside is that without those smiles, nobody wants to experience (or to experience again) the customer experience either.

Although my systems-plus-smiles formula is simple, it's not easy. Many companies fail to take one element or the other seriously—and then wonder why their customers aren’t happy.

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Here’s one simple example.  A few years back, my family was planning to move just a few miles with a local moving company that had been recommended to us. The movers’ smiles were as broad as the day is long—I assume that’s why the company got those recommendations.

Somehow in the sea of smiles, I missed a fact about its operating procedure: Our dozens of boxes had approximate names scrawled on them like ‘‘girl’s bedroom,’’ ‘‘his office,’’ etc. But there was no numbering system, no real tagging system. In other words: no way to prove if every box had made the move. Or hadn’t.

This situation seemed all right (the smiles fooled us, in other words), until we found ourselves missing something, a small work of art we’d bought years ago, precious to us for nostalgic reasons.

Could the sweet little local moving company help us? Uh, no. There was no way to trace where, or when, or even if a box had gone missing. There were no smiles anywhere once this reality sunk in.

*****

Systems and smiles—the two will take you a long way; more than twice as far as one or the other.
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