Last week, about an hour and a half into a 3.5 hour trip, my car started to overheat. Fortunately I was near an exit that was near a mechanic that was near an Enterprise car rental location. (BTW--will blog for $$ to replace cracked head gaskets).
Anyway. . . at Enterprise, I met CJ a 25-year old branch manager who was the epitome of customer service. The guy filled my tank and took care of all the paperwork before picking me up at the mechanic. When I had to re-rent a car yesterday (please don't ask), he stayed past their 6 p.m. closing time on a Friday evening to again pick me up at the mechanic and get me on the road. He was unfailingly enthusiastic and courteous, even when I called him at 5:55 yesterday and said I needed his help. This is a guy who knows how to make customers happy. And it's not like I would be a repeat customer--his place is 1.5 hours away from me in an area I travel infrequently.
I was really impressed with CJ (as I've always been with Enterprise), so I asked him about the customer service training Enterprise employees receive. He said:
"If you mean, sitting down in a classroom and learning how to answer the phone or talk to a customer, we don't really get anything like that. We just learn it on the job."
What? The best customer service I've seen in a long time and no one taught it to you? And the entire huge organization has the same customer service attitude with no training? So then CJ goes on to give me a few great lessons in working with customers.
When you have the right culture, customer service training is unnecessary
CJ tells me that each year 7,000 Enterprise employees gather in Florida for an annual conference. Every one of these people is just like CJ. They are enthusiastic, friendly and always on top of things. In fact, CJ told me that their customer service philosophy can be summed up as follows:
Be willing to do whatever it takes to please the customer.
Enterprise hires people who believe in this philosophy as an important life value, so they don't really need to rely on training. If you value doing what it takes, then you don't really need training to do that. Most of your employees will embrace the value and it will become a part of your organizational culture. Those who are not comfortable with that value will either leave or be let go.
You get what you measure and reward
Apparently Enterprise employees live and die by their customer satisfaction ratings. In fact, you can be a manager who makes a lot of money for the company, but has poor customer service rankings and someone with better customer satisfaction will be promoted over you. So if customer service is the thing that is really measured and rewarded, then customer service is what Enterprise gets.
You have to nurture and coach, not direct and manage
So CJ tells me that when he first started, his customer satisfaction ratings were not as good as he wanted them to be. He kept harping on his staff about the need to provide good service, would hover over them to provide "feedback" and basically never stopped talking about the need for customers to be happy. And his numbers continued to tank.
One day, CJ's manager takes him into the office for a chat. Turns out that CJ is doing everything right in terms of the specifics--clean cars, on time service, etc.--so his manager says, "You need to back off of your employees. Quit riding them and the customer service will come."
So CJ (who is clearly very coachable) backs off. If he notices that one of his employees is being a little robotic in going through the rental process, he'll stop by and joke around with a customer to demonstrate to the employee how the process can still be fun and engaging. He starts noticing when his people are doing it right and commends them on it. Guess what happened? The numbers went up.
At some point, CJ talked with his people about the difference in his management style. They told him that they'd been so afraid and nervous all the time that it had been impossible for them to provide quality service. They were too worried that he was going to fire them or write them up and it showed in their work. So there's another lesson: When staff are anxious or afraid, they don't work well with customers. Or do good work, period.
The final two things I learned from CJ were these:
- Good managers are people who can be coached.
- Quality management is not a function of age or longevity.
Here's something else I learned--Even the most frustrating experiences can be salvaged when you look for the lessons to be learned in them. I really was ready to hurt someone until I decided to stop fretting and just see if there was something else I could get from the whole long saga. That's when I noticed what was going on with CJ and started asking some questions.
And one more thing--rent from Enterprise.