Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

First Class Customer Service???

kelly-server-thousand-oaks-restaurantI have made a commitment to never use my blog to just complain. So I’m going to outline a few service failures as a lesson to all of us who understand the importance of delivering superior customer service is essential to business success.

I recently had a trip to New Zealand on business, on the way there my wife and I flew First Class with Air New Zealand and had an absolutely spectacular experience. The staff was extremely friendly, the food was excellent, great wine, laydown bed, everything you could possibly ask for on a 14-hour flight to the other side of the world. On the way back, we flew First Class on American Airlines. Once on board we noticed they were serving champagne to other folks in First Class cabin and when we asked for some they apologized and said they had just run out, catering had not put enough on board for everyone in First Class. Several hours later, I was getting ready to go to sleep and needed to take some medication so I asked the flight attendant for a bottle of water, to which she replied, “No, only one bottle of water per person, 36 people in First Class, 36 bottles of water.” I spent well over $10,000 for the ticket and American Airlines was kind enough to let me know I only got one bottle of water for the entire flight across the Pacific Ocean. Not what I would call “First Class” customer service.

During a recent trip to Idaho, I went out each morning for breakfast and had an extremely hard time finding a restaurant with any waiters or waitresses. Place after place I walked into were beautiful, well-appointed, upscale locations with signs directing you where to order, then wait to pick up your food and carry it to your table on your own. There was also a sign on my table explaining I had to clean up after myself so I could leave the table clean for the next patron. Perhaps this is a backlash from trying to set higher minimum wages, or simply a way to increase the profit of the restaurant by not having any servers, however, I will tell you every time I walked in one of those restaurants, I walked right back out to look for someplace I could sit down, get an actual live server and enjoy a relaxing breakfast while I read the news. I didn’t want self-service, I wanted First Class service.

The reason I tell you these stories is as a warning. Company after company will readily insist that delighting their customers is essential to growing and sustaining the success of their business, and yet I experience horrifically bad customer service all too often. So, before complaining about how bad the service is at other businesses, take a long hard look in the mirror and make sure you are NOT making some of the same mistakes with your customers.

Create a Customer Service Credo, develop a specific plan and set of processes for consistently exceeding your customer’s expectations, train your people like crazy to follow those processes and focus on the customer, reward employees who do a great job and remove employees that don’t. It’s just this simple, but apparently the businesses I mentioned above did not think it was important.


  1. J.G. Ball says:

    As a frequent customer of AA with almost 4M miles, I can believe it.

  2. Collin Austin says:

    John – Great blog and great reminder to all businesses. We really try to make the customer’s experience with our company feel like it is their birthday when they get a new scooter, but I can tell you that once you have done ‘the process’ for the 200th time in a month, you’re basically tired of it (as an employee). We encourage our team and remind them that taking the picture, ringing the bell, signing a balloon is all about the customer and that customer’s experience. Any tips on how to keep it fresh for our team members? We encourage their input and a lot of these things mentioned above have come from our team members, but still, doing the process over and over often becomes tedious. I want them to remember how important it is to our long-term success, but they still ‘get tired of it.’ Thoughts on ways to keep processes / customer service / experiences from becoming ‘stale’? Thanks for the input and blog!

  3. Michal Petras says:

    An excellent article. Thank you for sharing your experience John.

  4. Katie says:

    Sorry to hear of your experience in New Zealand John. I am a kiwi, and I can honestly say that I have never once come across the kind of restaurant you have referred to here!? I go out at least a couple of times a week for breakfast at cafes/restaurants all around NZ as I travel a lot, and there is always table service. Only bakeries or tea-rooms in NZ are self-service. Anyway, hopefully you have a better experience next time, as there are many amazing establishments with good service here. Cheers

  5. John, great topic! During my quarterly kickoff back in July, I challenged my leaders and team on CX. The example I used was the airline industry, where perception gets worse and worse. The joke is the low fare carriers will soon begin charging for air during flights. My team does a lot of traveling, and they could all relate. I then spoke of the exception, and did a case study on Emirates, an airline known for exquisite service. My message was you don’t have to be the biggest to be the best. Emirates is driving record profits in the billions, and 28 consecutive years of profit, by being different and better, in a challenged industry. Their marketing is incredible. A month later in early August, Emirates had a 777 crash and burst into flames. Fortunately all passengers and crew escaped with only minor injuries. The only casualty was a fire fighter. Horrible things happen to even the best companies. During these challenges, every employee has to step up to the challenge, and if you do, you’ll have a customer for life, despite the challenge. One of the best examples is “Sully” the pilot who saved his plane on the Hudson. We must all strive to be the Sully of our own companies.

    3 days away

  6. Barry Hall says:

    Hi John,
    many thanks for your brilliant article. I have always loved customer service, and as you know I am retired from sales but doing a part time job at Costco in Leeds. I set myself a goal to have my picture on the wall and succeeded after eight months. Employee of the month for customer service. I was working last night and the deputy manageress put a note in my hand and said I think this is you, it said on a piece of paper Costco Wholesale Tell us what you think! “Gentleman at the checkout white hair + moustache very polite. Made the whole experience enjoyable. Great to see such a happy and friendly person. Thanks Richard. I don’t say this to be big headed I am not like that but have always believed a please and a thank you doesn’t hurt anyone.