by Robin Amster/Travel Report
Joy Karp believes customer service is more important to the success of a business than anything else. That’s especially true for travel agencies in the age of the Internet, she says.
In herbook The Power of Service: Service Through the Eyes of Customers (2014), Karp offers what she calls a “new approach” to customer service, one that focuses on “authentic service that comes from the heart.”
Authentic service is provided by staff whose employers recognize that “customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction go hand in hand,” according to Karp.
A businesswoman, author and educator, Karp created a hands-on business training program for McDonald’s, which changed the way the fast-food giant trains and promotes its staff worldwide.
Travel Market Report spoke with Karp about authentic service and what it means to the travel agency business.
What’s your ‘new approach’ to customer service?
Karp: Customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction go together; they have to work hand in hand. Employers have to take an interest in their employees and care about them the same way they care about their customers. Involve employees, ask for their advice, provide incentives, treat them ethically.
Customer service is more important than anything else. It has to be established as the most critical factor in bringing back clients. Employers have to work with employees to create authentic service. That’s going to come from the top.
How do you define authenticity when it comes to customer service?
Karp: Authenticity comes from the heart. You believe that service really matters as opposed to memorizing this is what I’m supposed to say or do.
What the customer really wants from service is to feel good. We all have triggers and a lot going on in our daily lives. If you can have a trigger of an experience that makes you feel good, you’ll want to replicate that experience.
The old service was to stand up there and be bubbly. I was so darn bubbly, I scared people! I was trying hard, but I wasn’t listening to people. I was so into staging that presence, that I wasn’t real.
Is every employee capable of providing to provide great customer service?
Karp: There’s no personality profile. Some people have surprised us. They are quiet, keep their heads down, show a lack of confidence; they don’t turn customers on or off. But in six months [of customer service training], their confidence is up and they provide great service. You have to teach what it means for customer service to come from the heart.
Anyone who has a bad attitude, however, should be replaced or put in another position where he or she doesn’t deal with people. A bad attitude cannot be fixed. It’s as contagious as the plague. But outstanding service can also be contagious. It spreads from one employee to another.
What form should customer service provided by travel agents take?
Karp: Travel agents should make the customer feel that what they want is the most important thing in the world to you, their agent. And they want you to mean it. Also, travel these days is not as pleasant as it used to be. The job of the agent is to make the experience as good as the customer wants it to be.
Agents have special contacts. That’s nice, but that won’t bring customers back if [those products] are not what they wanted. You have to show customers you’ve turned over every stone to give them what they want. By doing the extra work, you’re building a relationship and you’re building loyalty. You become the go-to agency. That’s the key to repeat business.
How can agents build loyalty?
Karp: Build an emotional bond with the customer. That’s crucial. Learn as much as you can about that customer. Then they become your customer and your friend. Becoming involved like that used to be a no-no. But there’s nothing wrong with it.
What else can agents do to cement that bond with clients?
Karp: Agents need to find their own brand of service, something special to them. It’s a personal thing, something that nobody else does.
It could be a personality trait — for instance being very gracious in a particular way. Be known for something positive that touches people.
You’ve said customer service was better 30 years ago. Why do you think so?
Karp: Thirty years ago when you went into a store, they knew your name and what you liked. They were automatically into building relationships. Back then there was no voicemail. People called and someone actually answered the phone. It was phone or mail, no computers. You were looked after by a real person.
People haven’t changed, just their lives have. I embrace technology but because of it we need more humanity in our service than ever. Instead of customer service, call it ‘customer happiness.’ That’s a little corny, but I like it.
We once again have to make service the No. 1 priority. It will benefit every aspect of a business in terms of morale, sales and profitability. Some industry is going to have to step up. Let the travel agency business be the one to set an example of what complete and authentic service is