Since I began my journey of inquiry into the world of customer service, I am increasingly aware of how different service providers manage to exceed the expectations of us consumers. And I emphasize, “surpassing”, because that is what it takes to get to total amazement and create a relationship of trust. If one as a client is positively surprised, it generates an immediate sympathy, an emotional bond and a flash of positive energy that endures. You will say that this is very difficult, how will I achieve to exceed expectations in a global world that is in full swing and where customers are more demanding? I will tell you a short story of one of my trips where you may surprise the customer is easier than it seems.
Returning to the demands of today’s customer, this one thinks that he is right, is more informed than sellers and demands immediacy? And if that’s not enough you can compare product quality, price levels and range of services online and real time.
After a 10-hour flight from Miami to the German Capital and another 20 minutes by taxi from Berlin Tegel International Airport, I arrived at the Deutsche Bahn’s “Reisezentrum” (Central Traveler) with the firm intention of taking a high-speed train and get to my destination as fast as possible to finally lie down on a bed and rest horizontally.
As a side note, I comment that these trains are the best way to travel, and at speeds around 188 mph, long distances are traveled in acceptable times. The most impressive are ICE (Germany), Shinkanzen (Japan), TGV (France) and CRH (China). I have had the privilege of traveling several times on the ICE and once taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka and they really are the best alternative to an airplane. With the advantage of not having to go through all the security controls and long waiting times at the airports.
As customer of the Deutsche Bahn (German railroad) and any other transportation service my expectations are that I arrive safe and punctual from A to B and that everything else like check in, ticket purchase is quick and easy. And so, I’m disappointed when I find a long line at the ticket counter. I think that a of 4 million inhabitantcity like Berlin, which on top is visited by thousands of tourists daily, should have more than three attendants taking care of walk ins. It is clear to me, that because of the high cost to companies, in Germany human resourcesrepresent the number one bottleneck.
I see the first class counter empty and I quickly turn to it. With a strong and authoritative “Guten Tag” a lady in uniform, short red dyed hair and glasses welcomes me with a friendly smile. In my mother tongue, which is German, I explain that I want to go to Wolfsburg with the next ICE (Intercity Express or high speed train) and ask if I the “Test Bahncard” promotion (discount card that allows to buy the tickets at half price), of which I had read on the Internet is still available. As for most of today’s consumers, online is my first and main channel of information before any move. I make a parenthesis here because even though I tried, I could not buy the ticket over the DB.de website.
For some inexplicable reason the corporate card was not accepted by the system. I was not the only one, because that same week, three other people told me that it was very difficult to buy the tickets over the web. Here is another basic principle; online processes have to be especially efficient and simple. They also have to be completely interlinked with the physical processes. In this case for example my initiated online purchase should have been saved, so that the person at the DB counter could have complete it by just swiping the card. But no, all data had to be entered again.
The uniformed Deutsche Bahn attendant tells me that the “Test Bahncard” is no longer available. I insist that only two days ago I had seen the offer for 25 Euro at www.deutsche-bahn.de. Again a clear disconnect of the virtual and the physical world for this brand. Seeing that I was more informed than her (as today often happens with many of the consumers), she began to dig in the folders, always commenting sympathetically that we can verify it and actually found the application forms. The lady then asked me if I was going to do more trips in the following months and I told her that I lived in the USA and that I was only going to stay for a week. Without pouting I asked if I could get the card now and at that moment the lady surprised me.
Contrary to her initial position, she could now offer me a temporary Bahncard – “an advantage she gave me in an exceptional manner”. The validity of the card was only 2 month compared to the 4 of the “Test Bahncard”, but it had the advantage of not having to renounce the subscription contract, thus allowing me to benefit from the discount in the purchase of my tickets and avoiding the subsequent bureaucracy. This was a better alternative in my specific case, as I was not interested in keeping the subscription for longer.
You might think that this is not a big deal, worth spending all this time writing a blog post about, but remember, this was a public employee working in an organization in its baby steps of digitalization and customer orientation. She made an effort to find out how to satisfy my wish with an alternative solution always maintaining a positive and friendly attitude.
We learned that to give great customer service, one does not have to be a perfect machine. The most important thing is to understand what the customer wants and this is only possible by asking questions in a dialogue and understanding his specific situation. The DB lady had the ability to analyze the problem and come up with a different, but valid solution and she just applied common sense. In order to have this in your organization you need to empower your teams and have people with a certain level of logic and training.
So I left the Reisezentrum, boarded my train at Gleis 13 punctually, enjoyed the ICE hospitality and arrived at Wolfsburg Hauptbahnhof on time. GuteReise!