Speaker: Treat visitors like celebrities

By Jason Ferguson

Laurie Guest uses a bottle of Bling Water, which costs $40 per bottle, to demonstrate a point about how businesses should have “bling” or an offer or special that makes them unique from other businesses. It’s important to deliver on those promises, however, she said.

It doesn’t matter how good the bakery is if the cashier spits in your cake.

Those were the parting words of professional speaker and trainer Laurie Guest, who spoke to many in the customer service industry in and around Custer when she presented “Managing the Red Carpet; a Show Business Guide to Customer Service” June 8 at the Buffalo Ridge Theater.

The bakery reference was Guest’s way of driving home that it doesn’t matter how great an area like Custer is or what it has to offer if poor customer service ruins a part of a visitor’s experience. The key, she said, is to make  Custer seem “so darn fun and friendly” that people wouldn’t dare go somewhere else.

Guest, brought to Custer for the annual customer service presentation by the Custer Area Chamber of Commerce and several sponsors, used humor and an entertainment industry-based theme to demonstrate how visitors who come to Custer can be treated like stars even on days when there is chaos “behind the curtain” at local businesses and attractions.

Guest encouraged those in the audience to question if everyone at their place of business is “making the same movie,” saying visitors want to be treated like celebrities.

“‘Do you know who I am,’ is the attitude of every tourist you’ve ever dealt with. Am I right?” Guest asked.

Guest, who, along with her husband, collects autographs from celebrities, related a story about Oscar-winning actress Maureen Stapleton who called her husband upon receiving a request for an autographed photo, promising to send one, but never doing it. She called again and had the same conversation, at which time her husband told Stapleton not to worry about sending the autograph if it was too much of a bother. Not long after, the autographed photo showed up in the mail.

The lesson, Guest said, is if you promise you’re going to follow through, follow through. And always make sure your customers aren’t annoying you or causing trouble with extra phone calls or requests.

Body language is another part of interacting with people that is critical, Guest said. People respond to body language, she said, and many times people aren’t aware of the signals they are or aren’t sending. Body language, “the universal tongue,” she said, lets people know whether or not you are approachable. Everything you are thinking — or aren’t thinking — is  written all over your face.

It’s important to not get too high or two low when dealing with customers, Guest said, saying being “Suzie Sunshine,” over the top happy, can sometimes be inappropriate, based on the situation. Conversely, being “Boring Bob” can be a turn-off for customers. Being somewhere between is ideal, she said.

Guest encouraged businesses to create a “show time culture.” Behind the scenes can be chaos, she said, but when the curtain opens and the lights come on, it’s show time. Customers should never see less than your best, even when they step aside and aren’t being directly talked to. Greeting them enthusiastically, only to turn dour when they step to the side is letting people behind the curtain.

“They only want to see the show,” she said. “Not behind the curtain.”

Showing up to work ready to go is key, she said, as are transitions and redirects at work. Dealing with disgruntled customers or passing those customers off to another coworker who can better serve them are seamless transitions. Rather than letting the person say what they are having a problem with, then making them repeat themselves to the next person, gather as much information as you can to pass on to the person who will assist them.

Customers must perceive they are valued by you, she said. She encouraged businesses to “find their bling,” meaning something exciting or new they can offer a customer. Creating excitement, even for something that could be very old to the provider, is essential.

Most visitors are seeing things for the first time when they come here. For people who live here, Mount Rushmore may just be four guys carved onto a rock, she said, but for some, it’s a destination they have waited a long time to visit.

Keeping that excitement level up, she said, is “keeping your pitcher full.”

“You are performers. You have to refill your pitcher to refill people’s glasses,” she said.

Every interaction with a guest, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is important, Guest said. The better you treat the person, the more likely it is you’ll land them and keep them in your business or area. Instead of saying yes, say “I’d be happy to,” she said.

“You have to say yes. Saying no isn’t really an option,” she said. “You might as well say, ‘I’d be happy to.’ You can all start doing it the second you leave here.”

Guest gave a list of taboo words to delete from customer service, starting with asking someone, “How are you?” The only time to ask that is if you really want to know and are willing to stick around and hear the answer. Otherwise, saying, “It’s nice to see you,” does the trick.

Never tell a customer you’re busy, she said, because the customer may in turn infer you are too busy for just them. Don’t verbalized your stream of consciousness, she said, such as saying “Oops” or “Why won’t’ this work” while typing with them on the other end of the phone. Rather, encourage them to relax while you work to solve their problem.

Never say, “There’s nothing I can do,” she said, because there is always something you can do, even if it’s just empathize with their plight. Finally, never say, “That’s our policy,” but rather, explain why it’s a policy. Even worse, never say, “Generally, that’s our policy,” as it just opens door for exceptions.

Guest gave an example for the policy issue, asking someone in the crowd to give a time when they have to say, “It’s our policy.” When someone from Custer State Park said people often ask why they can’t ride buffaloes, Guest suggested using reasons the person said the buffalo can’t be ridden: That it’s unsafe, and “the buffalo don’t appreciate it.”

The word sorry is overused as well, she said. If you miss a call and have to call back later, don’t apologize. Rather, tell them you now have a chance to return their call. If you have to close a cash register, don’t hang a sign that says, “Sorry, this register is closed,” but rather, a sign saying how delighted you would be to serve them at another register. Be creative and don’t apologize for things that don’t require such. Save apologies for when they are truly required.

“You can stuff your sorrys in a sack,” she said, channeling George Costanza from “Seinfeld.”

Teamwork is the secret for a great ensemble cast, she told the crowd. She related the story of how a bunch of no-name actors landed jobs on a sitcom for $20,000 per actor per episode their first year after making a “united we stand” pact. A couple of years later, one of the cast members was offered more money than the others and turned it down. By the end of the show, the cast was making $1.5 million each per actor, per episode. The show? “Friends.”

Guest said she wasn’t suggesting every employee should make the same amount, but rather should be united in their cause to provide great customer service.

Making yourself indispensable is another key, she said. If cuts or layoffs come to a business, it is those who accept every challenge and never say no to helping out who are kept by an employer, not those who grumble or whine over having to do their job.

She called on those in the audience to be present, be authentic and be grateful for customers who come to their shop. She said everyone has the power to decide where they work and they would be much better off with an, “I get to go to work today,” attitude as opposed to an, “I have to go to work attitude.”

Be prepared and be willing to help she said, even if deep down you don’t feel up to it that day.

“If you’re not ready to go to work, don’t put on your boots on,” she said.