Delivering World Class Customer Service


    Providing superior customers service to travelers and owners can be a lasting competitive advantage for your business. The basic foundations of customer service haven't changed in ages and you, and your team live and breathe those everyday. Delivering on the basics alone is challenging with staff turnover, human error, and challenging owners and guests.
    But there is actually another layer on top of that. There is innovative new thinking about designing customer interactions that can make a big difference for the customer service you deliver. These hot topics in customer service that represent new opportunities to excel in a competitive, service-driven marketplace include design for customer effort and behavioral economics. This post is intended to explore what these new ideas can do for you.

    Design for Customer Effort

    Some researchers in customer service made an interesting discovery (research described in Harvard Business Review: Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman, and Nicholas Toman July 2010). They found that the amount of effort that the customer personally has to expend to resolve a problem has a major impact on their satisfaction. More than a lot of other factors that service professionals spend their time on.

    Let’s look at an example: A guest checks into one of your units and finds that one bedroom was not adequately cleaned--beds not made, dirty sheets on the floor, etc.

    The steps they might take for resolution when there has been no focus on customer effort:

    1. The guest calls your office and explains the problem
    2. Your staff apologizes and says that this will be fixed. They ask if they can call the guest back
    3. In 15 minutes, they call the guest and leave a message for them to call the office back.
    4. The guest calls back and your staff says that the housekeeping team can be there at 5 p.m. to make the beds…Can the guest be out of the unit from 5-6 p.m.?
    5. Your guests have dinner plans at 7 p.m.
    6. No other option is available/presented, so the guest alters their plans to allow housekeeping access.
    What could the resolution of this same issue look like if you changed your process to reduce the effort the guest needs to expend?
    1. Guest calls office and explains problem
    2. Staff apologizes and says that this will be fixed. Asks whether the guest will be out of the unit any time before the end of the day.
    3. Guest explains dinner plans at 7 p.m.
    4. Staff commits to having the problem fixed while the guest is already planning to be out.
    5. Guest returns from dinner with problem resolved.
    If you examine the steps on the customer side, you can see the clear difference:


    And since the research says this difference in effort has a big impact on satisfaction, the guest in the second case is going to be much happier with their experience.

    Actions to consider

    For the top reasons customer service is contacted, consider: 
    • Walking through the steps the guest must take to resolve each issue.
    • Mystery shoping or doing a walkthrough
    • Coming up with 1-2 ways to reduce customer effort for each.

    Behavioral Economics

    We’ll reach outside the specific realm of customer service to pull some key concepts from the domain of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics deals with how we, as humans, make decisions and behave in ways that are not strictly rational. “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely is a great introduction to this topic. It’s a light read with a lot of easy to understand examples / case studies. There are a lot of concepts from behavioral economics that apply to customer service. One that I use all the time in our support organization: Customers will choose the default option more often than not, so design your defaults with desired outcomes in mind.

    The research on this is really interesting. One quick general example from a New York Times article on organ donation (Opting in vs. Opting Out, September 26, 2009):


    In the world of traditional economics, it shouldn’tmatter whether you use an opt-in or opt-out system. So long as the costs of registering as a donor or a nondonor are low, the results should be similar. But many findings of behavioral economics show that tiny disparities in such rules can make a big difference… Consider the difference in consent rates between two similar countries, Austria and Germany. In Germany, which uses an opt-in system, only 12 percent give their consent; in Austria, which uses opt-out, nearly everyone (99 percent) does.

    What this tells us is that the default choice you offer owners or guests is very powerful. Here’s an example of how we’ve applied this to a service process within our team:
    One question on our HomeAway Software post-support survey is: “Would you like a support manager to contact you because of any problem with the resolution of your issue?”
    Occasionally a customer who gives us great scores and positive comments also selects the check box that they want a manager to follow-up due to a problem. This is probably a case of a "false positive" - where the customer simply marked that field incorrectly.

    We need to contact the customer to see if there is, in fact, an issue. How do we do that without causing undue extra work for the customer or for us?

    We use this concept from behavioral economics and set up the default if they don’t do anything to be that we will assume that they do not need follow-up contact. That helps the customer – if they made a mistake, which is the most likely scenario, they don’t have take any action at all to correct it. And it helps our team – we don’t end up with an open action that is pending a response that might never come or might require multiple ”nagging” contacts.
    Here’s the way our email response accomplished that:


    “Thank you very much for filling out our recent survey…

     You provided a very positive rating and comments, but also selected the button requesting a manager to follow-up with you regarding the resolution of your issue. 

     If that was just an error in filling out the survey, no need to respond. However, if you did need to talk to a support manager, just let me know and I can assist you.” 

    Actions to consider

    Examine the default options for each choice you offer.
    • Is that the preferred choice for the client? For your business?
    • If not, redesign the choices and defaults.
    There are more examples and more new thinking that’s available for you to learn and apply. Hopefully this quick set of examples has given you some ideas on how the newest thinking in customer service can be applied at your firm to help you achieve world class service and the competitive advantage that comes with it. 

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