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I recently watched two episodes of “Undercover Boss,” a exposé-style show on CBS that documents the experiences of senior executives when they work entry-level jobs at the companies they manage. The first episode I watched featured Jim and Chris McCann, CEO and COO, respectively, of 1-800 Flowers, the world’s largest flower and gift retailer. The second show presented Michael Rubin, CEO of GSI Commerce who worked in the shipping warehouse and customer service “Escalations” call center. The final show I enjoyed exposed Rick L. Arquilla, President and COO of Roto Rooter, to both sewage and the customer service call center.
It is entertaining to watch each show as traditionally suit-and-tie-clad executives get their elbows dirty (sometimes literally) and experience the work of those who ultimately execute the day-to-day responsibilities for their companies. I noticed a common theme in each episode-you guessed it-customer service! The following are some anecdotes, highlights, and lessons learned by the CEO’s from the episodes:
1. Connect with Customers
Chris McCann (COO, 1-800 Flowers) learns from one of his employees at their most successful physical store that building loyalty with customers keeps them coming. Commenting on the employee who greets all her customers by name, Chris says, “She’s fantastic! The connection she has with her customers-if I can bottle that up and get it into all of our stores, oh my god!”
2. Build Relationships First, Do Business Second
McCann got a wakeup call when he saw how little foot traffic a Massachusetts chain received. The employee was amiable but not particularly friendly and did not connect with her customers. McCann reflected upon their best-selling store and realized the need to build a loyal customer base and then grow the business based on that support.
3. Put Aside the Pride and Apologize
Michael Rubin (CEO, GSI Commerce) was thrilled with the excellent composure of Adam, a CSR that worked in Escalations, the particular call support for customers who have conflicts with their orders. Adam kept his cool, was very apologetic to his customers, and aimed to make them happy. On the other hand, Danielle, another CSR, was rude to a customer and insisted on being right rather than making the customer happy-ingredients to guarantee a lost customer. Rubin becomes very upset with her performance as a result. See the clip below:
4. It’s Not So Simple
Rick L. Arquilla (President and COO, Roto-Rooter) worked in phone call support and struggled with basic order-taking. He talked at the customer, interrupted, and was pushy. Unlike Rubin who had to confront and re-teach Danielle after revealing his true identity at the end of the show, Arquilla learned from his employee that he needed to be compassionate with the customer and their problem. He quipped at the end of the segment, “I got to bring in some of that customer mentality. I got to be warmer and fuzzier.” The full-episode CBS link is below, and at 13:30 is where he begins his customer service training, and at 15:00 is his realization.
All three shows had an underlying theme of being compassionate with customers and building relationships, which is not a surprising necessity in the potentially impersonal relationship built through a telephone or website. The fact that each of the shows exposed the executive to the customer support department in addition to more menial, physical labor tasks reenforces the need for excellent customer service that is the very backbone of retailers. By stressing the need for warm, compassionate, and overall-fantastic customer service, companies can assure their customers will watch their troubles go down the drain, a la Roto-Rooter’s slogan.