by Steve Olenski
From time to time I will try and use non-marketing metaphors/real life examples to help make a point. From What Schoolhouse Rock And Integration Have In Common to Baby, We Were Born to Market: Springsteen on Social Media Marketing, I love juxtaposing things that otherwise have nothing to do with marketing, advertising and branding onto that world, all to help make a point and get a message across.
Such is the case today with the subject of customer service – a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, having worked for 10 years in the retail world. I know full well the value of customer service and the effect it can have, both positively and negatively, on a given brand.
The juxtaposition today comes in the form of comparing mountain climbing with servicing your customer.
Yes, mountain climbing.
I’m not sure if you know this or not, but you can’t climb every mountain there is — not unless you live to the age of Methuselah, that is. So it’s important that you choose a mountaineering guide that is going to bring you enough safety, benefits, pleasures and memories to last a lifetime. It’s the same in business, where customer service truly is your Sherpa.
For most of us, the one extreme climbing experience that would mean more than anything else is the ascent of Mount Everest in Nepal. First accomplished on the South Col route in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, this mountain trek is now the Holy Grail of professional and amateur mountaineers the world over. With an unstable political situation in Nepal and higher ecological stewardship restrictions, this experience is becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish.
To prosper and succeed, you need a very experienced and knowledgeable expert mountain climber as your guide and leader for the expedition. Your company should be well connected with the Nepalese authorities, since trying to climb Everest from the Tibet side is no longer practicable, and the Chinese government does not encourage the attempt.
According to Adrian Ballinger, owner of the extreme mountaineering guide service Alpenglow Expeditions, “What you are going to need, more than anything else, whether in business or on an expedition to Mount Everest, is the best customer service available. Otherwise, you’re in danger of having your business falling off or of falling off a mountain ledge. Either way, it’s painful — to say the least!”
Here’s how great customer service is like a great mountain guide:
- Your customer service personnel should be like the Sherpa, the ethnic people of Nepal, who continually guide their clients to the top of the mountain. Whether in person, on the phone or by email, your customers need to feel confident in your customer service people.
- The best way to produce a Sherpa-like customer service rep is to train them the same way a Sherpa is trained: Provide them with experience and encouragement, and let them feel empowered to lead your customers — not be led. Not only should you actively train your customer service reps, you should hire top talent in the beginning. Adrian Ballinger relates to this principle very well: “We only work with and hire Sherpas who have been trained at the Kahumbu Climbing Center in Nepal. This way we know their quality of education and training is second to none right out of the gate.”
- The Sherpa revere their elders, knowing they can provide knowledge to navigate the steepest slope and avoid the most dangerous crevasse. In customer service, agents must be able to access the most current information and have instant communication with a management team that has experienced it all and knows all the answers. Then your customer service people will always be confident and calm, knowing they have a support system in place that never leaves them twisting in the wind.
- What good is a mountain guide without the proper equipment? Would you trust a guide who came to you dressed in swim trunks and scuba gear? Probably not. Just so, you must provide your customer service department with the proper tools to do their job; such things as clean, lightweight headphones, guidelines that are clear and yet brief, a cubicle/working space that is quiet and efficient and ergonomic furniture, so they don’t suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or persistent back pain.
- Finally, help your customer service people obtain and keep a positive mental attitude by providing incentives for outstanding service — then make that the bar for all future job reviews and advances in your business.
Tenzing Norgay, that great Sherpa guide, started out completely ignorant of English. But after his first experience with English mountaineers, and their generous tips, he realized speaking their language and learning their culture would increase both his helpfulness to them, as well as his own benefits.
He was right; he retired well-off and well-respected by both the English and his Sherpa neighbors.
So do yourself a favor, and help all of your customer service people achieve Tenzing Norgay status as early as possible in their career with your organization.
It will go a long way in achieving ultimate customer service success.
*This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Steve Olenski was named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred. Steve is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading marketing cloud software and services company. He is a also a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing and co-author of the book “StumbleUpon For Dummies.” He can be reached via LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter @steveolenski or at the nearest coffee shop.