I was writing the headline and chuckling to myself about the extra mile. We know that this milestone occurs when extra effort goes into a transaction or customer experience, in order to deliver customer happiness, beyond the expected end point. But, if many businesses have a challenge with just meeting minimum transaction requirements, how can they possibly go the extra mile? Put another way, how can they possibly go above and beyond to meet a customer’s needs, if the fundamentals of service efficiency are not even being met?
So, really, why is going the extra mile so hard? Several reasons come to mind, including prohibitive policies, bureaucracy, employees experiencing fatigue with negative customer interactions, employee disinterest and, in the case of call management, agent pressure to meet call handling metrics. The list can go on and on.
“So, really, why is going the extra mile so hard? Several reasons come to mind, including prohibitive policies, bureaucracy, employees experiencing fatigue with negative customer interactions, employee disinterest and, in the case of call management, agent pressure to meet call handling metrics.”
Another thought that I have on the matter is that businesses don’t articulate to their employees, what the extra mile means. To underscore my point, I’ve met employees who are unsure about how to demonstrate going the extra mile for customers. Okay………..I can just hear everyone saying, “But that should be understood, it’s so basic.” So is courtesy, yet everyone does not get it right. Sitting back and assuming that these behaviours are known to employees, then fuming when they are not displayed, is not a productive strategy. It’s time to start putting in the work to normalize the desired behaviours.
A meaningful start, would be to introduce the “extra mile” as a principle and a paradigm, then to follow up with the practice. In principle, this means that the business, as a brand, decides that nothing is too much trouble for its customers and bears this commitment out in customer perks, customer support, convenience features and extra care when employees interact with customers.
Of course, the human interaction elements are typically the ones that would be most outstanding in the minds of customers. So when a customer asks a customer service representative to take an action that’s out of the ordinary and the request is granted with a huge smile and an energetic spirit, the moment is memorable. When these moments are repeated time and again, the extra mile principle as a practice, becomes set both in the culture of the business and in the minds of the customer. The business is now standing out and customers are telling stories about their extra mile experiences.
So, I believe that far too many businesses are pre-occupied with training employees to on-board extra mile behaviours, without anchoring those behaviours to a mindset as a first step. I believe that it’s time to supplement the loud declarations of “We go the extra mile for our customers,” with a drill-down process.
“When these moments are repeated time and again, the extra mile principle as a practice, becomes set both in the culture of the business and in the minds of the customer. The business is now standing out and customers are telling stories about their extra mile experiences.”
Here’s what I mean by a drill-down process. There should be an Extra Mile Charter that explains exactly what is meant and this charter diffused across all areas of the business. Employees should be formally trained in extra mile thinking and mindset development, so that they become advocates for taking the effort away from customers. The business should invest heavily in customer perks, a full service customer support function and as many customer convenience features as possible.
Training in extra mile behaviours should include making it standard practice to ask customers if they have any special needs or concerns that should be considered, during every transaction. I know that we are accustomed to asking “May I assist you with anything else?” but this does not unearth enough information that can be useful in going the extra mile. When employees ask probing questions, they discover special needs and concerns that act as guides in making suggestions that can save the customer time, effort and money.
“Training in extra mile behaviours should include making it standard practice to ask customers if they have any special needs or concerns that should be considered, during every transaction.”
At the business level, customers should be enjoying perks that show commitment to the extra mile principle. If a customer is awaiting feedback on the approval of a medical insurance claim, he or she should be able to track the status of the claim online, or receive unprompted weekly updates on the status.
Happily, we are witnessing a growing recognition of the groups of customers with special needs. Many clothing and footwear retailers have begun to adopt an inclusive approach to creating merchandise that is responsive to individuals with special needs. Nike, for example, has created a hands-free shoe, with a hinged sole that allows individuals with limited mobility to slip on their shoes, without assistance.
All of these developments point to the need to make the extra mile a known, understood and practised process.
For many businesses, what this will require, is a refreshed start to the journey of service excellence, with a new business brand mindset that heralds going above and beyond as a new cultural standard.