Customer is King

By Brian Beise

Burning customers is bad business. One survey suggests that after a negative experience, 55% of people will switch to a different product or company. To replace a patron who’s departed, it’s estimated to cost 7 to 10 times more than holding on to an old customer. On average, satisfied customers purchase more goods, are typically less sensitive to prices, and are likely to recommend your product or service to others – the best form of advertising.

Companies that have embraced the “customer is king” adage consistently rank among the best for customer service, and in most cases have experienced strong growth while outperforming their competition. Chattanooga is home to many companies that consistently keep their patrons coming back for more. Read below to discover how these local businesses make every customer feel like a king.

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3H Group Hotels

Started by Hiren Desai in 2000, 3H Group is a respected, premiere developer of hotels. COO Bruce Reed agreed to answer our questions about their focus on service.

Q: Why is customer service important to your business?

A: What makes a hotel stand out in the sea of brands is the commitment to customer service. The commitment to and delivery of an exceptional experience not only ensures great guest satisfaction, but it guarantees repeat business.

Q: How has a technology-driven world changed the way you handle service situations?

A: There are a variety of tracking and notification programs that allow for an immediate notification to the front desk staff or maintenance team to allow for a correction prior to a guest’s return.

Q: Can you give an example of a situation that shows how your company sets itself apart for service?

A: An elderly couple had been staying with us due to extended medical care the gentleman was receiving in Chattanooga. While attending the hotel Halloween party, one of the associates took a picture of the couple. The gentleman completed his treatment and they left Chattanooga, but unfortunately he passed away shortly after. The wife returned to Chattanooga and the hotel and shared the sad news. Upon hearing about the loss, the associate who took the picture had it printed and framed that same day. It turned out that was the last picture she had of them as a couple. Service is not always about correcting problems. It is about a commitment and philosophy to doing whatever it takes to leave a lasting memory with our guests.

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Tennessee Aquarium 

Already legendary for being the launching place of downtown Chattanooga’s renaissance, the Tennessee Aquarium is rated the best aquarium in America for customer satisfaction. Below, Charles Arant, president of the aquarium since 1995, reveals the philosophies behind the aquarium’s remarkable reputation for service.

Q: Why is customer service important to your business? 

A: Without customers, you have no business.

Q: How do you procure and train employees that have the same level of dedication to service

A: Careful hiring to achieve customer service requirements, continuous training, and recognition for outstanding customer service.

Q: Is it true that the customer is always right? 

A: Yes, to a reasonable point.

Q: How has a technology-driven world changed the way you handle service situations? 

A: Much quicker feedback requires immediate, honest, and open response.

Q: What are the keys to great customer service for your company? 

A: We have a core value for all employees that addresses always exceeding customer expectations in all that we do.

Q: How do your company’s customer service statements make you distinctive from your competition? 

A: We use outstanding customer service to differentiate us from our competitors.  We want to be the best in the business.

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Ruby Falls 

Discovered by excavators in 1928, Ruby Falls is located 1,120 feet below Lookout Mountain. It’s been a stunning public attraction since 1930 and welcomes thousands of visitors every year. Read on for Ruby Falls president Hugh Morrow’s insights on keeping customer service standards sky high.

Q: Why is customer service important to your business? 

A: In today’s competitive environment, you must create value and an atmosphere of appreciation for your guest’s discretionary spending.

Q: How do you procure and train employees that have the same level of dedication to service? 

A: During the height of our season, many of our employees are students. The key items we stress are personal eye-to-eye contact, listening to needs, and communicating information.

Q: How do your company’s customer service statements make you distinctive from your competition? 

A: Our guides are in continual contact with guests for a minimum of 1.5 to two hours. If this is done well, we create a personal rapport that enhances the experience.

Q: Can you give an example of a situation that shows how your company sets itself apart for service?

A: We have an open reception or concierge-type ticketing process. We want to convey the vast opportunities that Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain offer to visitors to our area. We want to sell them a Ruby Falls ticket, but we also want them to leave fully informed about our great city.

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EPB 

EPB is a community-owned company that provides energy, communications, and related services to 169,000 residents in a 600 square-mile area. Kathy Burns, EPB’s senior vice president, answers our questions about how EPB achieves and maintains a high standard of service.

Q: Is it true that the customer is always right? 

A: Customers are always right about what they want. That’s why great customer service always starts with listening.

Q: How has technology changed the way you interact and deal with customer service issues?

A: Technology has not changed the fundamentals of excellent customer service, but it has opened new avenues for interacting with customers and meeting their needs and wants.

Q: What are the keys to great customer service for a company?  

A: Always doing the right thing for our customers with respect, empathy, caring, and expertise.

Q: Can you give an example of a situation that shows how your company sets itself apart for service?

A: We had a small video rate increase due to the rise in television content costs, and a customer called to disconnect her service because she couldn’t afford the price increase. Our customer service representative reviewed her fiber services and saw she was paying for unlimited long distance on her phone service, but never used more than 100 minutes per month. He offered to change her phone plan to 120 free minutes per month, which reduced her bill by more than the rate increase. She was thrilled and we didn’t lose a customer.

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Vision Hospitality Group, Inc.

Vision Hospitality Group is known throughout Chattanooga for focusing on guest service. In business since 1997, the company owns  and operates 31 hotels. President and CEO, Mitch Patel, shares the special set of beliefs he and his team follow so each person’s experience in a Vision hotel is the best it can be.

Q: Is it true that the customer is always right? 

A: If you argue with a customer, you’ll never win. But if you empower your associates to resolve the situation however they need to, you’ve eliminated that tension. We believe in a 100% unconditional guarantee.

Q: How has a technology-driven world changed the way you handle service situations? 

A: There was a time when a customer who had a bad experience would tell 10 others about it. Now, through social media, they’re telling thousands. As a result, we pay more attention to social media comments, and our general managers respond promptly and accordingly to each.

Q: What are the biggest challenges regarding customer service? 

A: Customer service is about meeting the needs of our guests. To exceed their expectations, we focus on selecting the right associates. Once a part of our team, we make deposits in their emotional registers, for example, by celebrating their birthdays and sending them on sabbaticals. By taking care of them, they continue to deliver great service and take care of our guests.

Q: Can you give an example of a situation that shows how your company sets itself apart for service?

A: Hospitality is not a business to us; it’s a way of life. A perfect example is when a snow storm flooded one of our hotels with guests who were stranded on the highway. Although the hotel was booked, the general manager didn’t turn anyone away. She made space for unpaying guests in meeting rooms and in the hotel lobby. Our culture is truly defined by the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.

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Rock City 

At the top of Lookout Mountain, Rock City Gardens is a beautiful 4,100-foot walking trail that takes you past, under, and through enchanting rock formations, caves, and lush gardens. Nearly half a million people visit Rock City every year, which amounts to a lot of opportunities to succeed or fail at customer service. Rock City president Susan Harris discusses their success with us here.

Q: Why is customer service important to your business?

A: We have some of the most unique and distinctive experiences in the greater Chattanooga area, but our ability to provide strong value to our guests drives our success.

Q: How do you procure and train employees that have the same level of dedication to service?

A: We begin to share our expectations regarding excellent guest service in our recruiting and selection process, and continue that through orientation, training, regular employee meetings, written resources, and guest service mystery shop audits.

Q: Is it true that the customer is always right?

A: The customer’s perception of their visit is always their perception – and so it is the one that is the most important to us.

Q: Can you give an example of a situation that shows how your company sets itself apart for service?

A: Last November, we had the opportunity to serve a terminally ill child and her family as she worked on her self-described bucket list. They later wrote us a letter, calling our partners patient and thoughtful and said they were grateful for the memories our partners helped create.