Several months ago, my wife and I went to a local restaurant to eat dinner.  We arrived and were seated quickly. So far, so good.  However, we sat there over the next 20 minutes waiting on service. No one came to take our drink order, no one stopped by to see if we had questions about any of the dishes on the menu. When the timer in my head hit 30 minutes, and we still had no service, we decided to leave.  As we were walking out, the manager asked us how our meal was. I made it a point to tell him that we had been waiting for 30 minutes and no one had stopped by our table. His only comment was, “I’m sorry. Maybe next time we’ll get it better.”

Next time? There won’t be a next time for us at that restaurant. In fact, I recently drove past and noticed that the restaurant is now out of business.  No wonder!

Unfortunately, providing low levels of customer service seems to be the norm, not the exception. In many industries, customers are increasingly frustrated at the lack of good customer service. The situation has become so bad across the board that national talk radio host Clark Howard calls it “Customer No Service”.

However, with the increased competition faced by most organizations, companies should be working to improve customer service as a competitive advantage. In our opinion, we think it’s time to get back to the basics of treating others the way we want to be treated. We have to remember that we are customers as well, and we have certain expectations about how we want to be treated.

Our industry is no exception. In our organization, a parking and transportation management company, we have developed a corporate culture built entirely around the corporate slogan of “Exceptional People providing Exceptional Service”. We expect all team members to demonstrate a level of exceptional level of service to all of our customers – both internal and external.

When Bob Pittman ran Six Flags, providing exceptional customer service was so important that he instituted the 10-5 Rule. The 10-5 Rule stated that when a guest moved to within 10 feet of you, you made eye contact.  When a guest moved to within 5 feet of you, you greeted them. We’ve gone beyond the 10-5 Rule by instituting the “20-10 Rule”. If someone gets within 20 feet of you, they get a smile and a wave. If a person gets within 10 feet of you, they get a smile, a wave, and a friendly “hello” from you.  

We feel so strongly about exceptional customer service that the “20-10 Rule” is the cornerstone of our corporate culture. Additionally, It is important to note that the 20-10 Rule permeates our entire organization.  Everyone, from the most senior manager to the newest cashier, is expected to follow the 20-10 Rule with all customers, including our internal customers – internal customers being other employees. In our view, our associates will treat our customers the same way that they are treated by us.  In fact, I offer $5.00 on the spot to any associate that catches me not following the 20-10 Rule. 

Why is the 20-10 Rule such an integral part of our corporate culture?  We see three reasons that the 20-10 Rule is important:

   1. It creates exceptional customer service for internal and external customers.
   2. It creates a feeling of safety for our guests.
   3. It creates a level of security for the property of our customers.

Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.

Exceptional Customer Service

Admit it. We all like to be recognized. We like to see a smile, a wave, and hear a friendly “hello” as we enter a place of business. Look at successful companies such as Moe’s Southwest Grill and Chick-fil-A, two Atlanta-based restaurants. Upon entering a Moe’s, the first thing you hear is several loud voices calling “Welcome to Moe’s!” in unison. Walking into a Chick-fil-A, the first thing you hear is “Thank you for choosing Chick-fil-A”.  Both of these greetings have been carefully designed to make you feel welcome.

When you break it down to the bare minimum, customer service is actually about customer “feelings”. Consider how you feel when a sales associate at a department store calls you by your name when returning your credit card.  Even though it’s obvious that they read your name on your credit card, it still makes you feel special. 

Not only does this recognition make our customer feel good, it also makes our team members feel good as well.  Research shows that when we treat others “nice”, our brains release endorphins, which make us happier.

In the wonderful book The Power of Nice, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval observe that good deeds benefit both the Doer by making him or her feel good and potentially establishing an important connection, as well as the Receiver of the good deed. They continue with the observation that “You have to treat everyone you meet as if they are the most important person in the world, because they are.  If not to you, then to someone; and if not today, then perhaps tomorrow”.

Feeling of Safety

In addition to the customer service issue, the 20-10 Rule also helps our guests realize a feeling of safety for themselves and their vehicles. By smiling, waving, and greeting the guests, our associates let them know that we are physically present on the property.

In our industry, the parking and transportation industry, our customers have a certain level of anxiety when leaving their second biggest investment, their car, in a parking facility. Additionally, many of us are not excited about the prospect of walking across a big parking lot alone, when there are so many hiding places.  The same could be said for other industries as well.  I’m anxious when I leave my money in a bank.  I would be a little uneasy leaving my son at a day-care center.  The 20-10 Rule is applicable to any organization that has customers.

By smiling, waving, and saying “hello”, we are providing the guest with a friendly face in an environment that at first appears hostile.  

Security

While we don’t like to admit it, there are those people that are out to do bad things to others.  There are people that walk through places of business with criminal intentions foremost on their mind.  They are looking for an easy target where their chance of getting caught in the commission of a crime is very low.  They look at the pleasure vs. pain principle, which considers how much pleasure can be gained versus how much pain they may suffer as a result.  

When we greet these people, we let them know that we are actively watching what’s happening on that property.  In turn, these people move on in search of an easier environment in which to ply their trade.

Conclusion

As we stated earlier, customer “service” is all about customer “feelings”.  Our goal is to instill a good feeling about the organization through our interactions with customers.  This good feeling creates a positive image of us and our organization.  Remember the old saying that, “squirrels are nothing more than rats with good publicity”.

Exceptional customer service adds value and credibility to what we do and who we are.  Something as simple as a smile, a wave, and a friendly “Hello!” can pay off in huge dividends when practiced consistently.  So, practice the 20-10 Rule daily.  Your customers will reward you.

Wendy Tomlinson, the Manager of Learning and Development for a parking and transportaion management company, contributed to this article.  Wendy is recognized as an expert in providing exceptional customer service, and is responsible for providing training, education, and development to all areas of the organization, focusing on customer service and leadership development.