LESSONS FROM A 5-STAR ‘TRANSPORTER OF CHOICE’ – excerpt from the book, ‘5-Star Customer Service’ by Archibald Marwizi.

The following letter appeared in a national daily newspaper, under the “Letters to the Editor” section. The letter was titled, “Hats off to ExtraCity bus service management.”

 “I would like to commend the management of ExtraCity bus service for the valiant efforts made in the provision of daily transport services.  The fleet of buses plying the Bulawayo-Hwange-Victoria Falls route have eased transport blues faced by residents owing to poor services provided by the National Railways of Zimbabwe trains that failed to arrive in Bulawayo and Harare on time.

Nowadays most people travel on a single day from Victoria Falls to either Bulawayo or Harare. However, I have noted with great concern that there are no plug-in points to recharge cellphones for passengers on board. It should be taken into consideration that it is important for passengers on board to communicate with their loved ones.

I therefore, appeal to the ExtraCity Bus Service management to install plug-in points close to passenger seats so that passengers have access to the cellphone recharging sockets.

 I hope my submission will be taken into consideration.”

A couple of months after this letter appeared in the newspaper, I passed through the ExtraCity offices and the management was looking for contact details of the customer who wrote the letter. Not only did they want to appreciate the feedback with a grocery hamper, they wanted to advise the customer that they had taken delivery of four new coaches. All the new coaches had been fitted with a cellphone battery charging socket for each passenger. Now – that is what I call 5-Star response to customer needs and requests!

LEARNING QUESTIONS

  1.  What issues make customers turn away from your great product or service? Can you identify the ones that seem like ‘petty issues’ to the extent you might even overlook them?
  2. How responsive are you to customers’ feedback and concerns?
  3. In which ways have you prepared yourself to satisfy the expectations of the volumes of customers you are likely to attract?

ExtraCity Luxury Coaches embraced 5-Star customer service principles and strove to make them a part of their culture. When two large competitor companies merged their operations to strengthen their position in the routes covered by ExtraCity, they were soon to learn that “the customer is king” and that “service is the only difference that makes a difference when there is no difference.” The competitors put newer coaches with superior product features and amenities, charged the same fares and even went on to head hunt a few employees from ExtraCity.

The competitors were forced to withdraw their service within a month of launching an offensive, simply because customers chose to remain loyal to ExtraCity – the kings had spoken and the difference came from the service they were receiving, not the equipment features or price. Instead of investing in fancy features on their buses, the ExtraCity management instead chose to invest in improving their crew members’ knowledge of customer service to further improve the customer experiences their customers were receiving on every trip.

As we always say in Zimhost and Afrihost workshops, “Service is the only difference that can make a difference when there is no difference.” Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com confirms in his book, “Delivering Happiness – A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose,” that everything else like price and product features can be copied and replicated overnight – the ultimate distinction remains the quality of customer service attached to the products or services offered.

LEARNING POINTS

  • How does a company enter into a highly competitive market, and within a short period of time dominated the route they serve, growing the fleet of coaches from just one vehicle to over 20 luxury coaches?
  • How has it been possible to fend off aggressive attempts by competitors to dislodge the growing dominance?

For ExtraCity Luxury Coaches, the answer has been simple – “Focus on the things that cannot be copied because we are not just a bus company, but a service business. Our continuous homework is to respond to the needs of our customers.” This is the view of the company’s directors. After pressing Dave and Fari Masimira to be more elaborate, what I learnt from this growing player in the competitive transport industry, included the following:

  1. Their choice of route was largely influenced by listening to their drivers and hosting crew. (Listen to members of your team)
  2. All their developmental initiatives and expansion programs have been in response to expressed customer needs and requests. (Listen to your customers and respond to their needs and expectations)
  3. They have adopted a system of delivering the service to customers. (Systematise customer service into the daily practices of your business)
  4. They are continuously looking for ways to deliver quality customer experiences so as to make their brand unique. (Continuously improve your organisation’s systems, methods and policies in line with customer needs)
  5. They practically demonstrate how they care for their team members, even beyond the work place. (Build a team, show you care and work as a family unit)
  6. They invest in training and development of staff and management. (Your organisation is only as good as its people – take staff and management development seriously)
  7. The directors personally go out of their way to directly get feedback from their customers and to experience the same service they offer to others. They deliberately park their cars and travel on their coaches. (Literally, put yourself in the customers’ shoes – feel what they feel, experience what they experience and adjust your service accordingly)
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