If providing a quality customer experience means anything to you, you’ve probably addressed many of the key elements of service. You may have standards that govern how you greet customers, interact with them, and handle the occasional service slip up. But it’s important to address every aspect of the experience that’s under your control. A customer begins forming their perception of your service even before they interact with you. That’s because everything they see, hear, and feel leading up to the actual service interaction gets associated with the experience – even if it’s only subconsciously. In their mind, it all becomes part of the same service memory.

But identifying these ancillary aspects of the service experience can be hard to do. You see, we interact with our organization as an insider. Over time, we’ve become desensitized to the little things that can negatively impact how a customer perceives us. We have to make a conscious effort to shed our biased viewpoint and observe things from the customer’s perspective. When we do that, otherwise overlooked opportunities to improve our service begin to appear.

1. Check the view. First impressions matter. Put your customer hat on and approach your location – try to see the environment as they would see it. Is the signage directing traffic adequate? Are signs well-lit and easy to read? Is the parking lot and landscaping well-kept and free of trash? Does the entryway appear inviting?

Now move inside and look around – again with the eyes of a customer. What do you see? Stains on the carpet? Dead plants? Out of date magazines in the waiting area? Cluttered counters? Employees eating at their desk? These and other signs of neglect may seem insignificant to you, but play a large role in determining a customer’s expectations of the service they’ll receive.

2. Watch your language. Customers are like children – they are always listening. Anything and everything you say within earshot of a customer will be heard, interpreted, and incorporated into their perception of your service. So listen carefully to what is said as well as when and how it is said.

Jargon – the collection of acronyms, abbreviations, and insider terms that are part of every organization’s culture – sounds like a foreign language to the customer. Even if used by team members not involved in servicing the customer, these terms add to the feeling of separation. And anything that creates or adds to the rift between you and the customer needs to be eliminated.

3. Put a stop to loitering. You’ve probably had the experience of waiting in line at the store while other employees mill around, either chatting or completing other tasks. I don’t know about you, but that always bothers me. Team members who aren’t directly involved in assisting customers shouldn’t be within my line of sight. If I can see them, they can see me; and if they can see me, they should be helping me.

Make sure team members know that breaks are not to be taken on the sales floor, or outside the store entrance. If there are administrative tasks to be completed, workers assigned to them should be provided a private area in which to work. And anyone operating within view of customers should be instructed to stop and assist at the first indication that a customer needs help.

4. Rewrite your signage. The words used to communicate on signage should be chosen carefully. There are multiple ways to communicate the same thing. Some of them are better than others. While one phrase may succinctly convey the desired message, it may also convey a negative tone. Simply altering the words we used on signage can greatly impact the customer’s perception.

For example, let’s say a fast food restaurant has two windows as part of its drive-thru service; one to take the order and the other to deliver food and accept payment. Someone calls in sick, so they decide to perform all functions at the second window. The manager places a sign in the first window that reads “This window closed.” Now a second restaurant experiences the same staffing issue, but their sign reads “We will gladly serve you at the next window.” Both signs communicate the same message, but which leaves a better taste in the customer’s mouth? Exactly.

5. Jump on the little things. Empty the trash cans before they start to overflow. Use a clean rag to wipe down the table. Make sure the bathrooms don’t run out of paper towels. Clean the last customer’s crumbs out of the seat. Wash your hands when you use the restroom. Tuck in your shirt. Say “thank you.” Smile.

As the leader you set the bar. Your team members are watching you and how your actions support (or fail to support) your words. They notice the little things. So take on the dirty jobs yourself. Show the team how the work gets done. Be the model. Don’t point out to them that you’re intentionally taking on the grunt work. They’ll notice. And then they’ll respond. How you address the little jobs determines how they’ll address them. And how they handle the small things determines how they handle the big ones.

It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience, yet the typical business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers. And while 80% of companies say they deliver “superior” service, only 8% of them have customers that agree. Think your customer service would pass the test?

If you’re serious about improving the level of service at your organization, I’d like to help. Check out my blog for tips on leading your team toward providing the kind of customer experience your competitors will envy. Then pick up the phone and give me a call. I’m ready to go to work for you.

-Scott