Customer Service Insights from a Charlotte Shoe Shiner

By Cameron Ahler, Senior Consultant.

I spend a lot of time on the road visiting high-profile clients. This lifestyle requires that I upkeep a professional appearance – all while rushing through airports. Coming from a background in hospitality and service, I like to think I have a pretty good handle on customer service. I've deployed call centers, mapped numerous business processes that affect customer satisfaction, and helped implement service metrics. However, one of the greatest lessons I've learned about customer service came from the shoe shine service at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

A couple things to note about the Charlotte Shoe Shine:

  • They don't have a set rate. That's right, the customer dictates the price
  • I pay more and wait longer for every shoe shine there than anywhere else in the country

The first question you hear while in line is, "Do you have more than 10 minutes for your shine today?" This question immediately identifies your customer type as either transactional and quick, or desiring full service. From a basic business perspective, they are simply segmenting customers by product or priority in order to determine what type of customer engagement is most fitting.

Hannah (name changed to protect my favorite) always takes her time with each full service customer to carefully clean, shine, and buff each shoe three times. (She also breaks out a blow torch – j ust the “shiny object” detail that keeps me engaged). I recall one particular occasion: I was 15 minutes into my shine when a man interrupted to ask if he could get serviced right away; his flight was in 10 minutes. Very kindly, Hannah replied, "I'm sorry, but I'm with a customer and won't be able to shine your shoes in time for your flight.” Needless to say, he was disappointed with that response and went on his way.

I said to Hannah, “You know, we could have wrapped this up and let him have a turn." Her response was a gem: "Maybe, but then you both would have had a mediocre shine and he would still be chasing his flight. You are my current customer and I need to make sure you get the best shine."

This is a fairly anecdotal story, but stories like this are what define our expectations in today’s marketplace. In an era when 73% of customers will spend more because of a good service history, organizations (including shoe shiners) should have one focus: the customer. Optimizing each ‘customer moment’ and delivering a superb (and consistent) customer experience should be your organization’s goal.

In order to deliver this memorable experience, business processes and technologies must be recast through the lens of customer obsession. That means your company must be obsessed about knowing and engaging your customers better, and delivering what your customers want, before they know they want it.

Aligning your business processes and solutions with flexible technologies like cloud, social, and mobile allow for maximized customer engagement, helping to drive profitable growth. Below are a few steps to help transform your organization into a customer-obsessed enterprise:

  • Determine who your customer is and the experience they desire
  • Map out your current business processes and technology capabilities, and identify a realistic future state
  • Establish customer segments/queues to manage different customers differently, and create appropriate metrics to drive this behavior so you can report against it
  • Empower your staff with knowledge of the specific value of that service -- make sure they know the type of service that your customer wants to have
  • Equip your employees with the right tools and proper training to provide that service
  • Follow up to ensure that what you are delivering meets or exceeds customer expectations
  • Identify opportunities to repeat and improve the process

Now that you have heard my story, what memorable experiences (good or bad) have you had with customer service? How have you taken this concept to your own business? Reply below to start the conversation.

Learn how to better engage your customers and own each ‘customer moment’ in Bluewolf’s Essential Guide to Customer Obsession.

NewVoiceMedia partner Bluewolf is a global business consulting firm. Companies across the world choose Bluewolf to help them engage their customers and drive more sales. As the first global business consulting firm born in the cloud, Bluewolf’s strategic consulting, implementation, training, and cloud management services drive business outcomes in weeks, not years. - For more about NewVoiceMedia’s partner community, visit our partner page -

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