Secret service agents Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

Creating a world-class customer experience is about creating “secret service” systems that allow front-line employees to engage and interact with customers to personalize the experience by anticipating and delivering on their needs.

So the next time you hear somebody use the words secret service, don’t assume their talking about the government agents.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of the government’s Secret Service.

Secret Service: Governmental service of a secret nature charged chiefly with the protection of the president, responsible for the collection, analysis and appropriate dissemination of intelligence.

Think that has nothing to with secret service as it relates to customer service? Actually, by substituting just three words, it fits perfectly.

Secret Service: Customer service of a secret nature charged chiefly with the protection of the brand, responsible for the collection, analysis, and appropriate dissemination of customer intelligence.

Customer intelligence is customer data (i.e., buying habits, personal preferences, where they live, etc.) that fuels secret service.

Many companies let this happen by chance. Typically, a few long-term employees create relationships with regular customers to get this, but you have a high degree of inconsistency when it is contingent on that. The best customer service companies train all their employees how to collect and use customer intelligence. A good system with the proper training allows even the newest employees to personally engage and recognize even those less frequent customers.

Secret service lawyers

Connecticut’s Carter Mario Injury Lawyers has grown consistently during the past five years, going from $2.5 million in revenue in 2002 to more than $8 million in 2007. Back in 2002, however, the law firm was stagnant largely due to low service aptitude. That is when Carter Mario, president and CEO, decided to buy out his partners.

“Our service culture had to change in order for us to differentiate from the rest of the pack and to survive,” Mario says. “We adopted a service culture that has enabled us to become one of the fastest-growing law firms in the state.”

One of the single biggest complaints in the legal industry from clients is poor communication between clients and lawyers.

“We made this the No. 1 priority in our office: client contact,” Mario says. “We guarantee we will return the client’s call the same day or lunch is on us. It is a nonnegotiable part of everyone’s job here.”

The management team at Carter Mario instituted a procedure for capturing information about each client in a format that allows everyone access. They were able to customize the software they use by adding a “secret service tab.” This tab contains vital customer intelligence, such as preferred refreshment, client’s eye color, birth date, spouse’s name, children’s ages, hobbies and even the client’s pet’s name.

They use it to execute what Carter Mario calls “drive-bys,” where a staff member makes a seemingly spontaneous visit with a client who is in the office just to say hello and say something personal.

“We have continuously received great responses from our clients, and a collateral benefit has been that our staff members doing the drive-bys really enjoy the responses they’ve received, and it pumps them up,” Mario says.

Altruistic secret service

My favorite secret service is when the customer service that is provided has no apparent hidden agenda. For example, my accountant dropped off an autographed picture of Notre Dame football legend Rudy Ruettiger personalized to my oldest son Johnni. I don’t recall telling him, but somehow he remembered that was my son’s nickname when he played youth football.

Secret service creates an emotional bond between customer and company that transcends the product or service. That feeling becomes sought after again and again.

Think what would make you stand out a little differently. When every other business is making pitches, asking for orders and never finding out what is important to a CEO, imagine what it would mean if you simply sent a gift that has nothing to do with what you do, or can do, for his or her business but demonstrates that you have genuine concern for the person and his or her business goals.

JOHN R. DIJULIUS III is the author of “Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service” and “What’s The Secret,” the No. 1 business book for the month of June on Amazon.com. He is also president of The DiJulius Group, a firm specializing in giving companies a superior competitive advantage by helping them differentiate on delivering an experience and making price irrelevant. Reach him at john@thedijuliusgroup.com.