On January 15th, 2003, my first book, Secret Service: Hidden Systems That Deliver Unforgettable Customer Service, came out. Secret Service detailed how we had built John Robert’s Spa, known locally in Northeast Ohio, into a brand with superior customer service as the single biggest competitive advantage. JR Spa’s rapid growth was getting a lot of attention. Most of all, how a salon could be charging 2-3x more than the average salon in Cleveland and be the busiest was a mystery.
From Salon/spa Owner to in-demand Speaker
That day my entire career unexpectedly changed. I went from being a salon/spa owner who spoke a dozen times a year to a speaker who owned salons and spas. Due to the success of the book, I started getting hired by brands like U.S. Bank, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and The Ritz-Carlton. I learned more from them than I was teaching them.
Not only was the demand for my speaking engagements increasing, but companies wanted more. They wanted to know how they could get all their employees to consistently deliver a world-class experience. A 90-minute keynote wasn’t enough, it wasn’t helping companies be significantly different 12-18 months later.
Thus, The DiJulius Group was born. Our mission from day one has been to Change the World by Creating a Customer Service Revolution. Today, TDG’s consultants work with brands from all over the world, in virtually every industry, helping them become the brand customers can’t live without and making price irrelevant.
What is Secret Service? (And Why is It Secret?)
Secret Service is not simply another term for good customer service, such as going “above and beyond” “WOW-ing your Customers” or “exceeding Customer expectations.” Secret Service fulfills a specific and necessary niche in a company’s Customer experience. Secret Service helps employees make a personal connection, creating an emotional bond between the Customer and the company which transcends the product or service offered. Secret Service systems allow employees to engage the Customer, building rapport and relationships. Here’s the true definition of the Secret Service:
The ability to obtain Customer intelligence and utilize it to create a personalized experience, leaving the Customer to ask, “How’d they do that and how’d they know to do that?!”
Department of Customer Intelligence
What is Customer intelligence? It is not how smart our Customers are, but rather how smart we are about our Customers. It is data about our Customer base (e.g., personal information, purchasing history, referrals, personal preferences, home address, and workplace) that fuels Secret Service.
Great Examples of Secret Service
This Secret Service system identifies new from existing Customers. For instance, at John Robert’s Spa, returning Customers are draped in black capes for haircuts, and new Customers are draped in white capes. Every team member throughout the salon knows this fact and can address our guests accordingly. The color of the capes is the silent cue and visual trigger, making space for proactive customer service. It is foundational to our company culture.
*Related – The White Cape Secret Service System
In some fine restaurants, everyone from the bus staff to the server knows that a customer with a red napkin has never been to the restaurant before. This ensures that new customers are greeted correctly, receive more details about the menu, learn about the chef’s credentials, and benefit from any other service protocol for new customers. A black napkin means they are an old friend, and a gold napkin means they are one of the restaurant’s top 50 guests. The server should be bringing them their favorite drink before they even ask. Such customer service goals are relationship builders, leading to the highest levels of Customer happiness with corresponding customer retention rates and healthy market share.
I love it when I hear people say, “We treat all our customers the same, and they all deserve to be treated like royalty.” While they may sincerely want to create a positive Customer service experience, they clearly haven’t read the Secret Service book! I am not saying the “white capes” are treated better than “black capes,” they are just treated differently across the entire Customer journey. New customers could be experiencing a level of anxiety and uneasiness from bad customer experiences at other businesses, and their customer loyalty has yet to be earned. The top customer service companies literally have the white cape system at every stage of their customer experience cycle—on the phone, during check-in and check-out, as well as the follow-up. It should be a totally different experience for new customers than it is for returning customers. And, regarding customer lifetime, it is every bit as important. More information is shared, and more baby steps are taken, versus anticipating the needs of a returning customer with info from a knowledge base containing his or her past preferences and sales history.
Returning Customers should be treated like “old friends.” We actually have included this in the customer service training for companies, by role-playing an old friend. Picture this: you are traveling, walking along the street and you bump into an old friend, whom you haven’t seen since high school. Your eyebrows go up, you’re genuinely excited to see them, and you ask them about something you remember they had told you. Our existing Customers need to be made to feel like “old friends”. It is critical that you don’t assume front-line employees will naturally take this step that is so crucial for a superior customer experience and the strongest customer relationships.
A “white cape” system isn’t necessarily limited to their first visit or experience. For many businesses, it might cover every customer interaction during the first three months they do business with them. For instance, a dry cleaner has red bags for newer customers (less than 90 days), black and blue bags for regulars, and yellow and gold bags for VIP customers, thus notifying everyone internally about what type of customer they are dealing with. This way, if you are a new counter clerk and you see someone walk in with a red bag, you give them more information on how their clothes will be cleaned and when they will be ready. You also tell them about additional services you offer (e.g., tailoring, the storing of gowns and dresses). If a Customer brings in a dark-colored bag, you know he has been a Customer for a while and you treat him as such, welcoming him back. If you see a Customer parking their car and you notice a yellow or gold bag in the back seat, you run out there and carry the bag inside for them.
Can You Pass the Secret Service Test?
Which of the following scenarios is considered Secret Service:
Roses for every female client on Valentine’s Day
Asking how a Customer’s son is doing in college
Having an umbrella for any guest who needs one
Inquiring how a Customer’s job at Progressive Insurance is going
A valet providing water in every car
Bringing your client a venti soy latte
Telling your client he has gained at least fifteen pounds since you have last seen him
While numbers one, three, and five are great and typically appreciated elements of customer service, they are not Secret Service; there is nothing personal to the client about those actions. It is nice that every woman gets a rose on Valentine’s Day. It is a positive experience, maybe even a consistent experience, but there is nothing personal about it. It is mass. Same with the valet putting a fresh bottle of water in every car they bring back to a Customer. These are exceptional customer service examples yet are not personalized; they’re not necessarily better, but they are totally different. If you chose numbers two, four, six, and seven as Secret Service, you were correct. However, I strongly encourage you not to use the number seven with any of your clients. It would likely lead to a negative experience for all involved, not to mention customer churn. Secret Service is personalizing a Customer’s experience in ways that create an emotional connection—ways that all but guarantee happy Customers and competitive success.
Episode 103 of the CSRev Podcast
This episode is from a keynote John DiJulius, Chief Revolution Officer of The DiJulius Group, presented at the Customer Service Revolution Conference in Cleveland on November 7th, 2022. The title of the presentation is the State of Customer Experience 2023.
You will learn:
- Why we have been in a recession for over two years, yet no one has realized it
- Why overall customer satisfaction is at a 17-year low
- Where all the workers have gone
- How to turn the Great Resignation into the Great Retention
- The power of purpose
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Loyal customers are a different breed. They don’t just come back, they don’t simply
recommend you, they insist that their friends do business with you.” – Chip Bell
The Future of Customer Experience is Bright
We would like to congratulate the Customer eXperience Executive Academy Class of 2022 who just completed their 12-month course. This group of amazing leaders now possesses what less than 1% of executives in the world have—the ability to build a world-class customer & employee experience in their organizations.
BACK row, left to right: Alexander Lee Hess (NewDay USA), Victor Aranda (KeyBank), Ubaldo Martinez (CB Credit Union), Sarah Muneer (Colton RV), DC Dave Robinson (Charlotte Police Department), Kayla Jordan (John Robert’s Spa), Ashlyn LeRose (NewDay USA), David Napoli (Busch Funeral Homes)
Front row, left to right: Jess Pischel (The DiJulius Group). Jake Field (NewDay USA), Debi Bush (Technology Marketing Toolkit), BEHIND Debi is Rich Gambino (Colton RV), Katey McNeil (Technology Marketing Toolkit), Melanie Vacik-Rostankowski (Lumacurve), Karen Graham (Kendal at Home), Office Jeffrey Joseph (Charlotte Police Department), Karen Hernandez (KeyBank)