by Craig Harrison

   When you throw a pebble into the lake the ripples spread out from the point of impact in circular rings. That's the ripple effect.
   The same effect occurs in customer service situations. When a problem is mishandled a ripple moves outward in many directions as customers tell friends, family, co-workers and all who'll listen about the poor way their problem was mishandled. And if the problem was bad enough or the story outrageous enough, those who heard it will in turn tell more. The power of a ripple is great.
   Conversely, when a problem is handled well and your service response becomes the positive focal point of the story, that's what gets shared with others. The ripple is favorable as customers celebrate the way they were made whole by your business, the way they were cared for and valued by your company, and the way they were made to feel special by your staff.
   Perhaps it says something about our needs as human beings that we tell far more people when we're unhappy, hurt or feeling let down, than we tell about what made us feel good, whole and special. Customer service research confirms this pattern.
   This month's question: "What kind of waves does your service make? Are you emanating care and concern from the service you deliver, or the opposite?"
   Remember, service starts with your desire as a server to serve. What are your intentions? You have a great say in the type of waves you make. In our ripple analogy, your actions (or inactions) are at the epicenter of the service circle. Customers will react either way to what you do. When you make a conscious choice to serve others well enough they'll continue talking about it to others.
   Recently a colleague of mine shared two different stories with me regarding service. On the one hand, he described at length, the lengths he would go to order his postage stamps online, rather than visit his local post office branch. He ordered stamps through the US Postal Service website and waited for them to arrive (via the mail) from Kansas City to avoid the ire, frustration and exasperation he experienced locally over a two year period. There, at his local branch, service had to be wrestled from unmotivated clerks. True the stamps take longer to reach him, but he saw advantages too. His story was illuminating.
   That same week he told me about this wonderful thing that happened when he stopped for gas in a nearby town early one morning and went into the station's office to pay for his petrol. Before he reached the counter the attendant started applauding him. My colleague turned around to see who the attendant was clapping for. It was him! He quizzically inquired of the attendant what he had done to deserve such treatment. The owner said he was great and deserved recognition, just for being the customer! The attendant then challenged my colleague to have a great day and make a difference. Wow, that's a premium grade of gas! He's pumping more than petrol.
   So the choice is yours. What kind of service ripple will you generate by your actions? Will customers be singing your praises or shrieking your name for the sour service they receive? When your service is solid customers will cross the street, cross the state or even surf cyberspace to receive transact with you And when you do it well, they'll tell others, who'll tell others...
   Let the amazing Mr. Ripple work for you.