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Brilliant Basics: How FedEx Delivered Outstanding Customer Service

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Jason Price

It never hurts to reiterate the basics in discussing the quest for outstanding customer service. In fact, if the basics aren’t right then achieving even acceptable service can be a challenge (see my previous article for an example of how the UK’s Barclays Bank demonstrated that lesson).

This article tells a happier story. It’s a tale of genuine customer delight generated by a huge global organization getting three simple things completely right at the point of customer contact.

Three simple things happened today that transcend organizational structures and processes and put this customer first. It is a definitive example of ‘brilliant basics’ delivering exceptional customer service.

I’m talking about FedEx. How did this organization warrant the prize of being a feature case study in customer service excellence?

Three reasons FedEx demonstrated brilliant basics

What did the FedEx employees I dealt with today do to create such exceptional customer service?

  1. They listened to what I wanted, but adapted to meet my real needs
  2. They reacted swiftly, going beyond their promise to exceed expectations
  3. Their employee had an outstanding attitude and genuinely "lived the values"

If only every company got these simple basics right, how much better could average service be? It wasn’t hard to do, and it came down to the initiative and attitude of the people involved adding a personal touch to their day to day job.

It’s a people thing, that’s the key point in today’s lesson. Employee attitude matters.

What do customers know about your ‘brand promise’?

Before I give you the example, let’s talk about marketing and brand image. That’s important because it sets your customers’ expectations. A company’s brand and culture starts with the words and the promise but only delivers when the people follow through on that promise. The ‘mission statement on the wall’ remains a series of words, unless they come to life through the employee’s deeds.

In the courier business, I’ve dealt with a lot of companies in the past. One regular courier I deal with seems to be a pleasant enough guy when he can be bothered to walk up the 42 steps to the front door and not dump my parcel about halfway up with a ‘sorry you were out’ card. This does not show customer care.

My impression of FedEx derives from the fact I’m a fan of Tom Hanks and rather like the disaster movie ‘Castaway’. If you’ve not seen it, Tom plays a FedEx manager fanatically obsessed with achieving performance in getting packages to the customer. This continues, despite suffering an inconvenient plane crash leaving him stranded on a remote pacific island for four years talking to a basketball named "Wilson".

Whenever I think of FedEx, I think of the scene at the beginning where Tom Hanks pops a clock in a FedEx passenger, sends it to himself in another country and then berates the employees into process efficiency because it took three days to arrive. That and the welcome home he receives as "part of the FedEx family", which subliminally set a message about a corporate culture looking after its people.

As an aside, there’s a lesson for the marketing director there. Don’t worry about advertising, just sponsor a disaster movie and make sure you get positive corporate values in there because impressionable people like me remember them. I tend to discount advertising as blatant fibbing and spin.

Your employees turn brand promises into customer service excellence

Back to the point. I’ve been overseas recently and a package arrived for me whilst I was travelling. FedEx had valiantly tried to deliver it to no avail. When my housemate tried to collect it for me, they wouldn’t hand over my confidential package (good protection of privacy there), but instead listened to the circumstances and held it at the depot until I returned in person.

This morning, I went online and tracked my order. Instant information. Fantastic. I called the office at 8am, requesting a re-delivery for tomorrow. I thought that was pretty reasonable and was just happy they’d kept it for a fortnight in the depot and not shipped it back to the supplier. Lesser companies have previously viewed stored packages as inconvenient after 7 days and sent it back to the supplier.

The FedEx employee on the phone listened carefully and agreed to send it tomorrow. He warned me they couldn’t guarantee a time, but engaged in my conversation about when I may or may not be out.

Here’s a brilliant basic – he wasn’t humouring me in a call center obsessed with lowering its average handling time (AHT), he was actually listening to my personal situation. I know this because of what happened next.

At 9:26 am, the doorbell rings. In front of me is the cheeriest employee I think I’ve ever met (even for a New Zealander – a nation seemingly genetically predisposed to being incredibly nice, should you never have had the privilege of visiting this sceptre isle in which I now live).

The man from FedEx, in 1 hour and 23 minutes, arrived with a package I called about at 8:03 am. I was promised tomorrow, it arrived in 83 minutes. Wow.

Rather than listening to me rambling about my recent travels, the employee on the phone had clearly listened ‘between the lines’ and heard that I was in today, but might not be tomorrow. In amongst company schedules, predefined delivery times and corporate procedures; somebody took the individual decision to get my parcel out of an office and give it to a man leaving the depot right away, thinking "maybe the customer might like this today instead?" Brilliant. Basic. Customer first.

It’s an individual thing

If you thought this was good, the icing on the cake was the reaction of Craig, who stands today as the FedEx world’s finest in Wellington, New Zealand. On hearing how impressed I was, he introduced himself by name and with a beaming smile, turned to run off to delight the next customer with the words "well, that’s what you get from FedEx."

The values of the "FedEx family" that I only know through Tom Hanks being stranded in the Pacific arrived today on my doorstep. I am, in the words of customer service guru Ken Blanchard, more than a delighted customer – I’m a "raving fan".

Summary - key lessons and learning points

For all of us involved in delivering customer service excellence, the messages of this story are simple, clear and brilliantly basic:

  • Listen to your customer; pay genuine attention; understand their real needs.
  • Promise to meet expectations, but exceed them to achieve ‘raving fans’.
  • It’s your people and their attitude that makes the difference. A positive culture exists because people take the mission and vision off the plaque on the wall and turn in into their day to day behaviour.

Today, FedEx outdid themselves in comparison to every other courier service I’ve ever used. From the mixed reaction to my enthusiasm on Twitter, it’s pretty clear who got the basics right today.

Well done, Craig from Wellington. You’re a FedEx legend.