‘Extreme’ service sets some businesses apart

Answer to customers’ questions is always ‘yes’

Posted 5/6/09

When Tanya Licata quit her sales job to open her own Centennial-based insurance agency 18 months ago, she knew she would have to do something to …

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‘Extreme’ service sets some businesses apart

Answer to customers’ questions is always ‘yes’


When Tanya Licata quit her sales job to open her own Centennial-based insurance agency 18 months ago, she knew she would have to do something to survive the competition.

“If people don’t like and trust me, they’re not going to do business with me. They can do business over the Internet,” Licata reasoned. “I have to set myself apart and be different and show that I care about them, their kids and their dog. I want to know when their birthday is.”

The new independent agent for American Family Insurance had known going-in that insurance was a dry subject for many and that buying it had been a necessary evil for some consumers — most of whom would rather not spend their free time learning the benefits of long-term care coverage.

Licata’s solution was self-evident, she thought. Why not make the insurance-buying process — dare we say it — fun? By Licata’s reasoning, adding a little personality and humor to the equation meant the best of all worlds for her customers.

“They get a great insurance agent, a great, positive, upbeat knowledgeable agent, but at the same time they get a jokester,” she said. “In the days of old when our parents were younger, it was just kind of a dread — oh, insurance!”

In more recent months, Licata has taken other measures to further pull the stick from the dry mud of the insurance industry. She hosts a night at Greenwood Village’s Comedy Works for her clients and sponsors a softball team consisting of herself and her customers.

“I just want to be different, I want them to know my name,” she said. “I’ll show up at their house to write their policies. Some people look at me like I’m crazy, like they’ve never heard of that before.”

Not so for Eric Reamer and Angel Tuccy, co-owners of Experience Pros, a Littleton-based firm that consults clients, ranging from franchisers to nonprofits, on how to provide what they call “extreme customer service.”

According to Reamer, many entrepreneurs are realizing that a stronger emphasis on the customer is the ticket to besting the competition, especially when facing the challenges of an economic downturn.

“Our business is absolutely skyrocketing because people are realizing that all those systems and practices and numbers don’t tell the whole story,” he said. “When it comes down to it, the only thing they can truly control is the way their customers experience their business.”

The challenge Licata had initially faced was that she was essentially breaking even in her attempts to build her client base. In other words, under the old model, she was losing old customers as quickly she was gaining new ones.

According to Tuccy, the problem is that many businesses have focused too much on mere customer satisfaction when they should be setting their sights much higher — on something closer to customer elation.

“Satisfied customers shop around,” she said. “They’re easily swayed away by a referral, geography, a friend’s recommendation. But if the customer is overwhelmed and you exceed their expectations, they will talk about it with other people.”

In other words, companies should not expect to get extra points for just doing what they are supposed to do. Customer satisfaction, in and of itself, according to Reamer, is “virtually useless.”

Moreover, the Experience Pros duo says, the service industry has sometimes forgotten the first word in its name. Reamer recalled his personal frustration when he unsuccessfully tried to get change from a clerk at a store where he had just made a purchase.

“She made 10 to 12 different efforts to tell me ‘No, I can’t, won’t, no way.’ The point is you should find a way to make ‘yes’ that answer,” Reamer said.

“Extreme customer service” does not have to be expensive and may be as simple as sending a thank-you note to a client. Cartridge World of Englewood, an Experience Pros client, brings candies and other treats to customers when it makes a delivery.

Louiville-based Rock Bottom Brewery became known in the 1990s as a restaurant chain that purposefully gave its servers management authority as a way to cut through customer-service issues more efficiently.

The chain, whose restaurants include one near Park Meadows, empowered its workers to effectively do whatever it took to make a customer happy, whether that was running down the street to get a Happy Meal for a forlorn child or dry cleaning a customer’s clothes that met the wrong end of some pasta sauce.

“When I was at the Chophouse [a restaurant in the Rock Bottom family], I asked the hostess if she could make some change for the meter,” Tuccy recalled. “She said, ‘I’ll go fill the meter for you.’ She walked a block and a half away.”

According to Jim Sullivan, a formerly Denver-based restaurant industry consultant who now lives in Wisconsin, Rock Bottom’s reported service is the kind that both “sells” a restaurant and creates long-term loyalty.

“I define customer sacrifice as what the customer wants exactly, minus what the customer settles for,” he said. “… If we begin to focus first on eliminating customer sacrifice instead of providing customer service, we arguably build a happier guest.”

Social networking sites, such as Meetup.com, have allowed entrepreneurs of all stripes and industries to better access and potentially service new customers. Reamer points to one of his clients who has used events run by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce as a networking tool.

“Instead of handing a business card to everyone, he was able to find his target niche market before he even got there,” Reamer said. “We’re watching the paradigm of business and how it’s being changed.”

According to Reamer, the bottom line is businesses need to think of their service and products in broader, emotional and ultimately more sellable ways to increase their impact in the marketplace.

An insurance agent does not sell insurance policies, he said. They sell piece of mind. Likewise, a car salesman sells freedom. A real estate agent sells dreams.

“The greatest distance anyone will ever travel is the 18 inches from your head to your heart,” Reamer said. “We take them on that journey over and over again.”

“If the customer isoverwhelmed and youexceed their expectations, they will talk about itwith other people.”

Angel Tuccy, co-owner of Experience Pros



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