2010 Career Challenge: F = Five Star Service

I’m a lucky girl.

Why, you ask?

Because I have the privilege of working with Bob Simpson. For those of you who don’t know Bob, he’s a succession planning expert, a partner in the accounting firm of Dixon Hughes, and an all-around leadership junkie. Bob has the aura of a great mentor and, while I’ve never filled out a tax return (ever), I’ve learned a lot from him about how to be a professional with class.

One of the most valuable things I’ve picked up from Bob is the notion of “Five Star Service.” Indeed, we talk a lot in business about having “first-class customer service”, but what does that really mean? Before his firm merged with Dixon Hughes a few years ago, Bob used to give new employees a wallet-sized card that served as a small, yet convenient reminder of what was expected of them as representatives of the company.

In short, Five Star Service.

The cards were a casualty of the merger, but I found one recently stuffed under a label maker and probably long since forgotten. As I reviewed the card, I was impressed by how a grand behemoth like customer service could be distilled to something the size of a driver’s license.

In fact, what makes the card so effective is its simplicity. The basics of Five Star Service for large accounting firms are, in effect, the same as top notch service in a restaurant. In other words:

1.) Take the Order: Listen to your customers and find out exactly what they’re looking for. Be crystal clear on the frontend to avoid headaches on the backend.

2.) Connect: Develop a relationship with the customer based on attentive service to their needs. Go over and above their expectations.

3.) Deliver the Order: This is more than just turning in the work – it’s about ascertaining satisfaction by asking what you did right and how you could improve in the future. Don’t be afraid of honest answers – learn from them.

4.) Offer Dessert: A good waiter / waitress will always show you the dessert menu, even if you claim to be on a diet. So take a cue from this tactic and identify additional opportunities to service your client. Even if they don’t take you up on the offer, you can give them a small deliverable you know they’ll need later at no charge, e.g. “Provide a mint.”

5.) Collect the Check: Some people squirm at the very thought of asking for money, but if you’ve “taken the order” accurately, and “provided a mint”, you should be able to bill and get paid promptly.

Whether you follow these principles or not, I challenge you to condense your own customer service philosophy to the size of a business card. Just be sure to keep it from under the label maker, OK?

Note: This is Part 6 in a series called the “2010 Career Challenge: Becoming a Rock Star from A to Z” by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg, co-authors of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job.

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