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Loyal for Life

Don Rogersw

Getting stuck on a chairlift on Vail Mountain made for a story about how to do customer service right in a new book by John Tschohl.

Tschohl is a guru for customer service, according to his latest book jacket, quoting Time and Entrepreneur magazines. He’s the founder and president of Service Quality Institute, speaks often about customer service, invents training programs on the subject, and has written five books on it, too.

Vail Daily Staff Writer Scott Miller tells me Tschohl is also a frequent visitor to Vail. I received the book in the mail around Christmas, and looked at it after the holidays., So I missed the note from the author saying he’d be in town Dec. 17-24 until he was long gone.



I still haven’t gotten around to reading it carefully. But I did find the anecdote about Vail Mountain and read far enough to see he’s got a lively and very readable text here. And like any good newspaper, he has built his book for quick scanners as well as deeper readers. Short sentences set aside in bold that make points. Some text charts in boxes that offer step by step advice.

Even though the paperback looks done on the cheap with a self-publishing firm and has no photos or drawings inside, it’s loaded with good advice about making unhappy customers loyal to your company. And it’s written to help the reader get through it quickly.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



It’s newspapery, in the best sense, for what Tschohl has to say. I sense he knows that even devoted book readers will not have the patience to get through a “Critique of Pure Reason” approach to customer service. (And, actually, that is one of the texts “Loyal for Life” is competing with for my time right now.)

I’m probably even less patient with biz advice books than most. I don’t know if there is a subject that bores me more than business. Maybe Britney Spears’ outlook on life. Or “American Idol.” But I at least understand the need to treat your customers with respect, and I get what Tschohl is saying.

His anecdote about being stuck in a chairlift is as good an example of his writing as anything:



“While skiing with a friend in Vail, the chairlift stopped. Three times during the next hour, members of the ski patrol came by to update us on the situation. The final time they told us there was a gift waiting for us at the top of the mountain. When we got there, we were greeted by three Vail employees, who apologized for inconveniencing us and who gave us two lift tickets along with a ticket for a free drink.

“For the rest of that day and the next, we bragged to everyone we shared a chair lift with about what had happened and what we had been given. This is what service recovery is all about. The skiers who had been stranded on the chairlift at Vail were overly happy and spread the word to anyone who would listen about the wonderful treatment they had received. That was powerful word-of-mouth advertising.

“Vail Resorts is ranked one of the leading resort operators in North America by the readers of Ski magazine. I believe it has the best costumer service in the world. I talked with Clyde Wiessner, director of lifts at Vail, about its service recovery policies. ‘We do what we think is appropriate for the situation at hand. We have a system in place where we empower employees to take care of our customers,’ he said. It was no accident, he added, that the Guest Service and Ski Patrol had greeted us as we came off the chairlift at the top of the mountain or that they had coupons for free lift tickets and drinks ready for us.

“Every company has something of value it can give to a customer who has experienced a problem. What do you manufacture, sell or provide as a service that doesn’t cost you a lot but that has value in the eyes of your customers and will send them away with smiles on their faces?”

Nice little lesson wrapped in a story. It’s also nice to see how the company is viewed outside our little myopic valley where it’s cool to be cool toward the company that makes the company town.

There are of course applications for my own newsroom, although our service done well does not necessarily please sources or make readers particularly happy. Still, there are the standards of treating even scumbags with basic respect and the quest for accuracy with quotes, facts and that slippery devil context. In our work, even being perfect with those will only earn you lasting emnity on tough stories. And with nearly all human attempts at communication, you can never get it completely right in any absolute way anyway.

But we can do a lot to be better at everything we do, including how we treat others, including customers ” however we carry the definition of “customer” to include readers and sources.

So, I will finish out Tschohl’s book, thankful that he anticipated my need to absorb it quickly so I can get back to the titanic struggle to figure out what in the heck Immanuel Kant, as translated to something approximating English by F. Max Muller, was trying to say.


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