While vacationing in Italy, I was blown away by an example of customer service that any service team can adapt. We took three tours during our trip. All our tour guides were good – but Francesca was exceptional. Regardless of what type of customers you serve, Francisca’s approach can help make your service team stand out too.


Francesca carried an iPod loaded with relevant photos to show us throughout the tour. She used it to enhance our experience. Any question we had was answered, and often with a close-up photo (pulled up in seconds) that gave us an even deeper experience of the people, art, and history of the Vatican.

Lesson learned: Don’t just have technology – know how to use it – fast. Do the prep work and anticipate ways of adding value with it.


Service can become transaction based. Often customers don’t expect you to use or remember their names. You could be served by the same bank teller, dry cleaner, or grocery clerk for years without a personal connection. It’s like herding cattle (or cats depending on the type of service) – just another body in front of you, on the phone, or online. Francesca started the tour by asking our names and where we were from. She took notes. Then, throughout the tour, she used our names. When my husband and I wandered off (we didn’t know we were lost) we heard her talking to the other tourists over our headsets “Has anyone seen Marilyn and Cliff? The couple from Michigan?” When we caught up she looked happy to find us rather than annoyed to have lost us.

Lesson learned: You may not be expected to know your customers name, but learn and use their names anyway. They’re people, not cattle.


Francisca’s tour was nearly four hours long. So, she had us sit in front of beautiful sites and rest from time to time. She was tactful, yet clear about having us tend to our own needs too, “We’re at the restrooms, and it will probably be over an hour before we’re near one again. I want you to be comfortable so please take this opportunity.”

Lesson learned: Customers can be easily distracted. They can get overtired, overwhelmed, and overlook their own needs. Anticipate their needs and communicate it in a way that shows you have their best interests in mind.


Before I met Francesca, I was worried that taking a guided tour might be boring. Some people love hearing every detail about the history of people, places, and works of art. Me – I tend to tune out. Francesca didn’t tell us about anything – she embodied it by becoming a riveting storyteller. “Michelangelo didn’t like Raffaele, but then again he didn’t like anyone,” she told us. She made these historical characters come to life for us, rather than just pages in the history books. It was captivating. I found myself wanting to know more.

Lesson learned: Don’t be boring. When giving information or explaining anything to your customers, it’s not enough to know your stuff. You need to bring it to life by being expressive – use relevant stories, humor, and logical analogies. If you’re saying things in a dry, monotone manner it means you have work to do. Break out of your shell by practicing and preparing so that your words paint a picture, pique curiosity, and connect with your customers.


Please don’t groan. I know you’ve heard this a thousand times, and there’s a reason for it – it works. When I asked my husband what made Francesca so awesome, it’s one of the first things he said – “She made really good eye contact.” There’s a difference between talking at people and talking with them. You can’t help but feel like you matter to Francesca because she looks at you and notices your facial expressions. When you raise an eyebrow, she may ask, “Do you have a question about that?” Looking is a form of listening.

Lesson Learned: Make eye contact and notice what you see. It can cue you in to the customer’s needs and perspective.


No matter how small or obscure a relic might be, when our group asked Francesca about something, she always knew about it – a great deal about it. That’s credible service. It doesn’t happen without a strong commitment to continuous learning. Stay on top of your field. Know what changes are taking place, what events are coming up, and articulate it to your customers with accuracy (or find out about it on the spot.) It builds customer loyalty and raving fans.

Lesson Learned: Take a strong interest in being an expert at your field. Experts are life-long learners. Read trade magazines and blogs. Take training, dig into the research, and ask questions. As things change, embrace the change and continue to grow.


The day after our tour of the Vatican, we toured The Colosseum. That tour guide was good. He wasn’t Francesca good, but it was fine. Halfway through the tour, I was looking down at my tired feet as another tour group passed us. Then, I heard a familiar voice saying, “Ciao! Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!” (Meaning hello in Italian.) I felt a hand on my arm, then registered the face. It was Francesca! She was taking a different group on a tour, recognized me, and took a moment to say hello. I was shocked and delighted to be remembered.

Lesson Learned: Customers are people. When you remember them after the service ends, you create the kind of lasting positive impression that builds raving fans.

What about you? What’s one of your tips for making your customer service stand out? 


Marilyn Suttle is an engaging conference speaker and coach. Her expertise is communication and customer service and she’s the coauthor of the bestselling books, Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan and Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty. Marilyn delivers keynotes, coaching and workshops. For more information email: marilyn@marilynsuttle.com