How Customer Service is A Lot Like Figure Skating

by Barry Moltz on February 18, 2010

Today’s guest post is from Terry Starbucker

Terry Starbucker

I’ve always been a big Winter Olympics fan. I vividly remember when I was 8 years old watching Peggy Fleming win a gold medal in figure skating in 1968.

So it’s no surprise I’ve been glued to the TV set watching this year’s competition in Vancouver.   Once again I’m intrigued by the figure skating – it’s one of those unique sports that is not only judged on technical ability, but on  “artistic impression” as well.

As I was watching the skaters this week jumping, spinning and generally giving their all to impress the panel of judges, it dawned on me that what these athletes were doing on the ice was very much like what my teammates in our service business do every day.

Yep,  customer service is a lot like figure skating.   In both cases, the people involved are trying to impress judges with technical and artistic prowess.  In customer service, the “judges” are the customers.

And like those figure skating judge panels who can confound us with their wildly varying scores, so it goes in the customer world as well.   Every customer will “judge” our service differently, with great subjectivity.  That’s where the “artistic” part comes in.

For example, in my business I’ve seen many instances where we’ve done everything technically perfect for a customer, but when we ask them to rate the experience, we get a bad grade.  Why?  Perhaps the service was delivered with a bad attitude, or with a sloppy looking uniform.  Or we left footprints on the carpet.

It all comes back to that word “impression”.  That’s the key.  Great customer service, like a great figure skating routine, must “present” itself with a unique flair, a positive energy, and a passionate purpose.

That’s what will make a huge difference on whether the overall “score” will be good or bad.  I’ve seen many occasions where a great overall presentation can even overcome technical errors, much like you see in figure skating with those who have artistically superior routines.
And there’s one more thing worth noting here – smart customer service providers, like champion skaters, know how to tailor their performance to particular judges.    Like the skater who knows that the Russian judge loves fancy spins and consequently incorporates more into the routine. Or the plumber who knows the customer is a neat freak and puts on booties without being asked.

So if you are looking to learn a few more things about BAM! good customer service, you might want to pay  a little closer attention to the figure skating.

But don’t try a double axel in your office. :-)

Terry Starbucker is a service company executive and a founder of SOBCon who writes about leadership, personal development, and social media in his blog, Ramblings From a Glass Half Full. He also shares his love of music and learning on Twitter as @starbucker.

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