A Smile, a Wave, and a Friendly Hello! – The ‘20-10 Rule’ in Customer Service
By Mark Morris
Several months ago, my wife and I went to a local restaurant for dinner. We arrived and were seated quickly. So far, so good. Then we sat there over the next 20 minutes waiting on service. No one came to take our drink order; no one stopped by to see if we had questions about any of the dishes on the menu.
When the timer in my head hit 30 minutes, and we still had no service, we decided to leave. As we were walking out, the manager asked us how our meal was. I made it a point to tell him that we had been waiting for 30 minutes and no one had stopped by our table. His only comment was, “I’m sorry. Maybe next time we’ll get it better.”
Next time? There won’t be a next time for us at that restaurant. In fact, I recently drove past and noticed that the restaurant is now out of business. No wonder!
Unfortunately, providing low levels of customer service seems to be the norm, not the exception. In the parking and transportation industry, customers are increasingly frustrated at the lack of good customer service.
However, with the increased competition faced by most organizations, parking companies should be working to improve customer service as a competitive advantage. It’s time to get back to the basics of treating others the way we want to be treated. We have to remember that we are customers as well, and we have certain expectations about how we want to be treated.
When Bob Pittman ran Six Flags, providing exceptional customer service was so important that he instituted the “10-5 Rule.” It stated that when a theme park customer moved to within 10 feet of you, you made eye contact. When the customer moved to within 5 feet, you greeted them.
I believe we need to go beyond the 10-5 Rule and institute the “20-10 Rule.” If someone gets within 20 feet of you, they get a smile and a wave. If a person gets within 10 feet of you, they get a smile, a wave, and a friendly hello from you.
It is important to note that providing exceptional customer service is an idea that must permeate the entire organization. Everyone, from the most senior manager to the newest cashier, should be expected to follow the 20-10 Rule with all customers, including our internal customers –that is, other employees. Your associates will treat your customers the same way that they are treated by you.
In fact, Lanier Parking Solutions takes the concept of the 20-10 Rule so seriously that I offer $5 on the spot to any associate who catches me not following it.
Exceptional Customer Service
Admit it. We all like to be recognized. We like to see a smile, a wave, and to hear a friendly hello as we enter a place of business. Look at successful companies such as Moe’s Southwest Grill and Chick-fil-A, two Atlanta-based restaurants.
On entering a Moe’s, the first thing you hear is several loud voices calling in unison, “Welcome to Moe’s!” Walking into a Chick-fil-A, the first thing you hear is “Thank you for choosing Chick-fil-A.” These greetings have been carefully designed to make you feel welcome.
When you break it down to the bare minimum, customer service is actually about customer “feelings.” Consider how you feel when a sales associate at a department store calls you by your name when returning your credit card. Even though it’s obvious that they read your name on your credit card, it still makes you feel special.
Not only does this recognition make the customer feel good, it also makes the company’s team members feel good as well. Research shows that when we treat others nicely, our brains release endorphins, which make us happier.
We have to remember that there are many other places to park and many other places to go for entertainment. When a customer is making the decision to go out for dinner, a movie or the theater, we don’t want a prior bad parking experience to be the deciding factor to go elsewhere.
Finally, in the wonderful book “The Power of Nice,” Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval observe that good deeds benefit the Doer, by making him or her feel good and potentially establishing an important connection, as well as the Receiver of the good deed. They continue with the observation that “you have to treat everyone you meet as if they are the most important person in the world, because they are. If not to you, then to someone; and if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.”
Think about that the next time you have a chance to greet someone in your parking facility.
Feeling of Safety
In addition to the customer service issue, the 20-10 Rule also helps our parking customers realize a feeling of safety for themselves and their vehicles. By smiling, waving and greeting the customers, our associates let them know that we are physically present on the property.
In the parking and transportation industry, our customers have a certain level of anxiety when leaving their second biggest investment, their car, in a parking facility. Additionally, many of us are not excited about the prospect of walking across a big parking lot alone, when there are so many hiding places.
By smiling, waving and saying hello, we are providing customers with a friendly face in an environment that at first appears hostile.
While we don’t like to admit it, there are people who are out to do bad things to others. There are people who walk through parking facilities with criminal intentions foremost on their minds. They are looking for an easy target where their chance of getting caught in the commission of a crime is very low; unfortunately, parking facilities meet these criteria.
When we greet these people, we are letting them know we are actively watching what’s happening on the property. In turn, these people move on in search of an easier environment in which to ply their trade.
Customer service is all about customer feelings. Our goal is to instill a good feeling about the organization through our interactions with customers. This creates a positive image of us and our organization. Remember the old saying that “squirrels are nothing more than rats with good publicity?”
Exceptional customer service adds value and credibility to what we do and who we are. Something as simple as a smile, a wave and a friendly hello! can pay off in huge dividends when practiced consistently. So, practice the 20-10 Rule daily; your customers will reward you.
Mark Morris is Director of Organizational Development for Lanier Parking Solutions in Atlanta. Contact him at
Three reasons the “20-10 Rule” is important for any parking operator:
• It creates exceptional customer service for external and internal customers.
• It creates a feeling of safety for our customers.
• It creates a level of security for the property of our customers.
Article Abstract from October, 2008