8 Customer Service Lessons from Downton Abbey

Hooked on Downton Abbey? Here are 8 lessons you can learn from Mr. Carson and his crew about providing great customer service.
Contributing Writer, SmallBizTrends.com
January 07, 2013

Are you hooked on Downton Abbey—the British soap-opera miniseries that’s making waves both here and across the pond? I am, and have been avidly awaiting the start of Season 3, which premiered Sunday night. If you haven’t seen it, Downton Abbey tells the story of a wealthy British household in the early 1900s and the transitions that rock the family as the Edwardian era gives way to World War I, the suffragette movement and looming changes in the British aristocracy.

The focus, however, is on the relationships between the titled family, Lord and Lady Grantham, their three daughters and the houseful of servants who keep their lives running efficiently (or as smoothly as possible during challenging times). A servant’s job was considered being “in service,” and as I watch Downton Abbey, I can’t help but think of the customer service lessons you should apply in your business.

Hire employees who take pride in what they do. Being “in service” was a noble occupation in those days. Working for a wealthy landowner’s household was quite desirable, and the employees strove to keep their jobs and please the wealthy homeowners. The servants of Downton Abbey are as concerned as their employer about making the right impression. Make sure your staff is similarly invested in your company.

Never let them see you sweat. The Grantham family never sees the massive amount of behind-the-scenes labor that goes into creating their perfect life. In fact, part of the charm of that life is that things appear to happen by magic. Similarly, your staff needs to deliver a perfect customer service experience, but make it seem effortless. No complaining, stalling or confusion—at least, not in front of the customer.

Develop systems. Everything at Downton Abbey is systematized, for example, an elaborate system of bells lets the servants know when they’re needed. Like a McDonald’s franchise, they use systematization to provide standout service at all times. Create and implement systems for your team so customers receive a consistently great experience.

Train your team. New employees at Downton are taken under the wing of the more senior servants who train them in every detail of their roles, monitor their performances and aren’t afraid to admonish them when they do wrong. Make sure your employees know what they’re supposed to do and how you prefer they do it. Assign mentors to new employees. This not only trains the newly hired, but helps your more senior staff feel like they’re an important part of your business.

Delegate. Downton Abbey runs like a well-oiled machine because each person has his or her well-defined role. Lord and Lady Grantham know that Mr. Carson, as the head butler, leads the team and is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the rest of the household staff. Delegate some of your responsibilities to your senior staff, so you can concentrate on the things you do best.

Do whatever it takes. When housemaid Anna is recruited to help move a dead body in the middle of the night, she hesitates only a second. While you obviously won’t go to this extreme (at least I hope not), your employees need to do whatever it takes to keep your customers and clients happy.

Can’t we all just get along? In the season three premiere, petty jealousies among Downton’s household staff led to an embarrassed Lord Grantham not having the proper attire to wear at a formal dinner. You can’t avoid some degree of staff infighting, but you need to make sure it doesn’t affect customer satisfaction. Impressions count, whether it’s the color of someone’s tie in England in 1920 or your small business today.

Build relationships. Am I making Downton Abbey sound like a horrible place? Not so. In fact, the overarching customer service lesson is that by creating a workplace that values employees and feels like family, your staff will give their all for you and your customers.

Read more Customer Service Watch articles.

Photo: Courtesy of PBS