Make People Happy (Part 1) – A Recipe for 5-Star Customer Service with Tom Colicchio of Top Chef

Customer Support Technology

Whether it’s through the perfect gift, a well-timed phone call or even just a handwritten holiday card, the holidays present us all with the perfect opportunity to reflect and refocus on one thing: making people happy.

But making people happy isn’t just about the holidays, it’s also the recipe for building a customer-service oriented organization. And this recipe was given to us by someone who knows a thing or two about them: Tom Colicchio. Yes, that Tom Colicchio.

Tom Colicchio

As an award-winning chef and restaurateur, Tom’s success in the notoriously challenging food service industry provides a blueprint for billers in how they should approach building an optimal user experience (UX) that drives on-time payments and promotes loyalty – long after the snow melts and the decorations are put away.

In part 1 of this special holiday UX Bill Better® series, we’ll see how Tom has created an internal culture based around making people happy by optimizing UX at every turn.

I’m On Your Side”

The relationship between a business and its customers is just that, a relationship. When viewed through this lens, it’s easy to see why Tom says that all businesses must approach the customer experience by adopting an “I’m on your side” attitude.

This can take several forms. For instance, you call a restaurant and ask for a reservation. The host tells you that they’re completely booked for that evening. In many cases, that will be the end of the conversation. But for a customer-oriented organization, it’s a chance to work with a customer and earn their business. Instead of hanging up, they will suggest other times that might be available. They are on the side of the caller, working to help them get the reservation they were seeking.

For billers, best-in-class UX means offering many ways to address a particular challenge, preference or pain point. An intuitive, inclusive payment experience – one that offers more ways to pay and communicate – is the simplest way to show customers you care about their business. If customers are expected to pay on time each month, they must be given the tools and flexibility to do so.

To get there, there are a few simple questions all billers should be asking themselves: Do you offer payment types that help your unbanked and cash-preferred customers make their payments? Are your self-service options easy to navigate? Is the user experience as friendly as possible? When customers call, are they greeted with a recording or a friendly voice? Do you send notifications alerting a customer that a bill’s due date is fast approaching?

If you can surround your customers with solutions that show you’re working with them, you’re likely to see an increase in customer satisfaction and on time payments.

“Everything’s a ‘Yes’”

Everything? Well, yes, everything. For instance, when a new guest requested a juice that Tom’s restaurant didn’t offer, it was seen as a chance to deliver a high-end customer experience. Wanting to please this guest, the server walked down the block to a corner store and purchased the drink for the customer. This small gesture turned the new guest into a weekly customer, which is the lifeblood of any restaurant.

But this is more about your company’s culture than it is about any one specific gesture. It’s easy to say no or allow limitations to dictate the type of relationship you can build with your customers. The first step is to eliminate those types of limitations. Customers want greater control over the billing and payment experience, and a solution that limits how they can receive, view and pay bills puts up a wall of “nos.” This will lead to delayed or missed payments, or a loss of business.

Instead, work toward becoming a culture that strives for “yes.” “Yes, we do offer digital wallet payments.” “Yes, you can receive text bill payment reminders.” “Yes, you can pay your bill with cash.” If your internal teams are committed to avoiding the dreaded N-O, they will also proactively seek out solutions that further your organization’s goal of putting the customer first at all times.

Service vs. Hospitality

As Tom explains, there is a stark difference between hospitality and service. Service is about addressing customer challenges, providing unexpected moments of delight, and meeting the needs of your customers – hospitality is how you do all of those things.

Consider a customer whose payment is denied. In this instance, customer service revolves around helping this person address the issue of their payment being denied, with the ultimate goal of having their payment processed and their account remaining in good standing.

The resolution process is what defines service and hospitality. While a 45-minute phone call can lead to the same resolution as a five-minute chatbot interaction, the lingering impact of such an interaction will weigh heavily the next time this customer may have an issue or is asked to endorse your services to a peer.

A key point for Tom as it regards service versus hospitality is that the front and back of the house must work together. Much like a waiter and chef cannot be at odds when it comes to a customer’s order, your billing and payment technology must be comprehensive, seamless and complementary to internal staff.

The Bill Better® Takeaway

A commitment to your customers is just that, a commitment. There is no area too small to ignore when it comes to helping people receive, view and pay their bills. Organizations that adopt a customer-first mentality throughout their culture will be the ones to quickly surface and resolve issues, simplify the payment process and make customers feel cared for and supported to drive on-time payments.

This approach is about more than people, however. A “good enough” billing and payment solution is anything but good enough. Technology must support customer-first aims. This means offering more payment channels and methods, while making them intuitive and convenient. Customers should be given a variety of options to best manage their accounts or resolve issues. Technology should also enable customer service representatives to say “yes” as much as possible.

While making people happy is an art form, Tom Colicchio knows that there is also a recipe. Follow the one contained here and you will have earned your dessert (and we promise, it’s much better than fruitcake).


Continue on to Make People Happy (part 2), where we’ll show how billers can put the “you” in UX. Want to learn more about the many facets of optimal UX? Check out our on-demand Innovation Series featuring webinars on cash bill pay, advanced notifications, payment plans and more.