Where does customer service begin?
Is there a set of rules or specific policies that a company should follow to ensure that each customer receives the best experience? Or does it start by establishing a customer service department that customers can call if they have a problem?
Customer service is actually much more. It is not a department. It is not found in rules and policies. It is a philosophy, and to be successful, it must be embraced by every member of an organization, from the CEO to the most recent hire.
As I travel the world and work with clients from all types of industries, they recognize the importance of customer service and the role it plays in marketing, sales, growth and revenue. They want to know how to go about creating a customer service culture in which all their employees understand the role they play in ensuring customers receive great service.
The key is creating a culture that is customer-focused. That means that every decision is made with the customer in mind, and everyone in the organization knows how they impact the overarching customer service strategy as well as the entire customer experience (CX).
The best companies create policies and procedures that are customer-focused, and then train ALL their people – not just the front line – to the culture. They learn how to handle certain situations, issues, problems and complaints – but remember, it has to go beyond rules and policies. The bottom line is doing the right thing for the customer.
That might seem hard to teach, but there are ways to be successful. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Start with the right people.
First, the leadership team must create the culture. Then, you must hire people with not only the skills to do the job, but also the right mindset to fit in with your customer service culture.
Make sure everyone understands the basics.
Before you can empower people to do the right thing, they must have a base of knowledge to work from. Therefore, everyone must go through basic customer service training, so they understand your vision for delivering good service.
Give them the freedom to do the right thing.
Once your employees are trained in your special brand of customer service and know the guidelines in which they operate, empower them to make their own decisions. Let them know they don’t have to “ask the manager” for approval every time they make a customer-focused decision.
Reinforce and realign.
Take advantage of customer service triumphs and missteps as opportunities to give feedback to individual employees, and use success stories as examples to teach others.
We’ve talked about some steps to take to ensure everyone understands that customer service is a philosophy, based on doing the right thing for the customer. Let’s expand on those and take a look at some other important steps to building a customer-centric culture.
Define your customer service vision.
Create a customer service vision statement, or mantra, in simple terms. It should be short and to the point, something that everyone can remember and understand, and it should inspire your employees to deliver great customer service.
Let the vision guide your hiring decisions.
Of course, you want to hire someone with the technical knowledge and skills to perform the job, but it’s also essential to consider a candidate’s personality and attitude and how they fit in with your customer service vision and customer-focused culture.
Start training from day one, focusing on the soft skills, your customer service expectations and your core values. And, the training has to apply to everyone, including leadership. Otherwise, employees will come away with the impression that customer service isn’t as important as you say it is.
Model the behavior.
Everyone, but leaders in particular, should serve as role models for others to emulate. Treat employees with the same respect and dignity as you would the customer – maybe even more so.
Empower employees to deliver good service.
Once employees are trained in your customer service vision, don’t encumber them with rules that get in the way. Give them the power to do what it takes to meet and exceed your service standards. Trust them to do the right thing.
Provide continual feedback.
Recognize others when they do well. Letting people know when they are doing a good job may be the motivation they need to continue or, even better, take it to the next level. Also, if someone is not acting in sync with the customer service standards, consider it a teaching opportunity and use it to help the employee grow to be more successful in the future.
Employees love to be appreciated and rewarded, so don’t forget to celebrate a job well done. That doesn’t have to mean a party every week. It may be recognition at a weekly meeting or a mention in the company newsletter. Or, maybe it is something big, like an annual awards dinner.
One more thing to keep in mind. I believe that to truly have a customer-focused culture, a company must first focus on its employees. A happy employee who feels appreciated and respected will be better able and much more enthusiastic about delivering a good customer experience.
So, starting at the top, leaders must be an example of good service as they interact with employees and follow the steps to building a customer-centric culture. Do it right, and the customer will respond to the company’s positive culture with repeat business, and ultimately, loyalty.