Building a culture of customer service excellence is key to building and sustaining a company’s livelihood in almost any industry. Here’s why:
- The number of interactions between customers and employees is nearly infinite, and the chances to get things wrong or right are nearly innumerable. There’s no way someone in a leadership position can dictate how every single one of those employee-customer interactions will play out. Rather, a leader’s only chance to get the preponderance of these interactions right is to develop a shared cultural understanding of what needs to be done and why.
- There’s no other way to avoid the phenomenon reported to me so frequently by business leaders and managers: “I keep hearing that employees act differently — and not for the better — when I’m out of the building.” With a great company culture, your employees will act consistently. They won’t depend on your managerial presence to remind them how to act. Their motivation will come from within themselves, reinforced by all of those around them.
- The ongoing technology and connectivity revolution amplifies the problems of a weak company culture. The best customer service approach in social media, for example, is to have people who are steeped in your culture handle the social media, and the best email responses to customers come from staff members who understand what is and isn’t consonant with your culture. The risks of deviating from this are potentially catastrophic because of the way issues can spread on the internet like wildfire.
- Unlike other business advantages (a technological edge or a discounted pricing scheme, for example), a company culture advantage is overwhelmingly resistant to imitation. It’s a business advantage that is highly sustainable – if you put in the legwork and stick with it.
How to get started today
Although there is a lot of detail and personalization involved in the work I do to help each corporate client build its own customer-centric culture, my instructions can, for the most part, be whittled down to the following six items. It’s not a very long list, but every item on this list is a necessity. And you can get started on this list today.
- Start with a piece of paper – a very small piece of paper: Get your core values down on a piece of paper, using simple, meaningful words. Your core values should briefly state how customers, employees, and vendors should be treated. In my opinion, this means ‘‘the way you would like to be treated yourself – and maybe then some.’’ Be sure that list of core values is short enough that every employee can understand, memorize and internalize it, yet long enough to be meaningful.
- Bring that piece of paper to life: Train, support, hire, and, if necessary, use discipline to enforce what’s important to you. The values I just asked you to write down are just words on paper until you build your systems and processes to support them.
- Review your hiring criteria and processes: Are you really hiring based on the traits required for great customer-facing work?
- Review your training, support, advancement and disciplinary methodologies and practices: are you quickly course-correcting employees who make missteps with customers, are you supporting employees who need support, are you providing the necessary training and the proper tools to allow them to accomplish the level of service to which you aspire?
- Leverage the power of peer pressure, and of leading by example. Think of the Disney parks and how clean they are. While this may have started off as the result of Walt firing people on the spot if they didn’t pick up visible gum wrappers, today it’s because everyone who works at Disney sees everyone else – from executives to seasonally hired kids – picking up litter. It’s simply the way you do things if you want to be part of this organization.
- Pay your employees properly. Pay them well, pay them in line with what people in similar positions outside your company make, and pay them in line with what people in similar positions/with similar credentials/with similar quality of work inside your company make — and don’t forget the importance and ethical imperative of providing benefits.
- Improve how you treat subcontractors and vendors. Only appropriately treated subcontractors and vendors acting as true partners can come through for your company and its customers in times of need and can extend your brand’s potential in an integrated and integral way.
- Never let up. As Ray Davis, the president and CEO of Umpqua Bank, a U.S. retail bank that’s consistently top-rated for service, puts it, ‘‘maintaining a culture is like raising a teenager. You’re constantly checking in. What are you doing? Where are you going? Who are you hanging out with?’’ And, sometimes, you have to use some tough love when that teenager is acting up in ways that don’t support the culture you’re working to build.