As part of Customer Service Week, we present a guest post from Micah Solomon, author of High Tech, High Touch Customer Service: Inspire Timeless Loyalty in the Demanding New World of Social Commerce, sharing tips to help businesses test, and improve their customer service in under a minute.
Here’s a test you can run at your own company to find out if you have an existing customer service culture. It shouldn’t take more than 20 seconds; if it does, that tells you something right there. Try–or if necessary have a friend try–standing around looking like you’re lost in your parking lot, corridor, or lobby. (If you’re primarily an online or phone-based business, the equivalent is calling in or “typing in” in a confused, flustered manner.) Do any employees help you find where you are going? Or do they rush by looking distractedly self-important, not realizing that the confused customer/prospect/human being who needs help is their job, rather than is an interruption of their job?
In a company with a customer service culture, employees will notice the lost, mystified expression on your face. They will know it is their job to help you. Their managers in turn will understand the value of what the employee is doing, and if the employee in question is back a bit late from their lunch break because they stopped to help a customer along the way, the employee will be celebrated rather than hassled for it.
This, better than some academic definition I could give you, is what a true customer service culture looks like.
Customer service culture: Why your company needs one
The way to ensure extraordinary, sustainable customer service is to involve everyone in your organization in a pro-customer corporate culture, a culture that values something beyond the immediate padding and protection of the bottom line.
If an employee can believe in the organization and its customer-centered goal (which must, by the way, include the goal of supporting those who support the customers), that belief will tend to lead to appropriate action. This in turn will inspire the actions of other employees through positive peer pressure, which is one of the most powerful forces there is in an organization. In such a culture, someone not practicing excellence in their relationship with customers will stick out like a sore loser.
How do you get there? First the goal, then the framework, and only then the ‘best practices’
So, how do you get there? Well, you could jump right into training your people to look for open maps and dazed expressions, in other words, you could zero in on this one necessary behavior at this one point in the customer journey that Micah just told you is telltale.
But I don’t think that’s really the place to start. When people call and tell me “Micah, we need a bunch of ‘best practices’ to import into our company” I try to gently push them toward a different approach. Because this is a case of the chicken and the egg (or the chicken and the egg cream, if you’re a New Yorker) that I think is easy to solve: You need to start at the beginning, or if that’s already impossible, start with a new beginning.
Start at the beginning–or begin anew
Both ways–starting at the beginning and re-starting to create a new beginning–work as long as you truly start fresh. Let me illustrate both scenarios, with one of my favorite juxtapositions. A begin-truly-at-the-beginning starts with a visionary leader who knows where she wants to go from the start, and builds that into the guts of the company from the start. The phenomenally culture-rich Ritz-Carlton is an example of this: It was set up from day one with a central founding philosophy — “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” — informing all that it did.
If it’s too late to be born well, don’t fear. Take heart from the example of the Ritz-Carlton’s friendly arch-competitor, Four Seasons, born more haphazardly (as the Four Seasons Motor Hotel, believe it or not, an outgrowth of the founder’s family’s construction business) until some years down the road, founder Isadore Sharp put the brakes on the random way the Four Seasons culture was growing, and set up a new framework, from which all hiring, growth, and other business decisions would now flow: “In all our interactions with our guests, customers, business associates, and colleagues, we seek to deal with others as we would have them deal with us.”
Either way, try not to start with the details, but with the goal, and building a framework, a skeleton, that can support the achievement, over and over, of that goal. Then get to the details. How you address the details can, and will, change over time, but only in service of the unchanging goal.