Top Ten Tips To Build a Superior Customer Service Culture
1. CREATE A UNIQUE SERVICE PHILOSOPHY
Promising to provide “excellent service” is no longer enough for your customers or your staff. Excellent at what?
Excellent service in a hospital is warm and caring, but that’s not what you want at a computer store or car wash. Some restaurants are fast and inexpensive, but that may not be what you want when you go out for dinner.
The Japanese have twenty different words for “quality” – each with a different meaning: durability, craftsmanship, design, efficient use of materials, packaging, presentation and more. Your customers have as many different words and meanings for “service”.
Find out what version or style of service your customers VALUE most, and then match your service philosophy to meet their needs.
2. CONSTANTLY EXPLAIN AND PROMOTE YOUR SERVICE PHILOSOPHY
Build it into your Mission, Vision and Values, your newsletter, training, recruitment, orientation and rewards program.
Singapore has been working for years to upgrade service skills and uplift the service mindset in the nation. There is even a national movement called “GEMS: Go the Extra Mile for Service”.
3. HIRE PEOPLE WHO ARE COMMITTED TO YOUR SERVICE PHILOSOPHY
Everyone must be committed to live your service values every day.
UP Your Service! College has three core values. You can read them at www.UpYourServiceCollege.com
As the College grows, Sim Kay Wee coached me to insist on new staff alignment with these values. He warned that high-performers who are not aligned with the values can damage your reputation and hurt the morale of your team.
So what do you do with a high performing salesperson or brilliant technician who behaves contrary to your values?
You help them change, or let them go.
4. ORIENT YOUR NEW STAFF TO SUPERIOR SERVICE
Texas Instruments conducted an experiment to measure the impact of new staff orientation. One group got the usual induction: workplace rules, employment benefits, office equipment, passwords.
A similar group received the same, plus two months of occasional meetings with service leaders, top customers and senior managers.
Twenty years later the two groups were compared. The second group scored higher in every category, including positions, promotions, pay, longevity and contributions to the company culture.
Make the early investment. Make sure new staff experience the best of your customer service culture in action during their first months on the job. Buddy them with your best service providers. Introduce them to your best customers. Take time to mentor, manage and motivate the new service players on your team.
5. CONTINUOUSLY TRAIN AND RETRAIN YOUR SERVICE TEAM
When you train someone to use a software package, they tend to get better over time. When you train someone in a technical procedure, their performance will improve the more they use it.
But why does “customer service training” tend to wear off? Why do customer service workers need continuous training and retraining?
Because providing customer service requires that you work with other people, not only with software and procedures. Other people can get angry, or be in a bad mood, or simply not appreciate your efforts and the service you provide.
That means “wear and tear” on the service provider. That’s why top service organizations continuously train and retrain their team members and support them with a robust service culture
6. RECOGNIZE AND REWARD SERVICE PROVIDERS
In a strong service culture, “recognition and reward” must come frequently from the company. Why? Because it doesn’t come very often from the customer.
A service provider who calms an angry customer, listens patiently to his complaint and acts quickly to resolve the issue surely deserves appreciation. But how often does an angry customer say, “You did a great job of calming me down and taking care of my needs. Thanks for such great service!” (Answer: Not very often.)
Recognition is a powerful form of reward. Salespeople respond to financial incentives. Product engineers work hard to prove a new technology. But most service people are “people people”. Personal recognition from their managers and peers means a lot.
Recognition can be given many ways: in private or in public, in person or in writing, with or without a physical or financial component.
Recognition can be given to external service providers, for most customer compliments, extra-mile efforts, best service recovery.
Recognition can also be given to internal service providers, for most improved department, most helpful colleagues, best effort to upgrade service, systems or standards.
Recognition can be given to others, too; best service from a supplier, most appreciative customer, most helpful and responsive government agency, most supportive family members at home.
Want your team to give better and more creative customer service? Then get better and more creative with your service recognition and rewards!
7. BRING THE VOICE OF YOUR CUSTOMER INTO YOUR ORGANIZATION
In a strong service culture, everyone understands what customers need and value. They know what customers want to achieve; their hopes, dreams and ambitions. They know what customers want to avoid; their concerns, anxieties and fears.
Excellent service providers know that all customers are not alike. And they know what each type of customer prefers, and their priorities, in different service situations.
This deep understanding of customers does not happen by chance. It comes from bringing the voice of your customer deeply into the organization, and bringing members of the organization frequently to your customers.
Customer contact should start from the very beginning. Southwest Airlines involves loyal customers in their staff selection process. Singapore Press Holdings sends new staff to interview customers during their management orientation program. Emirates Airlines invites new and old customers to participate in company activities, staff service awards and other special events.
Customer complaints and compliments are the real-time voice of your customer. These outspoken comments should be heard throughout your organization.
Singapore Airlines publishes customer compliments and complaints in every issue of their monthly newsletter. Compliments boost morale and remind everyone what actions must continue. Complaints are even more carefully read! Every staff member reads each month what must be changed, updated or improved.
There are more ways to bring the voice of your customer into the body of your organization.
8. CREATE & SUSTAIN A SUCCESSFUL SERVICE SUGGESTION PROGRAM
A superior service culture requires a constant flow of good ideas to improve internal and external service. Everyone in your organization can be a potential contributor.
But how many people will take the time to think through and then submit their best ideas?
In many places the “Staff Suggestion Program” has earned a bad reputation. It’s the empty “Suggestion Box” hanging on the wall. It’s the “Suggestion Hotline” that no one ever answers.
It’s the mandatory requirement of “one idea per person per month” that rips all spontaneity out of the process.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Leading service organizations create more effective programs. Here are some best-practices you can use:
1. Give your suggestion program an appealing name. Singapore Airlines calls theirs “Staff Ideas in Action”, or S.I.A. That’s the same acronym for the airline itself.
What is your program called?
2. Make it easy to submit a suggestion. Put “Suggestion Cards” and collection boxes in the pantry, lounge or cafeteria. Set up a web page or blog with examples of previous suggestions. Dedicate an e-mail address. Set up a voice recorder and publicize the telephone number.
How many channels do you have open right now?
3. Set up categories to help people think with greater focus: Improving Customer Service, New Service Idea, Rewarding Loyal Customers, Recapturing Lost Customers, Better Internal Procedures, Welcoming New Staff, Saving Company Costs, Boosting Sales, etc.
When was the last time you asked for suggestions or ran a contest on any single topic?
4. Respond to suggestions quickly. If the answer is no, say so. If the answer is yes, say “by when”. If the answer is maybe, then provide an explanation.
If your staff submitted a suggestion last week, are they still waiting for an answer?
5. Publicize the suggestions you receive, and your responses. Each idea can lead to more ideas. Every response can trigger new and better thinking.
Where are the best suggestions you received in the past six months? Posted on the Intranet, or buried in a file?
6. Reward great ideas. Give $50 for the best idea, $20 for second, and $10 for 3rd, 4th and 5th. Want to accelerate the process and completely shift your culture? Then give out these awards every week! And celebrate your winners with more than money; them give recognition, prizes and praise.
How much have you spent to encourage and celebrate suggestions in the past 12 months? If you double that amount, would you get more than twice the value?
7. Implement good suggestions quickly. Nothing makes staff feel more powerful and effective than seeing their own good idea come to life.
Can you name three changes in the past three months as a result of staff suggestions?
8. Invite customers and suppliers to participate in your program, and reward them along with the staff.
Wouldn’t your customers and suppliers have a different point of view? When was the last time you asked for their suggestions?
Are there more ways to build a successful suggestion program where you work? Of course there are. What’s YOUR best suggestion?
9. WALK THE TALK. LEADERS MUST BE EXAMPLES OF EXCELLENT SERVICE.
It is essential that leaders, managers and supervisors be SEEN giving excellent service to customers and to staff. Employees may know the Vision, read the Mission and memorize the Values, but they will only BELIEVE in your customer service culture when they see it and hear it from the people at the top. (And they will mock your proclamations if they don’t.)
The manager who tells the team “Get out there and serve!” while he stays comfortably in back is not a service leader at all. The real service leader gets out on the frontline to help whenever she can, especially when times are busy, customers are angry or staff are overloaded.
At a leading hotel in London, the General Manager spends one day every three months dressed in a bellman’s uniform and doing the bellman’s job. Here’s what happens:
1. The General Manager meets customers in a completely different way. He asks real questions, and gets honest answers. The bellman hears a lot of unvarnished feedback that guests may be reluctant to share with the General Manager.
2. The General Manager gets a first hand taste of what it’s like to work on the frontline. He wears the uniform, stands by the door, carries the bags, and eats in the staff cafeteria. This first hand experience means small things that might irritate staff get noticed quickly, and fixed quickly.
3. Most of all, the hundreds of other staff working in the hotel see their General Manager doing frontline work with dignity and respect for the customers, and their colleagues. This respect is returned with a shared dedication to providing superior service.
The country of Singapore is striving to upgrade quality service and improve the image of service providers. Singapore wants “giving service to others” to be embraced as a noble profession.
This is important because Singapore’s future is a service future. Many manufacturing and back-office jobs have migrated to China, India and other lower-cost locations. Meanwhile, more resorts and entertainment, universities, financial, research and medical facilities are coming to Singapore.
To motivate local service providers and encourage professional pride, service awards are given every year; Gold Awards, Star Awards, Extra-Mile Awards.
After each awards ceremony, the service winners enjoy tea with top government leaders. There are many smiles for TV cameras and photographers from the newspaper.
Here’s one way Singapore’s leadership could “walk the talk” and shift the national attitude towards service overnight:
At the next awards ceremony, have top Government Ministers “serve tea” to the frontline service award winners.
This simple gesture of respect from the very top to the very best at the frontline of service would make everyone in the nation take notice. It would become a national talking point and a terrific example of the nation’s most senior leaders “walking the service talk”.
What is your best idea to “walk the service talk”? How can you build a stronger service culture where you work?
10. CREATE RITUALS TO REINFORCE YOUR SERVICE CULTURE
Every strong culture has rites and rituals. These activities anchor individuals to the collective and reinforce what the group deems acceptable, admirable and important.
Think “National Day”, “religious service”, “dining habits”, “wedding ceremony” and “tribal dance” to see how deep, diverse and enduring our rituals can be.
World-class service organizations create strong rituals to constantly reinforce the importance of providing excellent service.
At Raffles Hotel, the daily “line-up” briefing is not to remind waiters about what’s on the menu. It’s a daily ritual to reinforce SERVICE as the main ingredient of their success.
At Singapore Airlines, the “round-up” with cabin crew before each flight is not to remind them where the plane is going. It’s a carefully scripted, participatory ritual requiring every member to offer a SERVICE tip and commit themselves to fulfill it.
At World of Sports, a brass bell hangs near the cash register. A colorful sign invites customers delighted with the service they received to “Ring the Bell!” and express their satisfaction. Every time that bell rings, this customer-involving ritual reinforces the staff’s passionate commitment to SERVICE.
One business manager told me her staff enjoyed when someone left the company because everyone held a “going away” party in their honor. What kind of cultural reinforcement is that?!
A more constructive ritual would be to hold a party welcoming new staff members. Or a gathering to acknowledge staff members on their anniversary of joining the company, thanking them for giving another great year of SERVICE.
There are many ways you can reinforce your culture with rituals: “Service Hall of Fame”, “Compliment of the Month”, “Service Provider of the Week”, “Uplifting Service Awards”, “Dinners with Our Service Winners”.
You create it, you name it, and you build it up by repeating it again and again.
Do you want a stronger service culture where you work? Then create better rituals to promote and reinforce your SERVICE.
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Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission. Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “UP! Your Service” books and founder of UP! Your Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit UpYourService.com.
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