Upgrade Customer Service: Can a Company Go From Bad to Great?
A company with bad customer service can no longer hide. In the age of smartphones and social media, customer service scandals will be exploited. Can historically bad customer service companies change? If so, how? Take United Airlines for example--United cannot stay out of the news for repeated customer service scandals. Why? Where does it start? And how can it be fixed?
1. World-class starts at the top.
It is easy to see why world-class customer service companies are superior. The person leading the organization is obsessed with the experience they deliver. If the top people can't passionately believe in the customer experience, the company will never embody it.
Howard Schultz (Starbucks), Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines), Steve Jobs (Apple), Horst Schulze (The Ritz-Carlton), Truett Cathy (Chick-fil-A), Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines), John Nordstrom (Nordstrom), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) all have something in common: Each of these leaders obsessed over their company's customer experience, down to the smallest detail. They passionately articulated their vision for world-class experience every time they spoke, to anyone and everyone who would listen. And their companies are all known for world-class customer service. Service aptitude starts at the very top.
Conversely, for every poor customer service company, you can typically track the reason back to the lack of service aptitude of its leader. United's troubles extend far beyond a single mistake. In recent years, the airline has injured passengers, sold their seats, misplaced their pets, and caused a pet's death. Many believe United's problems start in the C-suite, beginning with their CEO.
"It's a top-down culture, meaning the CEO and other leaders set the atmosphere for the rest of the employees," airline expert George Hobica told Business Insider earlier this year. "It's just a lack of integrity in their leadership."
Without senior leadership being fanatical about customer experience, it will never be a priority and nothing will change. A great place to start is creating your company's service vision statement.
2. Service aptitude training.
"It is not the employees' responsibility to have high service aptitude; it is the company's job to teach it to them."
Most would agree that the soft skill side (how customers are treated and cared for) is just as important as the technical/operational side of what the customer receives. However, the vast majority of a company's employee orientation and ongoing training contradicts that.
How many hours do you train new employees before they can start interacting with your customers? It may be two days, two weeks, or a month. How many of those hours are devoted to technical training (product knowledge, processing orders, scheduling appointments, etc.) versus customer experience training (customer service vision, non-negotiable standards, building customer rapport, service recovery, etc.)? The vast majority of businesses spend nearly 100 percent of their training on the technical part of the job and breeze over their customer service philosophy because they think it is common sense.
Your service training needs to be certifiable, just like your technical training. It all comes down to service aptitude training. If today's younger generation lack the skills gained from human interactions, who is responsible for improving their people skills and increasing their service aptitude? The businesses that hire them! We need to have better training programs, not just training on product knowledge and the technical side of the job, but also training and certification on the soft skills. The companies that deliver world-class customer service are the companies that understand this and provide training in customer service skills.
3. Create a world-class internal culture.
"If it is not felt on the inside, it will never be felt on the outside." To have a world-class internal culture you must attract, hire, and retain only those people who have what I call "Service DNA." The best service companies do an incredible job of achieving this goal, starting with the process of recruiting and hiring, extending through orientation, and continuing throughout the entire employee career experience.
According to a Gallup survey, the top three reasons employees leave their jobs are: 1) lack of faith in the leadership or vision of the company; 2) concern with the way management is treating people; and 3) lack of management support in areas such as performance reviews and employee development. The single most important determinant of an individual's performance and commitment to stay with an organization is the relationship the individual has with their immediate manager. As the saying goes, people leave their manager far more often than they leave the organization.
As business leaders, we need to have standards that require prospective employees to earn the right to be part of our company. Having a set of non-negotiable hiring standards--characteristics an employee must embody that are clearly defined and articulated--will turn your prospective employees either on or off. The main objective of your interview process is to scare the applicant out of wanting to work for you. If you can't, chances are very good the applicant will be successful.
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