In the end, companies succeed or fail based in large part on their customer’s perceptions which manifest from their unique experiences. A strong and unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction is needed from all involved to ensure continued survival and growth. It would be helpful to define a few terms to start.
- To develop means to cause somebody or something to change and grow or improve.
- Customers are people or companies that receive goods or services from you or your company.
- External customers are those who pay you or your company for goods or services.
- Internal customers are co-workers who need you to do your job so they can do theirs.
- Customer Focus is an attitude and practice that places customer and provider in a partnership to achieve positive results. Customer focus is not WHAT we deliver but HOW we deliver it.
- Culture is a shared attitude or belief structure, such as “That is how we do things around here!”
To develop a customer focused culture, all that is needed is to get everyone on board with the concept that the customer’s needs come first, and then to work together to make sure that you do what is needed every day, in every way. Sounds simple, right? So how do we get there?
First, take a walk in your customer’s shoes.
Examine your products and services, call up your own company, visit your storefront or simply visit your website and ask for help. What happens, how does it feel, and how can it be improved? This can often be an enlightening exercise in itself. Listen regularly and closely to the “Voice of the Customer”, whether it comes to you as surveys, letters, comments or direct interaction. If you really want to know, ask! Then listen closely to the answers you get. Many issues can be resolved before they ever come up, simply by listening carefully to your customers and team members.
Have your front-line agents ask customers a simple question, “What can we do to improve your experience?” Ask your front-line agents the same question and pay attention to the responses you get. Ask yourself these questions: “How happy are your customers and clients? What percentage are unhappy and why? How do you know? What can you do to improve?” The answer to the last question is often found with your unhappy customers.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates
Streamline policies, procedures and processes.
Sometimes these are not actually on the books, but you can still find them quoted word for word as being “the way things MUST be done”. Ask your front-line about it and they can tell you of things they “must do”, “cannot do”, or “are not allowed to do” for the customer. Root out anything that interferes with good customer service, remove unnecessary red tape and reduce levels of approval. You want your customers and front-line representatives to be able to get what they need without feeling like they are fighting the system to make it happen.
Every single process you have in place does one of two things. It either helps or hinders your efforts to meet your customers’ needs. Find out from your front-line what needs to be done to improve their ability to take care of their customers, and then make it happen. Streamline your processes to focus them on the desired result – a customer that says, “WOW!”
“Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.” – Mark Cuban
Hire good people and train them to be even better.
Make sure you know what you need in an employee to meet your customers’ expectations and tailor your recruiting and hiring process to that end. The wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time can create a disaster. Once hired, train your employees thoroughly in proper policy and procedure so they understand your expectations clearly, then arm them with the product knowledge they need to respond to your customers appropriately and with confidence.
Now that you have good people trained, empower them.
Get people thinking and talking about ways to improve the customer experience, without having to work harder. Some solutions will always be better than others. Have your team weigh the pros and cons of each suggestion, so that everyone involved understands why some are acted upon and others are not. Once you have a potential solution, implement it immediately and perfect it later.
Provide a small group of team members the authority and resources needed, along with the accountability to track and report on results in a timely manner. Let them learn by failing as long as risk-taking is small, fast and cheap, with minimal and short-term impacts on the overall customer experience. Once it becomes a “best practice”, spread it throughout the organization.
Learn from the champs and share what you learn.
Seek out, recognize and reward the people in your team that really make a positive impact on your customers. Watch and listen to what they do and how it is done, what they say and how they say it. Model and role-play it, then have them share their knowledge with others and be sure you recognize their excellence publicly. Share the best practice they demonstrate across all aspects of the company.
“Listen to everyone in your company, especially the ones who actually talk to customers. They really know what’s going on out there.” Sam Walton
Get your coaches coaching (and leave fire fighting to the professionals).
Too many times, your managers and supervisors get so caught up in fighting fires they feel there is no time for coaching. Reality is that coaching should be their main job! Coaches must be proactive, forward thinking in order to prevent future problems through training, able to recognize best practices and share them with the group. Taking one simple idea at a time and applying it repeatedly will reinforce it for your team. Keep your focus on customer satisfaction and do not be distracted by the crisis of the day. The behavior of your coaches should exemplify their commitment to your core values.
Be a role model yourself.
It’s not just what you do … it’s how you do it. Get out there and listen to your customers (both internal and external). Check for understanding and be responsive. If you must say “I’ll have to get back to you on that”, be sure you do, promptly! Walk in their shoes for a while. What you learn will be important, but more important is that you are seen learning. If your team members see you modeling customer-focused behavior, they are much more likely to get on board with your approach. Most important of all, if you have an “oops” moment, respond to it visibly, quickly, decisively and in a positive way.
“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” – Roger Staubach
Wrapping it up in a nutshell.
Make sure everyone involved understands your expectations with respect to customer service. Have your leaders commit to exemplifying those expectations. Hire and train the right people for the job you need done. Train them and give them the resources to be an effective ambassador to your customers. Empower team members to push the boundaries and find new solutions to recurring problems. Ensure your service standards apply equally to internal and external customer satisfaction.
Develop in-house continuous improvement as a principal component of all your processes. Listen to the “Voice of the Customer” and act on any feedback provided. Identify opportunities and respond to them quickly so as to better meet expectations. Plan ways to monitor and reward the agreed-upon behaviors of your front-line staff. Regularly recognize and reward team members for outstanding performance.
“You’ll never have a product or price advantage again. They can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can’t be copied.” – Jerry Fritz
Matt Rocco | President and COO
1903 Berry Drive
Nacogdoches, TX 75964