By Matt Rocco
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. This requires having a customer focus – an attitude and practice that places customer and provider in a partnership to achieve positive results. Customer focus is not what is delivered but how it is delivered.
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?
Walk in Your Customer’s Shoes: Examine your products and services, call up your own company, visit your storefront, or simply go to 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. Listen regularly and closely to the “voice of the customer,” whether it comes to you via surveys, letters, comments, or direct interaction. If you really want to know, ask. Then listen closely to the answers. Many issues can be resolved before they ever come up simply by listening carefully to your customers and team. Have your frontline agents ask customers a simple question, “What can we do to improve your experience?” Ask your frontline agents the same question and pay attention to the responses. Ask yourself these questions: “How happy are our customers and clients? What percentage are unhappy and why? How do I know? What can I 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: Some of your policies, procedures, and processes might not be actually documented, but you can still find them quoted word for word as being “the way things must be done.” Ask your frontline agents about this – they will tell you the things they “must do,” “cannot do,” or “are not allowed to do” for the customer. Root out everything that interferes with good customer service, remove unnecessary red tape, and reduce levels of approval. You want your customers and frontline representatives to be able to get what they need without feeling as if 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 frontline staff what needs to be done to improve their ability to take care of 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 in order to meet your customers’ expectations; 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 necessary to respond to your customers appropriately and with confidence.
Empower Your Highly Trained People: 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 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 with 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 the 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 on your team that really make a positive impact on your customers. Watch and listen to what they do and how they do it, 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 practices they demonstrate with all aspects of your 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: Too many times, your managers and supervisors become so caught up in fighting fires that they feel there is no time for coaching. The 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 willing to share concepts 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 coaches should exemplify their commitment to your core values.
Be a Role Model: Remember, 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, and promptly. Walk in your customers’ shoes for a while. What you learn will be important – but more importantly, you will be seen learning. If your team members observe you modeling customer-focused behavior, they are much more likely to get on board with your approach. And 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
Conclusion: Make sure everyone involved understands your expectations for customer service. Have your leaders commit to exemplifying those expectations. Hire and train the right people for the job you need done. Give them the resources to be effective ambassadors to your customers. Empower team members to push the boundaries and find new solutions to recurring problems. Ensure that 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 to better meet expectations. Plan ways to monitor and reward the agreed-upon behaviors of your frontline staff. Regularly recognize and reward team members for outstanding performance.
That is how to develop a customer-focused culture.
“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 is president and COO of Etech Global Services. Etech is a provider of intelligent sales and service solutions utilizing inbound and outbound voice and live chat. To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine – November 2012]