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What is customer service culture? It’s how your company looks at, treats, and engages with employees — or how it intends to do so. While ultimate results depend on individual customer-facing employee behaviors and the type of support delivered by back-office employees and technology, the source of these comes from the broader ethos that exists and either supports or sabotages excellent customer service performance and employee engagement.
In my work as a customer service consultant and transformation expert, I balance the time and resources I expend on more nuts-and-bolts efforts, such as customer service training and eLearning production, with the broader issues of creating the right supporting customer service culture. It’s truly that kind of important. Here are ten ways to drill down on what matters here and kickstart your cultural results.
1. Create a meaningful statement of purpose
This can be just a sentence long. Ideally, it encapsulates your company’s values and goals, particularly in how you strive to support your customers.
Think of the Mayo Clinic’s “The needs of the patients come first” or the type embraced by five-star and other luxury hotels, such as Four Seasons Hotel’s “We strive to treat guests as we’d like to be treated ourselves” or Fairmont Hotel’s “We turn moments into memories.” This should be something your staff can easily remember and embody in their day-to-day work, not a jargon-laden, pompous multi-page work destined to language in somebody’s drawer, never to be seen again.
2. Develop a philosophical framework
This can be slightly longer but brief, containing 9-12 principles. Socialize these throughout your company by any means at your command. I’d suggest condoning that into a smaller format on a laminated accordion-folded business-size card for easy employee reference.
These principles should guide your staff in their customer interactions and remind them of what’s most important during their day-to-day work. (Sound silly? The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has taken this approach since 1983. Their accordion-folded business card — “the credo card” — is carried by every employee onsite and on the phones.)
3. Show explicit and frequent support for employee empowerment
Do this while emphasizing the importance of judgment calls and praising employees for exercising initiative. This helps to foster a sense of trust and autonomy among staff, which ultimately leads to better customer service for customers — in part because of the creativity it engenders in employees and in part because problems (and opportunities!) can be responded to in real-time by the first employee encountering them, no need for a customer to suffer through “I need to talk to my manager before I can help you that way.”
4. Hire personalities
Focus on personality traits during employee selection rather than solely valuing skills and prior experience, as employees may have varying aptitudes for service. This is important because not everyone is cut out for customer service, and it’s more important to have empathetic, kind and willing employees to connect with customers genuinely.
5. Involve senior leadership
Involve the CEO or senior leadership in onboarding new hires to emphasize the importance of service from the start. This helps to demonstrate the importance that your business places on great service, which permeates across your organization. When employees see that their CEO or other senior-level leadership prioritizes service excellence, it can help to instill a sense of ownership and value among employees.
6. Conduct a daily, short “customer service refresh” ritual
I recommend keeping it to 8 minutes or less! In this ritual, discuss a single principle of customer service excellence and recognize the great service provided by employees. This is another excellent way to reinforce values and create a positive feedback loop for employees. By discussing customer service best practices in a daily huddle or similar team meeting, you can help to foster a culture of continuous improvement.
7. Lead by example
Manage from the floor to lend support to your service culture as well as to provide an opportunity for “instant correction.” Leading by example is critical when it comes to customer service. You can’t expect employees to prioritize service if they don’t see you doing it yourself. By getting out of your office and interacting with customers, you can demonstrate the importance of service to your employees and show them what it looks like in practice. Just as important, seeing, in real time, how your frontlines practice customer service can make all the difference, as it allows you the chance to correct missteps before they fester and ultimately become the norm.
8. Provide in-depth customer service training
This ensures that all employees have the tools to deliver the best service. Be sure this includes “situational empathy” training and the all-important training in service recovery (working with upset customers) that will allow success in even the thorniest situations. My company offers training that includes all the above, with an exclusive focus on customer service and the culture in which it resides.
9. Foster an ethos of lateral service
This ethos is where everyone pitches in, including senior staff, to get things done. When employees see that senior staff is willing to roll up their sleeves and help out as needed, it can help to foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration. (Think of Disney: how anyone, even a suit-wearing executive, will pause their walk through the park to address the litter they encounter.). In addition, during busy periods or difficult service scenarios, it can be beneficial for everyone to pitch in and lend a hand — both due to the effort expended and the morale boost it can lead to.
10. Encourage innovation from all employees
Nothing can be more frustrating for a well-meaning customer-facing employee than to have to solve the same issue repeatedly or to work with cumbersome tools when that employee has an idea for how to improve.
By implementing these customer service culture catalysts, you can create a foundation for superior customer service and employee engagement to help your company succeed. These tactics require dedication and attention over the long term — creating a culture of service excellence is an ongoing commitment that requires continuous refinement and improvement. But the payoff can be significant: happier customers, engaged employees, and a better bottom line.