With stiff competition for contracts, employee turnover and ever-more-demanding clients, quality customer care must remain a top goal. But how do you achieve it?

The prospect of monitoring the customer service efforts of your employees might seem like herding cats. You can reinforce the importance of quality customer service every day, but then workers go off in every direction on the job and you can’t always watch for follow-through.

Who was doing what — and where — this past weekend when that customer called to complain about a misstep in service? Who handled the call and what was the outcome? Did someone follow through with your biggest client and take care of any lingering issues?

The endless questions over a lapse in good customer service can keep you awake at night. But rather than worry yourself into sleepless nights over how your customers were handled in the past, Ron Kaufman recommends creating a positive service culture that will stand you in good stead for the future.

The author of the book, Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (Evolve Publishing), offers many “building blocks of a service culture” to ensure customers are treated well whether or not you’re present to watch your employees at work.

Kaufman says poor service is rampant today and that it’s time for companies to examine the best, most innovate practices used today to improve customer service.

“Service is everywhere,” says Kaufman. “But there is a vast disconnect between the volume of service we need and the quality of service we are giving and receiving. Businesses have turned a very simple human concept into a catastrophic cliché. They remain blind to the fact that true service comes not from demands and dashboards, but from a basic human desire to take care of other people.”

Let’s explore a few ways Kaufman says you can improve the service culture in your business: 


Hire right.

If you experience continual customer service troubles, have you considered the problem might be who you’re hiring more than how you’re training? Kaufman advocates for hiring workers with the right attitude over those who might have the best set of skills for the job. He points to creative companies like tech giant Google and shoe e-tailer Zappos that have learned it’s easier to start with employees who are receptive to a strong service message.

“Each new hire either makes your culture stronger or makes your challenge to build a great service culture a little harder,” says Kaufman. “The right people pull naturally in the right direction. While cultural misfits may be experienced in a specific area, their impact on the team can be confusing or downright disruptive.”

And a few employees who don’t buy into the importance of great customer service can have a detrimental influence on everyone else on your team. How Zappos weeds out employees who don’t accept the company’s customer service message is intriguing. After four weeks of cross-training in the company’s “Deliver WOW Through Service” philosophy, Zappos managers ask new hires if they’d like to opt out.

“If you think the culture isn’t a perfect fit for you, the company will pay you for the hours you’ve put in so far, plus a cash bonus to leave now with a smile,” Kaufman explains. “The amount started at $100 and has since been raised to a whopping $2,000. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is actually thinking of increasing it again because not enough people accept the opt-out offer. The point is not paying people to go, but making sure the right people choose to stay.” 


Set clear expectations.

You can’t expect employees to carry on your vision for customer service if you don’t convey it to them — when they come to work for the first day and regularly there-after. Too often a new employee is thrown into the fire because a heavy workload demands it. As Kaufman explains, it’s typical for an employer to walk a new employee around the shop, show them the work tools, introduce a few co-workers and then tell them to get to work.

Rather, take the time to create a new-employee orientation program that lays out customer service expectations; how the phone will be answered, the procedure for responding to a complaint, to what lengths an employee is empowered to address a customer concern. Then follow up so nobody forgets service communications.

“Give voice to your customers’ compliments and complaints,” he says. “Service communications keep your people up-to-date with what’s happening, what’s changing, what’s coming next, and most of all what’s needed now.” 


Show your appreciation.

We know what you do when a customer complains about how an employee treated them. But how do you react when a customer praises one of your employee’s efforts? If you don’t recognize a customer service win, that has to change.

Employee recognition can come in many forms, including bonuses for good work. However, Kaufman said money isn’t always the most effective way to reward employees, and sometimes bonuses bring unintended consequences. He explained how a car dealership gave customer satisfaction bonuses, but when the economy forced the dealer to curtail that benefit, customer satisfaction fell off.

It’s better to look for meaningful alternatives to cash, according to Kaufman.

“Genuine appreciation fully expressed makes a more lasting impact on any employee,” he adds. “And there are tons of great ways to reward and recognize. You can do it in public, in private, in person, in writing, for individuals, or for teams. You can do it with a handwritten letter, a standing ovation, two tickets to a concert or a ball game, an extra day off, dinner for the family … They can drive service commitment and behavior to even higher levels and are more memorable and emotional than simply receiving money.” 


Get out on the front lines.

How can you overcome the challenges to providing top-notch customer service if you’re not in touch with operations? You need to get out of the office and get boots on the ground occasionally to assess how procedures are being followed. That could mean spending a day with each crew at a remote work site or asking a manager to do it.

Kaufman explains how the general manager of an exclusive Paris hotel works as a bellman several times each year. He greets guests and hauls their luggage, all the while getting feedback about the hotel. He eats lunch with frontline workers and asks and answers questions about the job.

“He’s the epitome of a service role model,” Kaufman says. “But what’s important to remember and to emphasize with your team is that everyone is a service role model. Leaders, managers, and frontline staff must walk-the-talk with powerful personal actions every day.” 



Have you successfully restored high standards of customer service in your company? Have you found a great way to motivate employees to go above and beyond for customers … even when you’re not looking over their shoulders? Share your tips with us by dropping me a line at editor@gomcmag.com.

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