Customer Service Excellence Depends on Valued Front-line Employees

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Chip R. Bell

Leaders can strengthen customer and employee relations while providing great service by adopting the following four strategies:

Keep in Touch
“You can pretend to care, you cannot pretend to be there,” wrote Texas Bix Bender in his book, Don’t Squat With Yer Spurs On! Bender was describing a vital feature of leadership: connection. Great service leaders focus on being there, everywhere, not in absentia. And, when they are there, they are all there—focused, attentive and engaged. They hunt for genuine encounters. They also upset the pristine and proper by inviting vocal customers to meetings. They spend time in the field and on the floor where the action is lively, not in carefully contrived meetings where the action is limp. They thrive on keeping things genuine and vibrant.

Keep Out of the Way
This is not an invitation to hands-off abandonment, but rather a caution never to use more leadership than is needed. If we have hired smart people and given them solid preparation and clear assignments, they shouldn’t need a parent to watch over them. Effective leaders should give front-line servers the freedom to solve customer problems and answer questions on the spot within flexible guidelines. Customers then use the level of front-line empowerment as a peephole into the values of an organization. We have found that the more customers witness or experience employees who act with authority on their behalf, the more their confidence in the organization will soar.

Keep Your Promises
One feature that has been wrung out of the work world is trust. Trust is born out of authenticity. We trust others when we perceive their motives are unadulterated and credible. Communicate your enthusiasm for the privilege of being of service to employees. The stereotypical leader gets caught up with looking, sounding and “acting” executive, and employees get a message of “plastic” power. Great leaders know humility bolsters trust. And, the trusting organization values generosity over miserly squeezing every dollar out of every transaction. Everyone in the organization should protect and grow the assets of the enterprise. However, customers hate being nickel-and-dimed to death. Customer good will is founded on how much leaders trust their employees.

Keep Jelly Beans on Your Desk
“Jelly beans” are code for the sense of fun today’s employees desperately need. As customers aim their anxiety and aggression at the front line, employees need the bulletproof vest that can come from high self-esteem. Happy employees are resilient in times of stress or chaos and courageous in moments of conflict. Sourcing on an emotional strength that is bolstered by a supportive, affirming environment, they are able to absorb tension and convert it into compassion in arduous situations. Leaders must look for ways to shake up the place with quirky events, silly signs and celebrative occasions.

Remember what William James said, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to feel valued.” Constantly seek ways to convey gratitude and encouragement for service greatness. Understand that “thank you” are the two most important words in the English language.

As a leader, your influence, passion and dedication to maintaining grace and excellence under pressure will go far in creating a relationship with your employees that is guaranteed to turn customers into advocates—even during the most hectic times.

You can further explore the ideas discussed in this article in these AMA seminars:
Customer Service Excellence: How to Win and Keep Customers 

Leading with Emotional Intelligence

About the Author(s)

Chip R. BellChip R. Bell is the founder of The Chip Bell Group. He has served as consultant, trainer or speaker to such organizations as GE, Marriott, Lockheed-Martin, Cadillac, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Allstate, Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson and Victoria’s Secret. Leadership Excellence has selected him as one of the top 30 thought leaders in the U.S. Bell is the author or coauthor of 19 bestselling books, including Customer Loyalty Guaranteed, Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service, Take Their Breath Away: How Imaginative Service Creates Devoted Customers, and Wired and Dangerous. His latest book is The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service.