By Ed Horrell
The common element among the companies providing the finest customer service is how they use core values to eliminate indifference in their workplace. By emphasizing dignity, respect, courtesy, and kindness, they create a culture of values and make their employees and customers feel important. As a result, a process that they each practice with every customer contact becomes almost automatic.
Some of these companies, such as the Ritz-Carlton, have identified this process and list the steps for employees to remember. Others, such as St. Jude Children's Research Center, haven't gone to the extent of writing the rules down, but they practice them just the same. It is part of the culture of the organization; it is as natural to the employees as breathing. It is part of their value structure.
I am going to attempt to list these basic tenets. They constitute a fundamental process that should be practiced with every customer contact. Keep in mind, too, that your employees will treat your customers the way you treat them, so these basic rules should also be utilized in your communication with your employees.
These are rules of engagement; they are not meant to be simply written down and left on a page. They must be implemented to create a culture of kindness and to eliminate indifference. I am listing them in no particular order, as they each carry their own value. I am purposely not numbering them, so as to emphasize their equal value.
There is no significant number associated with these rules, such as "20 Rules" or "15 Secrets" or anything else. These are simply the methods that I have gleaned from observing how the best service providers do it. I submit to you that practicing these rules will lead to a significant reduction, if not elimination, of indifference in your workplace. Your employees and customers will feel important, and you will own them. Practice them, and see for yourself what a difference they make.
Rules for Eliminating Indifference in the Workplace
- Use your customer's name. The use of someone's name reflects respect for the other person. If you don't know the name, ask. If not sure about pronunciation, ask. Likewise, give the other person your name when first introduced, whether in person or on the phone. Most of the customer contact reps in the companies rated highest in customer service wear name tags to make it easier for customers to use names when doing business with them. I strongly recommend this for customer contact reps. There is one other important point to be made here: Make sure to eliminate slang use and "cutesy" names. Eliminate the "honeys," "sweeties," and "sweethearts" that might be floating around the office.
- Make eye contact. You show your regard or disregard for another person during the first fifteen seconds that you are with them. That's how long it takes to let another person know whether you think they are important to you or not. This initial regard comes in the form of eye contact. Whether walking down the hall, greeting a shopper, or serving a customer, make eye contact with the other person. The talk about "our customers are important" is nothing more than talk if not practiced with employees. Acknowledge them with eye contact at each meeting. Ask yourself, "Whom would I rather work for—someone who makes me feel important, or someone who doesn't?" Showing regard is the best way to make someone feel important; making eye contact is the best way to show regard.
- Find out what is important to them. I have observed that the best companies pay attention to what is important to both their employees and their customers. They focus on what is important to their employees, which leads to their employees focusing on what is important to their customers. I have personally met with an employee who had the special title of "CEO of Fun." Her job included keeping aware of what was going on within the company regarding employees, as well as scheduling regular events around charitable and civic endeavors that included all the employees. She made sure that she knew what was important to the employees and then made sure that it was remembered and celebrated. The company she works for is known for its outstanding service and has experienced fast growth. It also has a reputation as (guess what) a fun place to work.
- Practice active listening. The single largest complaint about interpersonal communication is poor listening. This is especially true in customer service. Poor listening leads to poor service. Effective listening will lead to better service. The companies that "get it" when it comes to service know the value and importance of listening. Active listening involves letting the person who is speaking know that you are processing what he or she is saying. You can do this with small signals, such as nodding your head as the person speaks and acknowledging what he or she says, with frequent comments such as "Yes" or "I understand." Where appropriate, you should respond directly to what the other person is saying. Active listening shows clearly that the information is important to you and that it is being processed as communicated. It also reinforces the idea that something will be done, since the data are being received clearly.
- Always say, "Thank you" and "My pleasure." I admit that this is right off the Ritz-Carlton card, but it is powerful advice for any company. Once the habit of saying both of these phrases is established, they become enormously powerful tools. Acknowledging an act by saying, "Thank you" shows regard; acknowledging a "Thank you" by saying, "My pleasure" shows regard as well. The use of these words might be difficult at first, but once it is part of your company's natural dialogue, it will become natural and much noticed and appreciated by your customers. These seemingly small changes in the way you treat your employees and customers are what lead to the large changes in image.
- Practice nondefensive behavior. The companies that get it when it comes to service believe that their customer is always "right." What this means is that these companies do not argue with their customers even when the customer is in error. They don't try to change the customer's mind. They are in business to correct customer problems, and they have come to realize that correcting problems is a better way to change customers' points of view than being defensive or argumentative with their customers. They focus on one thing when there are problems—fixing them. Defensive behavior ruins relationships. The best way to convince someone that your company is good is to be good, not to talk good. Fix the problem.
- Pay attention to telephone etiquette. When you ask people what frustrates them as customers, you'll repeatedly hear complaints about the telephone communications of companies. I still am amazed at companies that treat their telephone system like it is the back door of their business. There are far too many companies that simply don't realize how poor an image they present when people call them. Telephone courtesy is emphasized at the world-class service providers. Simple nuances such as asking before putting someone on hold, introducing callers on a transfer, and making it easy and quick to speak to someone are what separate the best from the rest. Never forget that the person on the telephone with your customer is your company. Are you proud of the way he represents you? Someone should be checking this out periodically.
- Celebrate the differences. Another common trait of the best service providers is their acceptance of the fact that there are different ways to approach different problems and customer issues. They recognize that not every employee is going to behave the same way in the same situations, and they urge their employees to use good judgment in making individual decisions when solving problems. Their managers and supervisors don't emphasize "Do it my way" but rather "Do it the right way." As a result, employees feel that they are accepted for their individuality and are not made to feel stereotyped. Their differences are considered assets, not liabilities.
- Remember that every job is important. All employees must be made to feel that their job is important and critical to the mission of the company. If the job is not important, it should be eliminated. Practice using recognition, thank-yous, and other ways of simply, but consistently, letting employees know and understand what value their job brings to the company. This makes their efforts more important and helps keep each team member focused on the greater mission of the company.
- Use your best judgment and give others leeway to do the same. This is one of the most important rules of world-class service. Employees must be given room to err. They must be given opportunity to make decisions and to observe the impact of their decisions on their customers. Similarly, employees must be made to feel that their judgment is supported by management, and that when their judgment is in error, management will work to avoid future repetition of the same error, rather than feeling that they will be punished for their decisions. This process ensures growth of employees and a continual improvement of service. Taking a customer issue "to management" should be virtually eliminated within your company.
- If you see a problem, fix it. The "it's not my job" syndrome must be eliminated from your company. The excuse that a problem is not a particular person's responsibility is just that—an excuse. It is not a legitimate reason to take no action to solve or avoid a problem. Employees should be taught that organizational charts have nothing to do with solving a customer problem. If a customer needs something, get it.
- Cleanliness reflects care. This is an important aspect of customer service, and many companies overlook it. Management should understand that, right or wrong, cleanliness is often associated with quality. Human nature reflects that when something is cared for, it is usually kept clean. The same is reflected in a business. The appearance of cleanliness reflects a care for the business. Customers observe this.
- If you are in management, you are being observed. I want you to remember what it was like when you first began your career in business. Do you remember how closely you watched your supervisors and their every move? Every little motion indicated something to you, from their greetings to their eye contact to their body language. Everything said something, and everything was observed. Your managers must understand that they now shoulder this responsibility. They are being watched closely and must be aware of this fact at all times.
- You are your company. This one is simple and applies to every employee in the firm. They must remember this rule at all times, and they must be reminded constantly of this rule. Whoever is in contact with a customer is the company to that customer. Not your boss, the guarantee, the motto, or the mission statement. The company is you right now.
- Find out what your customers think. What the executives in the boardroom think means nothing; what your customers think means everything. Ask your customers what they want, and do it. Ask them what they don't want, and stop doing it.
- Your employees can make it better. Your employees are the best way to make your company better. Ask the front desk staff how to improve the front desk operation. Ask the call center agents how to create a better call center. They can tell you how to run a better company. Ask them.
- Check how you greet your customers. Take a look at every first contact that a customer can have with your company. Walk in the front door as if you've never walked in before. Call every department that a customer is going to call. Check the look of e-mails that customers get. Take a look as if you are a customer looking at your company for the first time. Make that impression count.
- To get great customer service, be a great customer. Don't forget the universal law of attraction: energy attracts like energy. What you project will be what you will receive. Want to receive kindness? Try generating some kindness. Want respect? Try giving some to your service rep. Watch what you will receive; you'll be surprised.
Adapted from The Kindness Revolution: The Company-Wide Culture Shift that Inspires Phenomenal Customer Service,” by Ed Horrell (AMACOM, 2006). AMACOM is a division of American Management Association.
About the Author(s)
Ed Horrell has been writing and consulting on customer service issues for over 20 years. He is the host of the syndicated "Talk about Service" radio show and is the author of The Kindness Revolution: The Company-Wide Culture Shift that Inspires Phenomenal Customer Service (AMACOM, 2006).