HR Corner – Making Excellent Customer Service a Priority
|If a business is truly committed to making excellent customer service a top priority, several steps must be taken. Ideally, the organization already has a Quality Operating System in place and has identified customer service as a key measurable. Regardless, a firm customer service policy must be written, posted, clearly stated to employees and have management support. In order for a policy to be effective, it must be communicated to employees that customer service is a top priority, is non-negotiable, is constantly monitored and will be a deciding factor in employee compensation reviews. In order for employees to see how serious your company is about the policy, they must have not only the support of management, but leadership by example in addition to continuous and specific training.
To truly lead by example, management must create employee confidence by treating employees as internal customers. Categorizing employees as internal customers merely means treating them with the same respect as you strive to offer your external customers. Since everyone has encountered demanding customers, identifying employees as internal customers can conjure up negative images and intimidate management. It is important to remember that, while you strive to treat employees as well as you treat your customers, employees still have to adhere to the strict guidelines of your company. These guidelines undoubtedly include no tolerance policies on insubordination and non-compliance with company policies. Remember that customer service simply involves treating individuals with respect and care.
Training employees in adhering to your customer service policies must be specific and ongoing and should begin with management. There should be one senior manager identified as the champion of the customer service initiative. This manager will author the policy, conduct meetings relating to training and strict adherence and will be the person dealing with non-compliance and any follow up that is involved. The burden of ensuring employee compliance will fall on management, as individual managers will be responsible for measuring the compliance of their teams. Training should be company-wide, mandatory and must reiterate the policy and its key points in every training session.
Since every company has unique requirements, just telling employees to provide excellent customer service is not enough. Effective training should be interesting, inventive and encourage employee participation. Having a manager stand in front of the group and read the policy should never be considered training. Creative exercises can keep training sessions fresh and help guarantee enthusiastic participation.
A good basic training exercise involves recreating both good and bad customer service experiences:
Now that you have your employees thinking about treating customers as they would like to be treated themselves, you can take the training a step further by incorporating your company’s individual goals. Many companies find roll-playing exercises beneficial as a training tool. The following is an example of a roll-playing exercise:
It is important to communicate to the group that, in order for this exercise to be effective, the feedback must be constructive. The manager in charge of the training exercise is responsible for identifying any presented solutions that do not comply with the company policy. Employees may then be instructed on how to manage those cases while acting in accordance with company regulations. In addition, the manager should single out any particularly effective or innovative solutions, recognizing the employees responsible for presenting them. Some companies use incentives to reward employees for innovative concepts and may choose to award them at the training sessions. As a rule, training sessions should be interesting and any incentives that encourage enthusiastic participation are generally beneficial. To prevent training exercises from being dreaded events, some companies host them in interesting off-site locations. Regardless of how an organization approaches training, it should be viewed by employees as interesting to encourage participation and, ultimately, compliance.
Every time a specific customer service issue arises is an opportunity for training. If the issue was handled properly and effectively, it should be used as an example and the employee involved should be singled out and rewarded. If the issue was not handled in accordance with company policy, the employee involved must be trained on how to better handle a similar situation. Depending on the severity of the non-compliance, management may choose to monitor the employee to ensure that the incident was an isolated one. The issue can be used as a training tool, but care must be taken to use it in a general sense and not as an opportunity to embarrass the employee involved. Remembering to treat the employee as an internal customer will help, as a good customer service experience would leave the customer feeling that the issue was resolved professionally and with courtesy.
Excellent customer service starts with management. All employees should be treated with the same respect that the company demands for its customers. Consistent reiteration of the company’s policy should come from training as well as by example. It may help to identify companies who are known for outstanding customer service and modeling your company’s policy accordingly. Companies like Southwest Airlines and Apple have routinely been identified as leaders in customer service, both with internal and external customers. Benchmarking with these companies can offer fresh and innovative concepts that can be incorporated in training and policy review. Once management has identified the company’s customer service expectations, they can then begin to treat employees as internal customers. Consistent leadership by example not only makes employees feel valued, it provides them with the tools they need to make customers feel that same value, ideally guaranteeing their continued business.