Frontline Festival: Leaders Share About Employee Engagement and Customer Service

Welcome back to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival. This month’s festival is about employee engagement in relation to customer service. Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors! Next month’s Frontline Festival is about gratitude.  Submit your relevant blog posts here!

Creating Great Customer Experiences

Nate Regier of Next Element Consulting shares that openness is critical to excellent customer service because customers want to know you care before they can engage in problem-solving. When employees engage emotionally with customers, they recognize that emotional problems are at the route of customer service complaints. I love his 3 part model for connecting with empathy. Follow Nate

According to Chip Bell of Chip Bell Group Attitude is the foundation of innovative service and that takes leaders who stay on the hunt for spirit leeches and “burn” them out with the heat of their passionate commitment to the customer! Real leeches suck blood; spirit leeches suck spirit. Remember: customers abhor indifferent service more than bad service! Bad service could be the result of a faulty system, a process with a glitch, or a leadership vacuum. But, indifferent service always signals a complete lack of caring!  He also provides a post to encourage remarkable serviceFollow Chip.

According to Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture, great customer service is delivered only by trusted, talented, engaged employees. In this short post and three-minute video, Chris’ insights from a remarkable family vacation leads to three keys to building incredible customer loyalty.  Follow Chris.

Paula Kiger of Big Green Pen shares a personal story related to Disney’s commitment to customer service. When she had a family member helping to make the magic, her appreciation changed and grew deeper.  Follow Paula.

Shelley Row of Shelley Row Associates shares some customer service lessons from helicopter pilotsFollow Shelley

Beth Beutler of H.O.P.E. Unlimited reminds us that sometimes, attention to just being responsive is a key way for your employees to serve customers and clients well. Follow Beth.

Building Service into the Fabric of Your Culture

John Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement advises that it is very difficult to create a system with customer focus by all staff without several basic supports in place. Respect for people needs to be practiced, not just mentioned. Staff have to be given authority to act in the interest of customers.  Follow John.

Jesse Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership reminds us that customers can always tell whether a company is values-driven. You don’t need an expert to tell you. She provides five ways to look to your own customer service experience to tell what’s really going on. Follow Jesse.

David Grossman of The Grossman Group  advises leaders to communicate their company brand on the inside to engage employees, which in turn creates happy customers and a more successful business. Follow David.

Employee Engagement and Customer Service

Amanda Cameron of Patriot Software, LLC  shares that how your employees feel about your company has a huge impact on customer service. Business leaders who promote employee engagement should see both work culture and customer satisfaction improve.  Follow Amanda.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership provides a post showing that when engagement grows, so does retention, productivity, and customer service.  Follow Wally.

According to Chery Gegelman of Simply Understanding uncommon employee engagement and superior customer service doesn’t just happen. It begins with us, learning to create environments that support and direct the behavior of our co-workers, and yes, even our bosses.  Follow Chery.

How about you? How do you work to enhance the customer experience where you work?

Does Your Customer Feel Like a Commodity?

Once your product becomes a commodity, you’re hosed. Even your once loyal customers start looking around for where they can get your offering cheaper, faster, or with less hassle. Most companies get this and take deliberate steps to differentiate their products.

Sadly, as companies work to scale, one of the biggest mistakes I see is that they begin to de-personalize the customer experience in the name of efficiency. 

The Biggest Reasons Your Customer Feels Like a Commodity

No customer wants to feel like a commodity. If you’re not sure if you wandering into dangerous territory, watch for these symptoms of commodity-feeling behaviors.

You’re Force Feeding Processes for Your Convenience

Have you ever said, “We just have to train our customers to do it this way. They’ll get used to it?”

If how you’re “training” them is really in their best interest, they might see the value in changing the way you work together. But if your new process is clearly all about your own efficiency or to make things easier internally, customers will wonder why they’re the ones who have to do things your way.

I see this all the time when start-ups work to scale. They begin informing their loyal customers who’ve been with them from the start the new rules of the game. It’s quite possible they took a chance on you from the beginning, because you were creative, flexible, and involved them in the process. If they start to smell bureaucracy and overhead, they’re likely to start looking around to regain that “I’m special” feeling.

I’ve left several of the suppliers I used early in building my business for this very reason, and I know I’m not alone.

You’re Reading From a Script

If you can’t trust your employees to have a real conversation, then you’re hiring the wrong people or not training them well. Nothing says “You’re just not that important to us” more than a script.

They Know More About Your Product or Policies than the Person Who Answers Your Phone

By the time a customer picks up the phone, they’re looking for an expert. Be sure the person they reach is both confident and competent.

You Under-Appreciate Their Tenure

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard employees quibbling over five bucks with a customer who has spent thousands over their tenure because some “policy” told them to.

You Make an Exception, But Offer a Lecture

I was at the hairdresser the other day when a woman came in to buy some shampoo with an expired gift certificate. The owner cited that their policy was quite clear to the person who had bought it. When the customer asked if there was anything that could be done, she cited the policy twice more and then gave in. After the owner honored it, she then gave the customer a lecture about expiration dates and how it’s really just better to give people Visa gift cards.

That customer bolted for the door as soon as she had her shampoo in hand. The owner lost twice. She was out the cost of the bottle of shampoo, and she had a detractor poised to tell the world about how she was made to feel.

No customer wants to feel like a commodity. Be sure you keep people feeling special as your business grows. 

Winning Well Bootcamp

Connect, Influence, Inspire: A Growing Leaders Salute to Bill Gessert

Great leaders connect with, influence and inspire those around them. Bill Gessert, who has served as President of the International Customer Service Association since 2007, has spent his career creating forums and opportunities for leaders to connect and grow. And so, on the eve of Customer Service Week, first founded by the ICSA in 1988, I offer this Growing Leaders Salute to Bill Gessert.

Leadership and Connections

Q: How would you describe your leadership philosophy?

A: Early in my tenure as a “leader” I learned the sometimes painful lesson that as a leader, I don’t have to do EVERYTHING. That was not easy for me because I am very much a self-starter and am driven to see things get done. My philosophy of leadership has evolved to an understanding that to be truly effective, I need to rely on others their skills, abilities, ideas, and creativity. I work hard to recognize and understand what others bring to the table and then utilize their skills and abilities appropriately. Also, I believe a leader must be passionate about what they are doing. That passion is contagious and brings out the best efforts and results of others.

Q: Your leadership seems to be very much about creating connections. When and how did you realize that learning to connect was important?

Not soon enough! There is no reason to “go it alone” when there are so many people out there that know as much or more than I do. Connecting people is really one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. And when you make connections that matter, everyone benefits. When you make positive and meaningful connections, those people often return the favor at just the right time. Making connections – good ones – is a skill.

Q: How does involvement in associations help leaders to grow and develop?

A: Associations are ALL about connection. When we connect with others in our industry, people with a shared vision and goal, we are bound to learn and grow. One of the things we try to do at each conference is build time into the schedule to allow people to connect. We even include activities to help foster positive connections by helping people find their common ground with others.

The collective experience and knowledge of the “group” will always trump the individual. Associations create that “group” in a powerful way that makes everyone stronger. Leaders need to be exposed to the wide range of thoughts, ideas, emerging tools, and the thought leaders within their industry in order to develop their own skills and abilities. I’ve always felt one of the key attributes of effective leaders is remaining humble enough to keep learning. Associations, when they are working correctly, are a great source of learning opportunities.

Q: As a leader of volunteers at the ICSA, how do you encourage participation and shared leadership?

A: I think encouraging participation and spreading leadership around all begins with sharing the mission and vision of your group. Why do you exist? What do you provide that people cannot get anywhere else? What is your purpose, both today and into the future? And how are you going to get there? All of that has to be shared before people will choose to engage. This is especially true in a volunteer organization like the ICSA. We have accomplished a great deal in our 31 years of existence and it all pours out of a shared understanding of our mission and vision.

Also, from a very practical standpoint you have to recognize that people have only so much bandwidth to give to the Association’s work. It is important to not only understand that but to function out of that understanding. In other words, don’t ask someone to do something that just will not fit into the time they have to give to the Association. As a leader, it is important to talk to all your key volunteers and gain a realistic idea of how much time they have and what can be accomplished with that time.

Finally, never underestimate the power of recognition and thanks. Failure to say thanks for your time, effort, and results is the fastest way to disenfranchise a solid contributor to your team. I’ve gone back to sending hand written “thank yous” because I know how very much those have meant to me over the years. I find it more personal and sincere. It takes a bit more time (and I hate my handwriting) but the extra effort of writing those notes is always notices and deeply appreciated

Customer Service Week

Q: Can you tell me about why the ICSA felt like it was important to formalize a week to recognize customer service professionals?

A: The ICSA created National Customer Service Week for two reasons. First, as a means of celebrating the incredible efforts of front line service providers. We believe in regular and frequent recognition of the efforts of service professionals. But setting aside this one week ensures that there will be a focus on celebrating their work.

Secondly, National Customer Service Week was also created to increase the understanding and awareness of the vital role that customer service plays in building and maintaining loyal customers. The profitability of any organization is directly impacted by the quality of their service. National Customer Service Week is a time when the ICSA works to bring this fact into light and increase the awareness of the value of customer service “professionals.”

Q: What leadership lessons can be learned from the evolution of customer service week?

A: Jeanne Bliss wrote a wonderful book entitled, Chief Customer Officer. In it she shares how several outstanding and successful companies have accomplished their success in large part because someone within the organization fulfilled the role of Chief Customer Officer. A person who represents the customers in every strategic meeting and across all of the “silos” that tend to exist in organizations.