I was sitting in a restaurant and while enjoying my meal I noticed there was a change in shifts. As a result of the shift change, a new waitress approached the table and started clearing the used dishes and utensils without saying a word, making no eye contact with me or any of my guests. She did not even ask if we were finished. She seemed deeply preoccupied…
Before the new waitress approached the table, we were enjoying the experience. Not only was the food delicious, the conversation was interesting and the table service was above average. So back to the new waitress. There could have been many things going on with her but as a customer, it appeared that serving restaurant patrons was a necessary evil and this negatively affected a previously delightful experience. The impact of the waitress’ mood was memorable and it was a while before I went back to that particular restaurant again.
Business owners and executives know quality customer care can help differentiate their products and services so they often lament the poor customer service attitudes displayed by front-line employees. Their first thought is that they need to find a good customer service trainer to provide employees with training designed to improve customer satisfaction levels.
So in comes the trainer, and the sessions earn raving reviews and then the seminar is over. The participants had an engaging learning experience. Based on the high engagement levels during the class and the positive training evaluations, decision makers are of the opinion the training day was a success. They are optimistic about their plans for differentiation and then the following week, they observe the same old behaviours resurfacing, the new skills are not being integrated into everyday customer interactions.
I once read an e-mail by a consultant who was part of an HR Forum. Her statement eloquently summed up this phenomenon. The Consultant stated, “We ‘spray and pray’, with our myriad of training initiatives providing individuals with techniques, leaving their serving spirit underdeveloped. With their awareness untouched, participants return to the workplace with great intentions that easily evaporate with uncaring, uninformed, busy and toxic supervision. How therefore do we get past these knee-jerk, reactive, piece-meal (customer service training) initiatives?”
I have always maintained training in isolation will not work unless you have an engaged team, empowering leaders, and an organizational culture that won’t “chew up and spit out” all attempts to make meaningful change.
When entitlement is associated with the customer service experience it adds yet another complication that needs to be addressed. For example, there are restaurants that I patronize where no matter the quality of service, customers are obliged to pay a tip. In fact, the tip is included in the invoice automatically. What owners don’t always realize is that this practice creates a culture where the tip becomes an entitlement and not a motivator of quality customer service unless the client is a very big tipper.
Here are a few suggestions to help you to bring about authentic changes in customer service:
Create a Service Strategy
We always hear about sales strategies, but what about a Customer Service Strategy? This type of strategy should start with defining a vision for customer care. After you decide what you want customer service to look like, plan how you intend to move from your current state to your desired state. This means you need to identify and evaluate your service gaps and conduct cause and effect analyses so you are strategizing based on root causes.
Customer Service Standards
As part of your Service Strategy exercise, create or upgrade your service standards. Everyone should know and have access to the standards for customer service. Additionally, all non-client facing employees should understand that internal customers are just as important as external ones.
Identify key customer service competencies you would like your employees to embody so customer service training can be specifically targeted at skill gaps. The competencies can be integrated into performance appraisals so they can be used as drivers that will help your organization bring about sustainable change.
Compensation and Reward
Review your compensation and reward systems to determine if they will support or hinder the changes you would like to observe. Whether employees are in an environment that makes gratuity part of the bill or not, employees tend to welcome tips. As you know, there is a tipping hierarchy, the big tippers usually get the best service and they are protected by their favoured service givers. Some organizations attempt to combat this dynamic by not allowing tips at all, but this is difficult to monitor.
Customer Satisfaction Metrics
Decide how you will measure customer satisfaction. Many organizations conduct customer satisfaction surveys and hold managers and supervisors responsible for their results by having them create and implement action plans to address gaps. This process introduces an accountability factor that can lead to quality customer care.
Customer service training should come after a service strategy is created so it can target actual deficiencies identified by a customer satisfaction survey and internal observation. Targeted training practices combined with a customer service strategy can ensure accountability to the new behaviours and can help to bring about meaningful results.
So as you can see, improving customer care involves more than just hosting a seminar. Decision makers ought to consider if they can achieve return on investment if the culture does not set the stage for engaged employees and enhanced customer service. Decision-makers need to focus on building engagement before they can start customer care initiatives. Additionally, training should not be the only element of a service initiative. There should be consideration of system enhancements (technological and otherwise), product and service quality, and accountability mechanisms.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.