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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Customer Service - Starting From Within

In preparation for a special occasion lunch I call a restaurant that I recently visited for a business lunch. I greatly enjoyed the fresh, locally grown ingredients and the contemporary atmosphere and I look forward to returning. Within 5 seconds into the phone call, right after providing my name, the first thing I hear is: “Welcome back Mrs. Moors. Thank you for calling us. What can I do for you?” The technology is available, the time investment is close to zero, so why don’t all restaurants and all their employees, handle every phone call this way? It of course goes way beyond this phone call, which, if not followed up with real care for me as a customer all through my experience in this restaurant, is just a tool that won't serve it's purpose unless it's imbedded in a customer-centered culture. I'm happy to say that in this restaurant they understand that their existence depends completely on their customers.

Customer service – a crucial topic any time, in any culture, for any industry. If it's not about the customer, if it's not about each and every employee working towards customer excellence, than what is it about, right? Twenty two years ago when I started my career as an organizational coach, trainer, and speaker I developed and implemented customer excellence programs in the hospitality industry. We assisted leadership in rethinking their vision, mission, strategic plan, and their goals related to customer service. We wrote programs and provided customer service training and coaching for personnel directly working with customers. This included attention for the internal customer: colleagues from other departments who all play their role in delivering excellence to the customer. The quality of collaboration between different departments is obviously part of the total customer excellence chain.

In the manufacturing industry we called these type of programs Total Quality Programs and even though they were different in several ways, they too related to customer excellence and they too included emphasis on the different departments and how they are all vital in delivering to each other and the customer, in supporting each other, and thereby playing a pivotal role in delivering a high quality end product to customers. And even though we worked with leadership as described above, I conclude that we paid too little attention to the beliefs and practices of leadership regarding employee engagement, effectiveness, and with what leadership styles and practices to bring out the best in your employees.

We paid a lot of attention to the implementation part of customer excellence programs, which is key as is the case with any program. The bookshelf program that is implemented poorly is not helping you achieve your goals. But for all the wonderful programs and implementation strategies in the world, it's my 22 year experience and my belief that it all starts with the assumptions, workplace habits, and behaviors of the leaders in our organizations. How do they view their internal customers i.e. their employees? What are the leaders' beliefs about employees, which are their habits and behaviors towards them? Trust, modeling, clear career paths, and helping employees understand their role in the success of the company are essential in customer excellence thinking. Customer excellence is nothing other than customer attention and focus which is nothing other than a passion for customers which starts with a passion for your employees. Without employees feeling the passion from the organization and its leaders, without employees’ passion for the organization and what it stands for, all is lost in striving for excellent customer service. It really starts from within, it starts with your employees. And it goes even further, because a leader only really has to manage three areas: they have to manage themselves, they have to manage their team/employees, and they have to manage their network, and in that order! So customer excellence doesn't just start within the organization and how leaders manage their employees, it starts with how the organization's leaders manage themselves.

As Deloitte’s John Hagel says, “The biggest challenge for businesses today is learning to think about their employees the way they think about their customers.”

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