Creating a Culture of Service Professionalism

Customer relations mirror employee relations

How is a service-successful organization different? To start with, such organizations build employee professionalism in several ways.

They establish the personal accountability of individual employees. They create service teams. They open multiple communication channels with their staff and use these rigorously.

They accomplish employee professionalism by rewarding extraordinary service actions and informing staff how their jobs fit into the entire organization. They explain to staff the importance of customer service, the need for problem-free service, and the benefits to the organization of delivering excellent service to customers.

None of these tactics is necessarily revolutionary. What’s most outstanding is how energetically and comprehensively excellent companies work at their total programs. The strategies and tactics for excellent customer service are ingrained at all levels of the organization, not just within a handful of specific departments or outlets.

Underlying all these imperatives is a simple belief: customer relations mirror employee relations.

Employees must first perceive and experience within their own organizations whatever it is that management wants customers to perceive and experience. This operates most directly with customer contact employees, the pivotal people in any service business. They internalize messages passed within their organizations and in turn broadcast these messages to customers.

A recent study of bank branch employees and their customers confirmed this relationship. When employees reported that their branch emphasized service, customers reported superior banking experiences, and were more highly satisfied.

Some proven techniques for achieving a culture of service professionalism include:

  1. Use of staff attitudes (people surveys) as a diagnostic tool for understanding staff views on service and service delivery. Action plans undertaken to address staff issues and concerns should be part of the business unit’s overall service delivery strategy.
  2. Use of service recognition programs that result in winners serving as role models for fellow staff members. Also, service awards for the office or business unit are based on service indicator performance.
  3. Internal performance improvement teams are established within offices and business units to work on improving service delivery. Participating staff learn new skills and are motivated to perform at even higher levels.

Like marketing itself, creating a culture of service professionalism is not rocket science. But it does take effort, leadership, dedication, and continued communications to make it happen.

It also means having a management team that is not solely focused on achieving “the most efficient processes.” This is because many aspects of excellent customer service delivery require personal, customized handling.

A good example is the “telephone hell” that many customers have to go through to speak to someone. All these automated voice response systems are fine (you know, “press 1 if you have product A, press 2 if you have product B, etc.) and highly efficient from the organization’s perspective.

But from the customer’s perspective these systems are annoying, dehumanizing, and denigrate the customer service image of the organization being contacted.

A taxi company I used to use in Singapore had it right. Their automated incoming call system had just two options: press 1 if you wanted a taxi immediately, or press 2 if you wanted to book a cab for a later time. If you pressed 1, and you were a regular customer calling from your normal phone, the taxi was sent immediately to pick you up and the system provided an estimated time of arrival. If you pressed 2, a customer service person came on line, took your details, and arranged for the taxi to collect you at your requested time and place.

Simple, short, and sweet – while both highly efficient and highly personalized.

The bottom line for creating a culture of service professionalism is twofold:

  1. Treat your employees positively and they will treat your customers positively.
  2. High-tech is great from the perspective of organizational efficiency, but high-touch is even better from the perspective of your customers.

When you accomplish both of these, you will achieve a great bond with both your customers and your staff.

KEY POINT #1: customer relations mirror employee relations.

KEY POINT #2: high-tech is great and efficient, but high-touch is what keeps your customers coming back.

TAKING ACTION: Do you treat employees as special? Is the way your organization treats its own staff reflected in the way your staff treat customers?

What impressions of your organization do your customers have after each and every interaction with your organization?

How can you eliminate the “us and them” thinking between your staff and your customers?

How do you reward, recognize, and celebrate your customer service success stories? How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

How can you use technology to make your customer experiences simple, short, and sweet?

 

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo by Steven Howard and is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

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