While howls of protest over poor customer service continue to fill the air,
there remain some businesses that manage to consistently deliver superior
customer service year in and year out. These are the places where
turbo-charged employees pursue customer delight with a passion, places that
ignite a flashpoint of contagious enthusiasm in employees and customers
alike. Foremost among the lessons to be learned from such flashpoint
businesses are the blunders to avoid—those fatal mistakes that trip up just
about everybody else.
First Blunder: making customer service a training
Businesses of all kinds invest huge amounts in training programs that do
not—and simply cannot—work. The function of such training is to identify the
behaviors workers are supposed to engage in, and then coax, bully, or
legislate these behaviors into the workplace. At best, this is almost always
a recipe for conduct that feels mechanized and insincere; at worst, it
intensifies worker resentment and cynicism.
Instead of dictating what workers should be doing to delight customers, the
better approach is to give workers opportunities to brainstorm their own
ideas for delivering delight. Management’s role then becomes to help
employees implement these ideas, and to allow workers to savor the
motivational effect of the positive feedback that ensues from delighted
customers. This level of employee ownership and involvement is a key
cultural characteristic of virtually all flashpoint businesses.
Second Blunder: blaming poor service on employee demotivation.
Businesses looking for ways to motivate their workers are almost always
looking in the wrong places. Employee cynicism is the direct product of an
organization’s visible preoccupation with self-interest above all else—a
purely internal focus. The focus in flashpoint businesses is directed
outward, toward the interests of customers and the community at large. This
shift in cultural focus changes the way the business operates at all levels.
The reality in most business settings is that employees are demotivated
because they can’t deliver delight. The existing policies and procedures
make it impossible. Instead of “fixing” their employees, flashpoint business
set out to build a culture that unblocks them. Workers are encouraged to
identify operational obstacles to customer delight, and participate in
finding ways around them.
Third Blunder: using customer feedback to uncover what’s wrong.
Businesses often use surveys and other feedback mechanisms to get to the
causes of customer problems and complaints. Employees come to dread these
measurement and data-gathering efforts, since they so often lead to what
feels like witch-hunts for employee scapegoats, formal exercises in
finger-pointing and the assigning of blame. Flashpoint businesses use
customer feedback very differently. In these organizations the object is to
uncover everything that’s going right. Managers are forever on the lookout
for "hero stories" - examples of employees going the extra mile to deliver
delight. Such feedback becomes the basis for ongoing recognition and
celebration. Employees see themselves as winners on a winning team, because
in their workplace there’s always some new "win" being celebrated.
Fourth Blunder: reserving top recognition for splashy recoveries.
It happens all the time: something goes terribly wrong in a customer
order or transaction, and a dedicated employee goes to tremendous lengths to
make things right. The delighted customer brings this employee’s wonderful
recovery to management’s attention, and the employee receives special
recognition for his or her efforts. This is a blunder?
It is when such recoveries are the primary—if not the only—catalysts for
employee recognition. In such a culture, foul-ups become almost a good thing
from the workers’ point of view. By creating opportunities for splashy
recoveries, foul-ups represent the only chance employees have to feel
appreciated on the job. Attempts to correct operational problems won’t win
much support if employees see these problems as their only opportunity to
Flashpoint businesses celebrate splashy recoveries, of course—but they’re
also careful to uncover and celebrate employee efforts to delight customers
where no mistakes or problems were involved. This makes it easier to get
workers participating in efforts to permanently eliminate the sources of
problems at the systems level.
Fifth Blunder: competing on price.
It’s one of the most common (and most costly) mistakes in business. Price
becomes the deciding factor in purchasing decisions only when everything
else is equal—and everything else is almost never equal. Businesses compete
on the perception of value, and this includes more than price. It’s shaped
by the total customer experience—and aspects such as “helpfulness,”
“friendliness,” and “the personal touch” often give the competitive
advantage to businesses that actually charge slightly more for their basic
goods and services.
Those businesses that deliver a superior total experience from the inside
out (that is, as a product of a strongly customer-focused culture) are
typically those that enjoy a long-term competitive advantage—along with
virtual immunity from the kinds of headaches that plague everybody else.
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About The Author:
Copyright Paul Levesque. All Rights Reserved.
Paul Levesque has more than 20 years' experience as an international
customer-service consultant. He has helped hundreds of corporate and
small business clients become more customer-focused. He is available for
speaking engagements through