Improving Customer Service Starts at the Top

Leadership Sets the Tone

Improving customer service is something all companies and businesses say they focus on.  But do they really?  I find that many say they are doing this, yet few have a set plan on how to do it.

You must set clear expectations for customer service

To improve the customer service and satisfaction levels within a business, there must be clear expectations.  “Be nice to customers” is by no means a clear expectation.  Good customer service skills are not enough. Your staff truly wants to know what the expectations are and will most likely meet them once they are spelled out.  What defines “Good customer service” to one person is likely very different to another.  Leadership needs to clearly define what they consider excellent customer service and give clear expectations on how to treat the customers. This includes phrases to use, how to address customers, responses to questions, ways to interact with the customer that are appropriate for the business setting and culture.

Leadership must set the example

In order for any expectations to be effectively implemented, leadership must set the example.  If leadership is treating the internal customers – the staff and associates poorly – it is virtually a guarantee that the external customers – the ones spending their money with you – will be treated poorly as well.  Leadership is in the position to create and foster an environment that is working the in the best interest of the customer.  Staff is watching, hearing, and learning all of the behaviors that management is practicing.  These, in turn, are the behaviors that will be adopted by the staff and how they will treat the customer.

Improving customer service is an ongoing process

Many companies and businesses hire coaches like myself to deliver a presentation on delivering excellent customer service and hope that it is the “Magic Bullet” they are looking for to improve the service they are delivering.  However, on a good day, most participants will learn perhaps one or two ideas presented to them and integrate them into their daily actions.

To be truly service oriented, leadership needs to present customer service as a main focus and objective.  The service that is delivered to your customers is the most important factor in determining whether or not that customer will return to your business.  Service needs to be taught, addressed, discussed and brought up at every possible opportunity.  Customer service training needs to be a regular part of the company’s ongoing development.  Skills need to be refreshed over time.  Perhaps there are some techniques that are not delivering the desired results.  By addressing the topic regularly, it can be determined if the technique is applicable or effective anymore.

The smart and successful companies are those in which leadership is cultivating a service oriented environment.  They recognize the importance of customer service and the impact that it has on customer retention.  They set clear expectations to the teams and provide the training in order to achieve those expectations.  In the words of customer service expert Lisa Ford – “You must have clear customer service expectations.  Otherwise, everything is left to chance.”

2 Replies to “Improving Customer Service Starts at the Top”

  1. Kristina,

    Thanks so much for the post – leadership role in providing exceptional service is a great point of discussion that doesn’t get raised enough!

    I have a slightly alternate perspective on a few of the points you raise in terms of getting specific with what is meant when a leader says that excellent customer service is important. I think that put the right way, with the proper process support and framed in the right culture, a level of ambiguity is EXACTLY what a company should aim for in describing the customer experience. Because there are so many variables to the service experience, the reliance on simple beliefs, with the support to act on those beliefs, does much more good than planning for every possible scenario or scripting encounters to the nth degree. I’ll point out that solid leadership and even better service enablement is what allows companies like Ritz-Carlton to execute on the promise of their credo. (http://corporate.ritzcarlton.com/en/about/goldstandards.htm if you’ve never read it, please do, for its beauty in simplicity)

    I agree that spectacular service doesn’t start on the line, but at leadership, and carried through the support functions. To me, its one of the saddest aspects of business that we expect our front line sales & service people to provide exceptional service, and have put in place any number of quality metrics to measure it. Yet most of these same companies don’t have a definition of what internal service quality looks like. When service providers are failing customers, a good place to look for causes is a support staff functions that are failing the line organization.

    Service is simple business – the business of promises. Everyone has a hand in making promises, everyone contributes to enabling promises to be kept (And a staffer who doesn’t do either of these two things is redundant), but only a select few have the privilege of actually getting to keep promises the organization makes to the customer.

    Leadership’s role here should be to provide that simplicity of purpose, helping the organization make the right promises to the right customers, and driving the organization in development of the proper culture and tools to provide exceptional service.

  2. Great post, Kristina! That is so true – I would use the analogy of “If you don’t know the rules, how are you supposed to be able to play the game well?”

    Too many times training and expectations are simply left up to chance. Employers are stressed and just assume that new staff will do the job with 1/2 day of training, never mind the customer service skills or expectations being clearly explained.

    Managers need to clearly lay out the expectations and recognize when we do a job well done, and guide us when we need attention. Most people do rise to the level they are expected to when they know what the expectations are.

    Sophia says:

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