The Service Culture Handbook
The Service Culture HandbookA STEP – BY – STEP GUIDE TO GETTING
YOUR EMPLOYEES OBSESSEDWITH CUSTOMER SERVICE
Copyright © 2017 Jeff ToisterAll rights reserved.
ISBN-13: 9780692842003ISBN-10: 0692842004
Table of Contents
Part 1: Culture Is the Key to Outstanding Customer ServiceChapter 1 How Corporate Culture Guides Your Employees’ ActionsChapter 2 Why Culture Initiatives Often Fail
Part 2: Building a Customer-Focused CultureChapter 3 Defining Your CultureChapter 4 Engaging Employees with Your Culture
Part 3: Changing Your Company’s Service DNAChapter 5 Aligning Your Business Around a Customer-Focused CultureChapter 6 Setting Goals That Drive Your CultureChapter 7 Hiring Employees Who Will Embrace Your CultureChapter 8 Training Employees to Embody Your CultureChapter 9 Empowering Employees to Support Your CultureChapter 10 How Leadership Can Make or Break Your CultureChapter 11 A Customer-Focused ExampleChapter 12 Making the Commitment to a Customer-Focused Culture
MY FIRST BOOK, SERVICE FAILURE, was published in October 2012. Peoplealmost immediately started asking me when I would write another.
I resented that question at first. It’s hard enough to write one book and Icouldn’t believe people were already talking about book number two. Now, Iappreciate all the people who asked the question. It showed they sawsomething that I didn’t—I had another book to write.
Michelle Burke and Adriana Perez are fantastic friends who helpedmake this book possible in a roundabout way. They connected me withrepresentatives of the online training video company lynda.com (nowLinkedIn Learning) at a trade show in 2013. One thing led to another, and Iwas suddenly making customer service training videos.
My very first video was filmed in August 2013 and formed the seeds forthis book. It’s called Leading a Customer-Centric Culture, and it outlinedwhat elite companies do to get employees obsessed with service. (Check itout at www.lynda.com/JeffToister. You’ll need a lynda.com account to viewthe course, but you can get a 10-day trial at www.lynda.com/trial/JeffToister.)
Finally, I owe my wife, Sally, an endless amount of gratitude. Herencouragement continuously inspires me to write.
TONY D’AIUTO WANTED TO CREATE an unforgettable experience.He’s an Airport Operations Center manager at the Tampa International
Airport. Small children often lose a favorite stuffed animal while travelingthrough an airport, so D’Aiuto’s goal was to reunite a child with a lost toy ina fun and unique way.
His plan was to take photos of the toy in various places around theairport to make it look like the stuffed animal had gone on a big adventure.He would then return the toy to the child along with photographs of itsjourney. D’Aiuto asked a colleague who oversaw the airport’s lost and founddepartment to alert him the next time a child lost a stuffed animal.
Once the plan was in place, he waited. And waited. It took two monthsfor it to happen. D’Aiuto was ready when he finally got the call.
A six-year-old boy had lost his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. The boy and hisTampa-based family had already boarded their outbound flight when Hobbeswas found, so it was too late to return it to them that day. D’Aiuto jumpedinto action.
“Being a hobbyist photographer, I thought I could have some fun andcreativity with the ways I took photos of Hobbes’s adventure during mylunch break,” said D’Aiuto. He enlisted help from various people around theairport to photograph Hobbes with airport firefighters, riding on a luggagecart, by the airport control tower, and elsewhere.
D’Aiuto took his photos to Walgreens, where he used a coupon he hadsaved to make a hardbound photo book documenting Hobbes’s adventure. Hethen brought Hobbes and the photo book to the airport’s lost and founddepartment, so the family could retrieve them when they returned from theirtrip.
The family had been told that the boy’s stuffed animal was waiting forthem at the airport’s lost and found. They headed there immediately aftertheir flight landed, eager to reunite Hobbes with their son. It was a touching
reunion, and the boy really enjoyed seeing the pictures of Hobbes on his greatadventure. D’Aiuto’s initiative had taken the traumatic experience of losing afavorite toy and turned it into something positive and fun. The boy’s motherwas moved to tears at the kindness displayed by D’Aiuto and the rest of theTampa Airport staff.
The heartwarming story attracted national media attention. It waspicked up by news outlets such as NPR, CNN, and USA Today.
You just don’t hear customer service stories like this very often.There are plenty of stories about service failures. Every week, there
seems to be yet another company featured in a news story about shockinglypoor service. Customer service leaders privately tell me they struggle simplyto get their employees to consistently deliver basics such as courtesy,promptness, and helpfulness.
Why are the stories about outstanding customer service so rare?It’s not due to a lack of ideas. Bookstores are well stocked with books
explaining how to provide outstanding customer service. Some describe howcompanies can create successful service strategies, while others provide tipsand tactics for customer-facing employees.
There are many other places where you can find customer service ideas.There are conferences, motivational speakers, and seminars galore.Consultants like me write blog posts, record podcasts, and create videos.Nearly every customer service professional has attended a customer servicetraining class at some point during their career.
The stuffed animal photo adventure certainly isn’t a new concept.D’Aiuto got the idea after reading a similar story about a child who lost astuffed lion at a museum in London, England. It’s also been done by amuseum in Canada, and a Ritz-Carlton in Florida did the same thing with astuffed giraffe in 2012. The original concept may have come from a storyabout a lawn gnome that was stolen from a garden in the mid-1980s andreturned to its owner with a photo album depicting its various adventures. Orit may have originated from a popular children’s book called Flat Stanley,which was published in 1964.
I asked D’Aiuto why he went to so much trouble on his own time just tocreate a memorable experience for one child. “Tampa International Airporthas a long history of being very people-focused, as opposed to plane-focused,” he told me. He explained that everyone in the airport, from theCEO on down, is committed to providing exceptional service. “Our CEO, Joe
Lopano, sets the tone for being efficient and hard-working, but he also fostersa sense of creativity and fun at the airport which makes employees feelcomfortable enough to take a chance like I did with this little boy’s losttiger.”
That’s the real secret that explains why these types of stories are so rare:Tampa International Airport has done something that few organizationsachieve. The airport has created an environment where employees areconstantly thinking about outstanding service. They proactively look forways to make a difference in their customers’ lives, even if it means going farbeyond their regular responsibilities. Employees prioritize passengers overplanes, recognizing that airport operations are really just a means to helptravelers get to wherever they’re trying to go. Perhaps that’s why the airportis consistently rated one of the best in the U.S. in Condé Nast’s annualreader’s poll.
In short, employees there are obsessed with service.The Service Culture Handbook shows you how to create a customer-
focused culture where employees in your organization are obsessed withservice. It’s a step-by-step guide to help customer service teams, businessunits, and even entire companies get excited about serving customers at thehighest level.
You’ll get an inside look at companies—like REI, JetBlue Airlines, andPublix—that consistently rank near the top of their industries for customerservice. You’ll also find profiles of some lesser-known companies thatrepresent the next wave of legendary customer service organizations. Thisbook will show you what these elite organizations do that most organizationsdon’t.
The Service Culture Handbook is organized into three parts. The firstpart examines why creating a customer-focused culture is the key tooutstanding customer service. It also offers some cautionary tales aboutcompanies whose culture initiatives failed.
The second part provides detailed instructions for building a customer-focused culture. When you use these chapters to clearly define yourorganization’s unique culture, you’ll transform the way your employees viewservice. The ultimate goal is to get your employees obsessed withconsistently delivering service that’s so amazing it becomes part of yourcompany’s brand image.
Finally, the third part of the book helps you embed customer focus in
your company’s DNA, so you can sustain the customer-focused cultureyou’ve created. Companies that get really good at service will tell you theyhave to work at it every day. It’s easy to grow weary or lose focus whenyou’ve worked long and hard at achieving a goal. These chapters assist youin keeping your employees engaged and making outstanding service the waythat your company, department, or team simply does business.
Many chapters contain sample worksheets to help you implement theseconcepts. You can download blank copies of the worksheets from this bookat www.serviceculturebook.com/tools. You’ll also find additional tools andresources on the website, such as access to my Customer Service Tip of theWeek email. You and your employees can sign up for these tips for free.
I recommend that you read each chapter in order, to get a clear pictureof what it takes to create a customer-focused culture. You may be tempted topick and choose lessons from this book. Please don’t. This is a completerecipe for building a customer service culture. Just as you wouldn’t try tobake a cake without flour or eggs, you shouldn’t try to transform yourorganization’s customer service while leaving out an essential ingredient.Also, it’s a good idea to know exactly what you’re getting into before youlaunch a major initiative.
I won’t lie to you. Getting your employees obsessed with customerservice is not easy. It is, however, one of the elements that separates the eliteorganizations from the rest. These companies put in the hard work that mostaren’t willing to dedicate themselves to.
Don’t be afraid to use me as a resource as you explore these concepts.I’m easy to get in touch with:
Call or text: 619-955-7946Email: [email protected]: @toisterYou’ll also find additional analysis, tips, and trends to help you develop
a customer-focused organization on my Inside Customer Service blog atwww.insidecustomerservice.com.
For now, I encourage you to turn to Chapter 1, where you’ll read aboutanother company whose employees are obsessed with customer service. Infact, these employees are so customer-focused that they did something thatpractically no one else would be willing to do.
Part 1: Culture Is the Key to Outstanding CustomerService
How Corporate Culture Guides Your Employees’ Actions
THE INTERNAL NETWORK AT RACKSPACE went down and took the phonesystem with it. Customers suddenly weren’t able to call. Employees couldn’teven access the company directory to contact each other.
This was a potential disaster.Rackspace provides computer hosting services for more than 300,000
customers. These companies run their websites, email, and internal computersystems on its network. It’s all mission-critical stuff. When there’s a problem,Rackspace customers need help fast.
A lone technical support agent sprang into action. He tweeted hispersonal phone number, letting customers know they could reach him directlyif they needed help. Soon other tech support reps followed suit and tweetedtheir numbers, too. For the next four hours, they used Twitter and their cellphones to serve customers until Rackspace restored its phone service. Thesupport team typically handles a thousand calls during a four-hour timeframe, so their extraordinary service prevented a lot of unhappy customers.
The stakes were high, but nobody from management told theseemployees to tweet their personal phone numbers. It wasn’t part of acarefully scripted procedure. No one even asked permission. They just did it.
HOW CULTURE CREATES HERO MOMENTSImagine the same scenario at nearly any other company. Employees wouldfeel helpless. A few might lobby their supervisor to go home early. Mostwould just sit around and wait for the phone system to come back up.
The corporate communications department might post a message on thecompany’s website to let customers know the phones were down. Somebodymight tweet an update on the status of the phone system. That would likely be
the extent of the company’s efforts to alert customers to the problem.Tweeting personal contact information would be unthinkable. Many
customer service employees are fearful of giving out their last names, letalone their phone numbers. Employees at the average company would nevertake the kind of initiative that happened at Rackspace.
Rackspace isn’t the average company, though. Stories of employeesdelivering over-the-top service are common. One rep ordered a pizza for acustomer during a marathon trouble shooting session after she heard himmention that he was getting hungry. An account manager showed herappreciation for a visiting client by preparing a home-cooked meal.
The big question is why employees at Rackspace serve their customersin a way that’s so different from the norm. It’s too simplistic to say thatRackspace has made a company-wide commitment to provide outstandingservice. Lots of companies make similar claims, but that doesn’t mean theyactually do it.
Their exceptional service isn’t just a product of great training, either.Training works when you want to show someone how to use a specific skillor follow a particular procedure. Tweeting personal phone numbers, orderingpizza for a customer, and preparing a home-cooked meal for a client were allimprovised moves. These actions were neither trained nor scripted.
The real secret to Rackspace’s extraordinary service is their customer-focused culture. Employees are absolutely obsessed with taking care of theircustomers. They have created a unique identity, calling themselves Rackers,symbolizing the pride employees have in their company. They’ve developeda special brand of customer service called Fanatical Support® that promisescustomers they’ll spring into action and do whatever it takes to help resolveany issue.
It’s this obsession that leads to customer service hero moments liketweeting a personal phone number so customers can reach you.
A hero moment occurs any time an employee, a team, or an entirecompany rises to the occasion to provide customers with outstanding service.Hero moments aren’t limited to over-the-top actions. They include everydayservice encounters as well. In his book, Be Your Customer’s Hero, customerexperience strategist Adam Toporek defines it this way1:
“It means being there when the customer needs you and makingyour personal interaction with the customer as memorably positive
Let’s face it: the vast majority of customer-service interactions areunremarkable. They’re neither amazingly good nor frustratingly bad. Thinkabout the last time you went to the bank, bought a cup of coffee, or orderedsomething online. There’s a good chance that nothing particularlyextraordinary happened. It was business as usual.
A few experiences do stand out. We certainly remember the servicefailures. But we also remember the hero moments. Maybe you remember akind bank teller who helped you avoid a fee. Perhaps there’s a barista at yourlocal coffee shop who makes you feel special every time he’s there becausehe knows your name and your favorite drink. Or there may have been a timewhen you were shipped the wrong item, but the friendly customer service repmade the resolution so easy that you vowed to become a customer for life.
Every customer interaction is an opportunity for a hero moment or aservice failure. Some businesses, like hotels, might have multiple interactionsper day with the same customers. According to the Cornell Center forHospitality Research, an average 250-room hotel has 5,000 daily guestinteractions with valets, door people, bell staff, reception, restaurants,housekeeping, engineering, and other functions.2
The largest businesses might serve millions of customers on a dailybasis. For example, Domino’s Pizza delivers more than one million pizzasper day, seven days a week. Imagine all the customer service interactionsrequired to make that happen! About 500,000 of those orders are taken by anemployee (the rest are taken electronically, via their website, smart phoneapp, etc.). Employees must also deliver those one million pizzas. That meansDomino’s averages about 1.5 million hero or failure opportunities every day.3
Individual employees at some companies might personally serve dozensof customers per day. For example:
A typical airline flight might have 150 passengers served by fourflight attendants.A retail cashier might serve 20 customers (or more) per hour.A contact center agent might serve 10 (or more) customers perhour.
It’s impossible for a boss, a policy, or a system to control all theseinteractions. Employees must exercise independent discretion at times. Thisis a scary reality for customer-service leaders, who worry their employeeswill do something wrong.
I’ve spoken to thousands of customer service employees over the years.Most want to do a good job and make their customers happy. The vastmajority of these employees know how to deliver a hero moment, but theyaren’t actively looking for them. Sometimes the moment arises, but theemployee doesn’t feel empowered to spring into action. These are situationswhere the right corporate culture can encourage employees to make gooddecisions.
Culture creates hero moments on an individual level, where anemployee strives to deliver the best customer service possible. That employeefeels empowered to do what it takes to makes customers happy and takespride in the company he or she works for. You see it in the way the employeegreets customers, solves problems, and goes the extra mile when the situationdemands it.
Culture also creates hero moments on a team level, where a departmentworks together to serve its customers at a consistently high level. Teammembers share a passion for service that’s absolutely contagious. You see itin their pervasive can-do attitudes and in the way they support each other in acollective effort to make their customers happy. These employees take pridein their team, yet always push each other to do even better.
Culture can create hero moments on an organizational level, as well,where an entire company is dedicated to providing outstanding service.Strategy, goals, policy, and other corporate decisions are made with thecustomer in mind. You see the impact of this customer focus in the legions ofloyal customers who go out of their way to do business with these selectcompanies.
It’s no wonder that culture is such a hot topic in customer service. So,what exactly is it?
THE DEFINITION OF CORPORATE CULTURECorporate culture can be a nebulous subject. There’s a lot that goes into it,like mission, vision, and value statements. But while those are some of itselements, a company’s culture is broader than that.
I turned to Catherine Mattice to get a clear definition. She’s a consultantand trainer who specializes in helping organizations create a positiveworkplace culture. She’s also the author of Back Off! Your Kick-Ass Guide toEnding Bullying at Work, and her research on the topic has made her an in-demand speaker at human resources conferences. Mattice has even served asan expert witness in court cases where corporate culture was a factor.
We met for coffee on a warm, sunny day. The coffee shop had a patiowith just enough shade to make it comfortable. I thought it might be a shortconversation, but we ended up talking for several hours.
We discovered that the challenge in defining culture is that there are somany valid perspectives. When Mattice helps companies end workplacebullying, she does so by focusing on their culture. I, too, focus on culturewhen I work with companies to help improve customer service. And whenanother colleague helps companies with their branding, she begins her effortsby focusing on their corporate culture, as well. It seems that so many thingscompanies do can be boiled down to their culture.
Mattice and I agreed that while corporate culture can refer to an entireorganization, it can also refer to a business unit, location, or individual team.It’s not unusual for groups in different parts of a company to share somecommon characteristics, yet also have their own unique identity. You can’teasily change the entire corporate culture if you’re a store manager for a retailchain, but you can influence the culture within your particular store.
Mattice shared this definition, which puts it all together:
“Corporate culture is the way an organization’s members think,act, and understand the world around them.”
Let’s use Rackspace as an example. Rackers certainly think, act, andunderstand the world around them differently than employees at mostcompanies. When faced with an unexpected challenge, such as the phonesgoing down, Rackers think, “My customers need me. I have to find a way tohelp them.” They act to do something about it. Rackers do this because theyunderstand how critical their services are to their clients’ businesses.
Contrast this to the customer service most of us receive every day.Many employees think about their job solely in terms of their assignedresponsibilities. They act in accordance with company policies and
procedures, but rarely take initiative. They understand their role, but may notunderstand the company’s goals. Or, employees might understand thecompany’s goals, but not care about helping to achieve them.
All organizations have a culture. It doesn’t have to be somethingintentionally created. In most organizations, culture organically develops overtime through corporate strategy, the decisions of its leaders, the wayemployees interact with each other, and many other factors.
It’s natural for a group of people to develop a certain amount ofcollective thinking. When you hear people say, “That’s how we do thingsaround here,” they’re referring to their company’s culture. A few elitecompanies, like Rackspace, intentionally strive to cultivate a positive,customer-focused culture.
That intentionality is what’s missing in many organizations. Accordingto Mattice, most companies have policies that tell employees what theyshould not do. Companies with positive cultures help employees understandwhat they should do. Mattice explains that without clear guidance, “Peopledon’t know how else to act.”
But you can’t tell employees specifically what to do in every situation;there are too many variables. Instead, an intentionally-guided culture acts as acompass that consistently points employees in the right direction. Thatculture is reinforced when employees encounter a hero moment and make theright decision.
INSIDE RACKSPACE’S CUSTOMER-FOCUSED CULTURERob La Gesse is the Vice President of Social Strategy at Rackspace. Mostcorporate executives in publicly traded companies are hard to contact. Not LaGesse. I got his phone number when he sent it to me via Twitter.
I asked La Gesse why he shares this information so freely. Hisexplanation was simple: “I’m in the people business. I want people to findme.”
He’s not kidding. La Gesse published his cell and home phone numberson his blog in 2009. It was 2013 when the Rackspace technical support reptweeted his own cell number in order to be accessible to customers in need.Sharing a personal phone number via social media wasn’t a scripted move,but it was embedded in the company’s organizational thinking andexemplified by its leaders.
Accessibility is just one illustration of how Rackspace creates acustomer-focused culture. Another is how it hires employees. According toLa Gesse, the company hires many people who don’t have technicalbackgrounds. They come from hospitality, medical, and similar professionsthat attract people with natural empathy.
La Gesse shares an example of the type of people they like to hire atRackspace. He was attending an offsite meeting at a hotel. The meetingended for the day, and the attendees headed off to the hotel’s bar. There wereonly three bartenders, who were working like crazy to keep up.
La Gesse ordered a frozen margarita but received a margarita on therocks. He was deep in conversation with a colleague and saw the long line atthe bar, so he decided not to bother with getting his order corrected.
A few minutes later, the bartender approached La Gesse with a frozenmargarita. He apologized for the error and told La Gesse that both drinkswere on the house.
La Gesse was impressed. Mistakes can and will happen, especiallyduring busy times. But it takes a special kind of person to recognize theirmistake and go out of their way to fix it when the customer hadn’tcomplained.
He waited for the bar to calm down a bit and then approached thebartender. La Gesse handed him his business card and said, “You need to bea Racker.” The bartender was eventually hired by Rackspace. Although hehad no experience working with computer networks, he turned out to be aperfect fit. He now has a successful career in technical sales.
“I can teach anybody [the computer operating system] Linux,” said LaGesse. “I can’t teach them to actually care.”
Rackspace specifically looks for people like this, who fit the company’scustomer-focused culture. Here’s a passage from its Fanatical SupportPromise:
We cannot promise that hardware won’t break, that softwarewon’t fail, or that we will always be perfect. What we can promiseis that if something goes wrong, we will rise to the occasion, takeaction, and help resolve the issue.
This isn’t just something that’s tucked into an employee handbook and then
forgotten. This promise is a way of doing business at Rackspace. It’s howRackers think, from executive leadership all the way to the employees on thefront lines of customer service.4
Fanatical Support is the first of the company’s six core values:
1. Fanatical Support® in all we do.2. Results first. Substance over flash.3. Treat Rackers like friends & family.4. Passion for our work.5. Full disclosure & transparency.6. Committed to greatness.
What truly makes these values special is that they’re ingrained in hiring,training, and all aspects of guiding the employees’ work. The company evenhas a “Culture” page on its website to explain it all:5
“Our Core Values came from us, the employees. They are ourcollective thoughts and beliefs encompassed by six values. Ourleadership had no input or vote in them. We wouldn’t even letthem spell check our values. Luckily for us, our bosses are smartenough to know that telling employees what to think and believe isa complete waste of time, and just a bad idea all the way around.”
These values truly represent how Rackspace does business. You see this in anemployee tweeting his cell phone number to be accessible to customers inneed. You see it in a bartender who gets hired after going out of his way tofix a drink order. In fact, you see examples of Fanatical Support® reinforcedevery single day at Rackspace.
“You have to constantly work at it,” said La Gesse. “You have toconstantly talk about.”
THE DARK SIDE OF CORPORATE CULTUREWhat leaders constantly work at and talk about has a profound impact on acompany’s culture. It shapes how employees think about, act upon, and
understand service. Focus on the wrong things, and a company canunintentionally develop an anti-customer culture.
Comcast provides a clear warning. It’s generally considered to havesome of the worst customer service in the country. It was rated the worstinternet service provider in the United States by the 2015 American CustomerSatisfaction Index, and third and fourth worst respectively in subscriptiontelevision and phone service.6 Comcast also ranked dead last in the 2015Temkin Customer Service Ratings.7
Comcast has been known to attract national media attention with its epicservice failures. One particular example happened in July 2014. A Comcastsubscriber named Ryan Block called to cancel his service. The customerservice agent inexplicably stonewalled his request. Block was ten minutesinto the call when he decided to record it.8
The recording lasts for approximately eight minutes. On it, you can hearthe Comcast employee repeatedly badgering Block about his decision tocancel. Block politely asked the agent to cancel his service multiple times,but the employee continuously tried to talk him into retaining his account.
Block posted the recording online and it quickly went viral. Major newsoutlets reported on it. Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s Senior Vice President ofCustomer Experience, issued a statement apologizing for the incident:
“We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke withMr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize. Theway in which our representative communicated with him isunacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customerservice representatives.”9
It’s convenient for companies like Comcast to blame a rogue employee for anembarrassing service failure like this. However, a closer look reveals that theemployee’s actions were completely reflective of Comcast’s corporateculture.
Canceling an account with Comcast in July 2014 was a difficult task.The instructions weren’t easy to find on its website. Even searching “cancelaccount” failed to point customers to the desired result.
Customers who did find the cancellation instructions were instructed tocall customer support. They could do almost anything online, including
adding services, but Comcast wanted them to call to cancel.Customers who called to cancel their accounts were transferred to
someone called a “Retention Specialist.” These employees were giventraining on step-by-step procedures they were expected to use to discouragecustomers from canceling. They received a bonus based on how manycustomers they could talk out of canceling their service. The employeesreceived no bonus if too many customers insisted on canceling anyway.
The Retention Specialist on Ryan Block’s recorded call summarized therole perfectly. He said, “My job is to have a conversation with you aboutkeeping your service.”
Comcast designed its entire cancellation process around trying toconvince customers not to cancel. This philosophy was embedded in itsprocess, and it was integrated into employee compensation. Retention waswhat these employees worked at and talked about.
It’s not hard to understand why Comcast is infamous for its poorservice. Let’s go back to Catherine Mattice’s definition of corporate culture:the way a company thinks, acts, and understands the world around them.Comcast thinks about its customers in terms of revenue. It acts to dowhatever it can to retain or increase that revenue in the short term. Itunderstands that a lost account equals lost revenue. None of this focuses onserving customers.
In an interesting twist to the story, Comcast announced in May 2015that it was implementing a multi-year plan to create a new corporate culturefocusing on exceeding customers’ expectations. It seems that even Comcast,at some level, understands the importance of having a customer-focusedculture.
Comcast is hardly the only company whose actions create a culture ofpoor customer service. In my first book, Service Failure, I uncovered manyexamples of how a company’s culture can lead to poor service.
In one story, a hotel associate deliberately provided her guests with poorcustomer service because she was afraid of being ostracized by her co-workers if she went out of her way to be helpful. The hotel’s poor culturemade it uncomfortable for her to provide great service.
Another story involved a bank employee who signed off on 400 homeforeclosures per day without actually verifying that the homes met the criteriafor foreclosure. He never stopped to consider the customers who owned thosehomes because the bank had a culture that encouraged employees to follow
its procedures without question.A customer service representative at yet another company told me he
routinely lied to customers because he was instructed to do so bymanagement. He had recently gotten this job after being out of work for along time, and he was worried that he’d be out of work again if he didn’tcomply with management’s directives. The company’s leaders created aculture of fear, intimidation, and dishonesty.
I discovered something else while researching these stories. We wouldlike to believe that we wouldn’t act the way those people did if we wereplaced in a similar situation. The truth is, most of us would.
We naturally take behavioral cues from the people around us. Some areconscious, like the customer service employee who lied to customers so hecould keep his job. Others are unconscious, like the bank employee whomindlessly signed off on home foreclosures. They’re both examples ofcorporate culture at work.
GETTING CULTURE TO GUIDE EMPLOYEES’ ACTIONSPeople see how employees are obsessed with customer service in a companylike Rackspace and think, “Of course! That’s how it should be!” That’s whatmakes creating a customer-focused culture so maddeningly difficult. It seemslike it should be easy, but it isn’t.
The challenge is that culture isn’t attributable to just one thing. There’sno single initiative that will magically get your employees to consistentlymake customer service a priority. Culture is the sum of all the things we do inan organization.
Here are just a few examples of questions whose answers influence howculture shapes employee behavior:
Are employees given clear guidance on the company’s culture, orare they expected to just figure it out?Are employees invited to help shape the culture, or are theydisengaged?Are strategic decisions driven by culture, or are they madewithout regard for customers?Are goals and metrics aligned with the culture, or do they
encourage shortcuts?Are business processes customer-focused, or do they putemployees in awkward situations?Are employees empowered to deliver outstanding service, or arethey constrained?Do leaders reinforce the desired culture, or do they contradict it?
Addressing these questions isn’t easy. It takes time, energy, and resources.Building a customer-focused culture is a never-ending journey that tests theentire organization’s commitment and dedication.
So before showing you how to build a customer-focused culture in yourcompany, I’ve written the next chapter to explain why so many customerservice culture initiatives fail.
NOTES:1 Adam Toporek, Be Your Customer’s Hero (New York: AMACOM, 2015).2 Barbara M. Talbot, “The Power of Personal Service: Why It Matters, WhatMakes It Possible, How It Creates Competitive Advantage,” CHR IndustryPerspectives, no. 1 (September 2006).3 “Facts and figures,” Domino’s Pizza. https://biz.dominos.com/web/about-dominos-pizza/fun-facts.4 The full text of the Rackspace Fanatical Support® Promise can be found on thecompany website: http://www.rackspace.com/managed-hosting-support/promise.5 Learn more about the Rackspace culture here:http://www.rackspace.com/talent/culture.6 The American Customer Satisfaction Index publishes annual ratings forComcast and many of its major competitors on its website: http://www.theacsi.org.7 The Temkin Group publishes annual customer satisfaction ratings on itswebsite: http://www.temkinratings.com.8 Ryan Block. “Ryan Block’s recorded cancellation phone call with Comcast.”SoundCloud. https://soundcloud.com/ryan-block-10/comcastic-service.9 Tom Karinshak, “Comcast Statement Regarding Customer Service Call,”ComcastVoices (July 15, 2014).
Why Culture Initiatives Often Fail
“I WANT US TO BE like the Apple Store.”That’s how a Chief Information Officer (CIO) described the goal for his
customer service project. He worked for a company that provided softwareand information services to corporate clients around the globe. He managedseveral internal departments, including a help-desk team supporting thecomputing needs for several thousand employees spread across sixcontinents.
The company had an internal customer service survey, and his help deskwasn’t scoring well. There had even been complaints about service qualityfrom other executives. The CIO decided he needed to change the culture, andhe wanted to get his employees obsessed about providing the type ofoutstanding customer service the Apple Store was known for.
He called me to ask for help. We talked about his situation, and Ipressed him for more details about his vision. “What is it about the AppleStore that you want your team to emulate?”
There was a brief silence as the CIO thought. Finally, he said, “I like theApple Store because they’re good at customer service.”
That was the best description he could muster. The problem was that theApple Store and his company’s internal help desk operations were sodifferent that the comparison made little sense. There was no similarity otherthan their focus on computers.
The Apple Store is a gleaming showcase for Apple’s latest technology.Employees are there to educate customers, help them find solutions, and sellproducts. Customers are drawn in by Apple’s latest technology, whether it’san iPad, iPhone, MacBook, or another of Apple’s latest gadgets. People alsocome to the Apple Store to get help with Apple products they’d purchased.
The CIO’s help desk is an internal department, not a retail store. It
supports operations around the globe by phone, email, and internet. It alsomanages the logistics of configuring various computers, parts, andaccessories and shipping them to various offices.
Ironically, the department’s biggest challenge was employees based inits corporate office, who acted as if the help desk really was an Apple Store.They often bypassed the company’s work-order system and walked directlyinto the IT department to get help. They used their physical proximity tojump to the head of the line and prioritize their needs over projects at remoteoffices.
For example, a corporate vice president might come in looking for helpwith her laptop while a help-desk employee was in the midst of getting anetwork configured for a new office in Europe. It wasn’t a comfortableposition for the employee. If he dropped everything and helped the vicepresident, that could put the network project behind schedule. If he asked thevice president to follow the appropriate procedure, that could result in thevice president complaining to the CIO or another executive.
Another challenge was how help-desk employees viewed their role.They didn’t think of themselves as perky, customer-focused retail associateslike those at the Apple Store. They generally joined the company becausethey loved computers and wanted to be near cutting-edge technology. Theyviewed their job as fixing computers and setting up networks rather thanhelping customers.
The CIO’s customer service project had many warning signs thatsuggested it wouldn’t succeed. He was impatient and hoped to find ashortcut. He knew he needed to change the help desk’s culture, but he naivelythought that could be accomplished through a couple of training classes. Heeven signaled that the project didn’t have his full support by delegating it toone of his managers so he could focus on initiatives he felt were moreimportant.
The biggest challenge of all was that the CIO couldn’t describe asuccessful project outcome. He had a picture in his mind, but it wasn’t fullyformed. The best he could do was point to the Apple Store. This didn’t soundlike a situation where I could be helpful.
I finally asked him, “Have you ever heard of Ron Johnson?” He hadn’t.
RON JOHNSON AND THE TALE OF TWO COMPANIES
Ron Johnson is widely credited for developing the Apple Store and making itsuccessful. Apple hired him in 2000 to be its Senior Vice President of Retail,and he worked closely with CEO Steve Jobs to develop the company’s retailconcept.
The Apple Store’s success is undeniable. In 2011, Johnson’s last yearthere, its $5,626 in sales per square foot was the best mark for any retailer inthe U.S.10 Apple was also named a J.D. Power Customer Service Championfor 2012, recognizing the company’s outstanding service from the previousyear.
The Apple Store took a fresh approach to retailing in many ways. Itsstores were full of products that customers were encouraged to try out. It alsohad more associates than typical stores, so customers could get hands-onassistance. There were no cashier lines, either; associates rang up purchasesusing a mobile credit-card reader and an app on their phones.
The centerpiece of each store was the Genius Bar, which was somethingJohnson invented to help customers get the most out of their Apple products.Johnson described the Genius Bar in a 2011 interview with Harvard BusinessReview: “Imagine a friendly place that dispenses advice and is staffed by thesmartest Mac person in town. He would be like a genius to the customer,because he knows so much.”11
The Genius Bar concept wasn’t a hit at first, but Johnson stuck with it.“I had a belief—a conviction—that face-to-face support was going to bemuch better for customers than phone and web support, which are oftenreally frustrating and ineffective,” he explained. “So we stuck with it, andgradually customers started coming.”
In November 2011, Johnson was hired away to be the CEO of J.C.Penney. The company was enamored with Johnson’s results at the AppleStore, as well as his previous success at Target, where he helped build astrong brand reputation. J.C. Penney’s board of directors thought Johnsonwould be able to work his magic once again and transform a venerable retailbrand that had stagnated in recent years.
Johnson felt J.C. Penney’s culture was stuck in the past. The companywas trying to hang on to tradition instead of evolving to meet its customers’changing needs. Employees had a transaction mindset, where constant sales,coupon programs, and other discounts were used to drive revenue. Perhapsworst of all, Johnson felt the company’s leaders were too slow to take action.
Johnson quickly developed an ambitious plan to completely change J.C.
Penney’s culture.There were massive layoffs at the corporate office. Johnson brought in a
new executive team, many of whom were former Apple colleagues. One ofthose executives was Michael Kramer, who became J.C. Penney’s ChiefOperating Officer. Kramer told the Wall Street Journal, “I hated the J.C.Penney culture. It was pathetic.”12
Johnson instituted an autocratic decision-making approach that didaway with market research and in-store testing. He announced sweepingchanges based solely on his experience and gut instincts. “We didn’t test atApple,” said Johnson to one colleague who questioned him.
“Every initiative we pursue will be guided by our core value to treatcustomers as we would like to be treated—fair and square,” said Johnson. Hescrapped the company’s traditional discounting programs in favor of aneveryday low price approach called Fair and Square Pricing. Millions wereinvested in new store layouts and merchandising agreements with popularbrands that he believed would better resonate with J.C. Penney customers.
Johnson also announced plans to create a section in the middle of eachstore called the Town Square. The Town Square would replace the cosmeticcounters and accessories found in the center of a typical department store.Instead, it would feature various services for customers along with monthlyattractions like free haircuts during back-to-school season. Johnson said theTown Square concept was similar to the Apple Store’s Genius Bar: “Just likein the Apple Store, you have to walk through the products to get to the TownSquare.”13
There was one huge group of employees who were missing fromJohnson’s bid to overhaul the company culture: store associates. They heldtremendous influence over the success of the company’s widespread changesbecause they interacted with customers on a daily basis. An enthusiasticresponse might help convince lifelong customers that the changes werepositive, while a lackluster reception could convince customers to take theirbusiness somewhere else.
The associates largely disliked the changes. Many associates feltfrustrated that they’d had no input into the company’s new direction, andthere were widespread accounts of plummeting morale. One store associatetold Business Insider, “I hate it. I hate the disorder and I hate having mycustomers give me that look, that ‘you don’t have any idea what you’re doingand I hate this place and I’m never coming back’ look.”14
There was also no change in how associates treated their customers.Customers who walked into a J.C. Penney store just before Johnson becameCEO in 2011 were likely to have been ignored. The transactional culture inJ.C. Penney stores at the time was largely one of indifference to helpingcustomers on the sales floor. Cashiers believed their job was simply ringingup transactions. Stock associates believed their job was putting stock on thesales floor and arranging displays. After Johnson took over as CEO, companyleaders did nothing to change this behavior, and employees still routinelyignored their customers.
Johnson’s efforts to transform J.C. Penney ultimately failed. Thecompany’s stock sank 40 percent in his first full year. Sales plummeted. J.C.Penney’s rating on the American Customer Satisfaction Index fell from 82when Johnson took over in late 2011 to 77 in 2013.
Johnson was fired in April 2013.
WHY BORROWING ANOTHER COMPANY’S CULTURE DOESN’TWORKThe software company CIO and Ron Johnson both failed at their cultureinitiatives in part because they tried to copy the Apple Store. Their problemwas that neither business was comparable to the one they tried to emulate.Each had products, operations, and employees that were different. Each hadits own unique history. Even their customers were different.
Johnson built a retail operation from the ground up at Apple. At J.C.Penney, he was trying to change a company that had been in business forover a hundred years. Its employees already had a collective way of thinking,acting, and understanding the world around them. Johnson completelyignored this when he tried to sweep away the J.C. Penney culture andunilaterally impose his own.
Trying to copy another company’s culture is an exercise in futility.Every organization is unique. There are too many things that vary fromcompany to company, such as business models, target customers, productline, organizational history, and even the skills and personalities of theindividual employees who work there.
That doesn’t stop companies from trying to borrow other companies’cultures. Bookstores are stocked with business books that profile service
cultures at famous companies, including:
The Nordstrom WayThe Disney WayThe Virgin WayThe Cleveland Clinic WayThe Southwest Airlines Way
Executives from successful, high-profile companies are fixtures on thecorporate speaking circuit. Some companies—such as Disney, Zappos, andThe Ritz Carlton—have even created business seminars designed to showother companies the inner workings of their unique cultures. These trainingprograms all offer valuable insights and takeaways. Unfortunately,participants mistake the training for a paint-by-numbers blueprint.
People buy the books and attend the trainings hoping to capture themagic that made those famous companies successful. It’s easy to forget thatthe principles and business practices described and discussed weren’tdeveloped overnight. Instead, they’re a by-product of the unique culturesthese companies developed over time. Getting to where they are today tookan intense commitment over multiple years.
A book or seminar will not change your culture. It can inspire you. Itcan give you ideas. But you still have to put in the work to bring your ownorganization’s unique customer-focused culture to life.
Employees often refer to copycat initiatives as a “flavor-of-the-monthprogram.” Their company dedicates training and resources to imitate anothercompany, but it never really sticks. The other company is just too different.The other culture doesn’t match how this company’s employees actuallythink, act, or understand the world around them. The company’s leadersinevitably lose interest and move on to chase after another fad.
In a typical example, a company sent its executives and mid-levelmanagers to a seminar organized by the Disney Institute. The participantswere impressed with what they learned, but they compared all the lessons totheir own organization’s culture. “That sounds cool, but it would never workfor us,” they thought. By the end of the seminar, the participants had onlypicked up a few tactics they thought would work.
They returned to their office and set out to implement the few ideas
they’d selected. What they didn’t understand was that Disney developed itsculture by doing all of it. These executives were essentially trying to bake acake with only half the ingredients listed in the recipe. Failure was inevitable.
HOW EMPLOYEES GET LOST WITHOUT CLEAR DIRECTIONIt’s hard for any corporate initiative to succeed if you don’t first define asuccessful outcome. Yet executives like the software company CIOfrequently struggle to describe what they want their organization’s uniqueculture to be like. This makes it nearly impossible to get employees alignedaround a common way of thinking about, acting upon, and understandingcustomer service.
In 2013, I did a survey to see how many companies had created a cleardefinition of outstanding customer service. As you’ll learn in Chapter 3, thisdefinition forms the basis of a customer-focused culture because it allowscompanies to engage their employees in delivering a consistent brand ofcustomer service. Only 62 percent of respondents said their organization hadcreated this definition.
There are several reasons why companies don’t define outstandingservice for their employees. One reason is that it seems self-evident: peopleknow good and bad service when they see it.
The problem with this thinking is that people tend to have very differentdefinitions of what constitutes great service. On a company level, outstandingservice at the Apple Store is vastly different from outstanding service at J.C.Penney. Within a company, different departments have different goals andobjectives. Even individual employees have their own ideas and priorities.Failure to align employees’ collective thinking typically results ininconsistent customer service.
Some organizations resist creating a customer service vision becausethey think of it as a lot of marketing fluff. For example, one company createda vision statement that was so long it literally covered the entire wall of theirlobby. It was full of impressive-sounding adjectives, but it was alsoimpossible to decipher. Employees snicker at attempts like this that feelinauthentic.
Yet employees need clear direction so they know what’s expected ofthem. Creating a clear definition of outstanding customer service providesthis direction, which is critical to creating a customer-focused culture.
Chapter 3 gives you step-by-step instructions for developing your customerservice vision. Everything else you do should be based on that vision.
That makes Chapter 3 the most important chapter in this book.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN CULTURE BECOMES A SIDE PROJECTExecutives are impatient for results. They look for shortcuts and silver-bulletsolutions. Furthermore, culture initiatives can easily get relegated to side-project status. Many executives feel these initiatives seem mushy and lesseasily defined than other activities whose results are simpler to measure.
Here are just a few of the excuses I’ve heard for delaying a cultureinitiative:
“We’re knee deep in implementing a new computer system rightnow.”“We’d like to work on culture, but we don’t have the budget.”“We’re focused on employee engagement this year.”
These statements reflect a complete disconnect from what culture really is.Culture should be guiding these initiatives, not taking a back seat. How youapproach a system upgrade should be influenced by your culture. It doesn’ttake a hefty budget to reorient your culture around serving customers.Employee engagement is, by definition, a culture initiative.
One Chief Financial Officer told me his company wasn’t ready to focuson culture because they were working on improving customer experience. Hetold me his executive team didn’t see a clear connection between internalculture and customer experience (what a customer thinks and feels about yourbusiness). Of course, this link is critical since it’s the employees who designand execute the factors that create customer experience.
Some customer service culture initiatives fail because they don’t havethe appropriate level of executive commitment. A 2015 Harvard BusinessReview report revealed that 51 percent of customer-centricity initiatives areled by someone who isn’t a senior executive.15 The same report found that 64percent of these projects lack a dedicated team and budget.
One explanation for this is that many companies feel they’re alreadycustomer-focused. A 2014 study by Execs in the Know and Digital Roots
showed that 88 percent of companies felt they were generally meeting theneeds and expectations of their customers.
Only 22 percent of customers felt the same way.16Another explanation is that companies underestimate the level of time
and resources required to build a customer-focused culture. The CEO of oneorganization delegated a culture initiative to a project team made up ofseveral mid-level managers. It’s okay to delegate work, but the CEOcompletely removed himself from the loop. He assumed the team would keepworking on the project without his involvement.
Those project team members had other responsibilities as part of theirregular jobs. The CEO focused his communication with these managers ontheir normal roles and largely ignored the culture project. The initiativequickly took a back seat to day-to-day work, and ultimately stalled outcompletely. Yet the CEO didn’t realize that it was his management that madeculture seem unimportant.
Some companies think they can change their culture just by sendingfrontline employees to training. This rarely works. Training can helpemployees develop knowledge, skills, or abilities, but while important, theseare only a few of the many factors that influence an employee’s actualperformance. An employee’s attitude, influence from their co-workers, anddirection from their leaders also play pivotal roles. Likewise, policies,procedures, tools, and resources all impact an employee’s ability to servecustomers.
I once facilitated a training class for a small organization. It wassupposed to be an all-hands meeting, but when I arrived, I learned theorganization’s leaders had abruptly decided not to attend. Apparently, theyfelt they had more important things to do.
Two employees approached me after the class. Both were near tears.They told me that they had appreciated the training and learned a lot, but theywere concerned that none of it would make a difference. “The people thatreally needed to be here were our bosses,” one of them said. “We really wantto serve our customers, but the leaders around here aren’t committed to it.”
This organization’s leaders sent a clear message to their employees thatday by skipping out on training that was mandatory for everyone else. Theydemonstrated that they weren’t fully committed. They naively hoped thetraining would somehow “fix” their employees when it was really theirleadership that needed fixing.
Culture isn’t a side project. It’s a way of doing business that should beintegrated into everything you do, and it needs unmistakable executivesponsorship if it’s going to work. Building a strong culture takes time and fullcommitment.
Chapters 5 through 10 are dedicated to providing step-by-stepinstructions for aligning the most critical aspects of your business with yourculture.
WHY CULTURE INITIATIVES NEED A FULL COMMITMENTA client invited me to attend her company’s quarterly employee meeting.Employees gathered to hear updates from the CEO and other top executivesabout financial performance, strategy, key initiatives, and other businessissues. The CEO kicked off the meeting by discussing the importance of thecompany’s values.
This wasn’t unusual. The CEO talked about the company’s values allthe time. They represented the company’s way of doing business, and theCEO wanted to emphasize their importance. The values described how theywanted to treat their customers, each other, and even their vendors.
Culture wasn’t just the CEO’s pet project. Every executive at thecompany regarded culture as a top priority. They used their culture to guideall decisions, whether it was spending money, developing strategy, or trainingemployees. The company’s strategy gradually changed over the years as itgrew and became even more successful, but the CEO and his top executivesnever wavered in their full and open commitment to supporting thecompany’s culture. In their minds, it was the culture—above everything else—that made the company successful.
Employees were constantly reminded of the corporate culture. It wasembedded in the recruiting process, new hire training, employee developmentprograms, and employees’ discussions with their managers. Alignment withcorporate culture was assessed during the performance evaluation process.Culture was baked into policies, procedures, and job descriptions.
Culture was deliberately integrated into every aspect of the job.The company’s service obsession paid off. Its customers were
consistently delighted, which led to greater loyalty and a lot of word ofmouth advertising. At the same time, its employees were highly engaged indelivering the company’s unique brand of customer service. Even its vendors
embraced the company’s service culture and worked hard to provide thecompany with superior value and service. All these factors combined to helpthe company achieve a steady growth rate and financial returns well aboveaverage.
Their culture emphasized the expectation that they constantly reinforcethe culture. They thought culture was important, acted to make it important,and understood it was what helped make them successful.
Other organizations may see some short-term improvement, but find itdifficult to sustain a customer-focused culture over the long run.
The wireless communications company Sprint provides an excellentexample. The company had never really been known for outstandingcustomer service, but it sunk to a new low in 2007. That year, it earned a 61on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which put it wellbehind its major competitors AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The companylost over 1,000,000 customers that year, including 1,000 customers whosecontracts were infamously terminated for making what the company deemedto be an excessive number of customer service calls.17
Dan Hesse was hired as Sprint’s CEO in December 2007 to turn thecompany around. He immediately set about re-focusing the company oncustomer service. This included establishing a set of core values to guideemployee behavior, simplifying pricing plans to make them easier forcustomers to understand, and making improved customer service a part ofevery employee’s compensation plan. The initial results were promising, withSprint’s ACSI rating climbing from a low point of 56 in 2008 (just a fewmonths into Hesse’s tenure) to an industry-leading 72 in 2011.
Remaining at the top proved difficult as other distractions took the focusaway from service. In late 2010, Sprint announced a multi-year, $5 billionplan to consolidate its existing network of three different wirelesstechnologies into a single platform.18 In 2012, SoftBank reached anagreement to acquire Sprint by purchasing 70 percent of its stock. In 2013,Sprint and rival T-Mobile began negotiating a merger that never materialized.By 2014, Sprint’s ACSI rating declined down to 68, and its number of retailwireless subscribers decreased 5.6 percent from 2012 to 2014. Hesse left thecompany by the end of 2014.
A 2013 Towers Watson survey found that only 25 percent of corporatechange initiatives succeed.19 The few companies that do succeed at changeinitiatives do so through culture. As the Towers Watson report points out,
“The best actively build a culture to support and drive behaviors aligned withtheir business strategy.”
Building the right culture is simply too much work for most companies.The few that break through work at it every day. They resist the urge to takeshortcuts, and they stick with the initiative for the long-term. These elite fewcompanies understand that culture isn’t easy, and they embrace thatchallenge.
Are you ready for the challenge? Let’s go to Chapter 3 where we’ll startthe process.
NOTES:10 Don Reisinger, “Another Apple Win: Retail Sales Per Square Foot,” CNET,August 24, 2011. http://www.cnet.com/news/another-apple-win-retail-sales-per-square-foot/.11 “Retail Isn’t Broken. Stores Are,” Harvard Business Review, December 2011.https://hbr.org/2011/12/retail-isnt-broken-stores-are.12 Dana Mattioli, “For Penney’s Heralded Boss, the Shine Is Off the Apple,” WallStreet Journal, February 24, 2013.13 Dana Mattioli, “J.C. Penney Chief Thinks Different,” Wall Street Journal,January 26, 2012.14 Kim Bhasin, “Inside J.C. Penney: Widespread Fear, Anxiety, And Distrust OfRon Johnson And His New Management Team,” Business Insider, February 22, 2013.http://www.businessinsider.com/inside-jcpenney-2013-2.15 “Making Customer-Centric Strategies Take Hold.” Harvard Business Reviewreport, 2015.16 “Supporting the Connected Consumer in a Multi-Channel Environment: AComprehensive Survey,” Customer Experience Management Benchmark Series, 2014Corporate Edition, Execs In the Know and Digital Roots report, February 2015.17 Tom Ryan, “Sprint Fires Customers,” Retail Wire. June, 2007.https://www.retailwire.com/discussion/sprint-fires-customers/.18 “Sprint Announces Network Vision – A Cutting-Edge Network Evolution PlanWith Partners Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Samsung,” Sprint, December 6, 2010.http://newsroom.sprint.com/news-releases/sprint-announces-network-vision-network-evolution-plan.htm.19 “Only One-Quarter of Employers Are Sustaining Gains From ChangeManagement Initiatives, Towers Watson Survey Finds,” Towers Watson, August 29,2013. https://www.towerswatson.com/en/Press/2013/08/Only-One-Quarter-of-Employers-Are-Sustaining-Gains-From-Change-Management.
Part 2: Building a Customer-Focused Culture
Defining Your Culture
REI’S CUSTOMER SERVICE SAVED CHERYL Strayed’s feet.In Wild, her bestselling memoir, she chronicles her 1,100-mile solo hike
along the Pacific Crest Trail from California’s Mojave Desert to the Oregonand Washington border. Halfway through her journey, Strayed developedconstant pain in her feet because her hiking boots were too small. She lostfour toenails from them rubbing against the toe boxes of her boots.
Replacing her hiking boots could have been a major problem. Strayedwas traveling through a remote part of the wilderness and only encounteredcivilization every few days. Even then, “civilization” typically meant acampground or small general store where it was unlikely they’d have hikingboots for sale. Her journey took place in 1995, before you could readily orderhiking boots, camping equipment, or anything else on the Internet. In anyevent, she didn’t have enough money to replace the pair she was wearing.
Outdoor gear and apparel retailer REI came to the rescue. Strayed hadpurchased the boots from the retailer, and when a fellow hiker reminded herof its satisfaction guarantee, she called the company to order a replacementpair in a larger size. The customer service representative agreed to ship themto her at no charge.
The timing was incredibly fortuitous. After contacting REI, Strayed stillhad to hike in her old boots for several days, while her new boots were beingshipped to the next post office along the trail. One day, she took off her oldboots while resting and accidentally knocked one of them down themountainside. Since the remaining boot was useless by itself, in a fit offrustration, she threw it down the mountain after the first one. Strayed wasforced to walk in camp sandals reinforced with duct tape for the next fewdays, but she eventually received her new boots.
This wasn’t the only way REI’s customer service helped Strayed. She’d
never been backpacking before starting on her trip, so she relied onknowledgeable associates at an REI store to help her get outfitted with theappropriate equipment. Strayed described her encounters with REI employeesin her book: “Every last one of them could talk about gear, and with interestand nuance, for a length of time that was so dumbfounding that I wasultimately bedazzled by it.”20
In 2014, Wild was released as a major motion picture starring ReeseWitherspoon. The film stayed true to the story and highlighted REI’s role inStrayed’s journey without the company having to pay any product placementfees. It was terrific exposure for REI, introducing moviegoers to theoutstanding customer service that millions of its customers already knew sowell.
It’s too simplistic to credit REI’s success only to great products andhelpful associates. At the heart of all that REI does so well is a customer-focused culture that helps people like Cheryl Strayed enjoy the outdoors.
HOW REI PROVIDES EMPLOYEES WITH A CLEAR VISIONOne piece of equipment Strayed acquired at REI was a compass. She used itto help find her way when the trail wasn’t clear.
REI employees have a different sort of compass. The REI missionstatement exemplifies a collective way of thinking that points employees inthe right direction when taking action to serve customers: We inspire, educateand outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.
This mission is evident throughout the entire company. Associates areknowledgeable about their products because they’re typically inspired toexplore the outdoors themselves. In fact, many loyal customers get part-timejobs at REI because they want the employee discount.
REI educates its customers on how to safely tackle new adventures byoffering classes on a wide variety of topics such as hiking, climbing, andkayaking. Policies—such as the 100 percent satisfaction guarantee—arecrafted to make it easy for people to get outfitted with the right equipment.The company also invests a great deal of time and money into naturalconservation efforts as part of its commitment to environmental stewardship.
REI’s mission statement is an example of what I call a customer servicevision: a statement that clearly defines the quality of customer service
employees are expected to provide. The statement is the foundation uponwhich a customer-focused culture is formed because it describes a collectiveway for employees to think about their customers, act to provide outstandingservice, and understand how service enables the organization to succeed.
A customer service vision can take many forms. It might be thecompany’s mission statement, like REI, or a customer service guarantee, likeRackspace’s Fanatical Support Promise. It might be a corporate visionstatement, a set of company values, a customer service slogan, or an internalguide for employees.
What’s important is that the customer service vision provides clarity onhow to serve customers.
Having a clear customer service vision is a common theme amongcompanies whose employees are obsessed with delivering outstandingcustomer service. Here are just a few examples from companies with strongcustomer-focused cultures that you’ll learn about later in this book:
Shake Shack (Chapter 5): Stand For Something GoodPublix (Chapter 7): Where Shopping Is a PleasureSafelite AutoGlass (Chapter 9): Achieve extraordinary results bylooking at our business through the eyes of our customers andmaking it easy for them to do business with us and ensuring theirexperience is memorable.
Note that these definitions are all different. Outstanding customer service at aretail store that sells outdoor gear isn’t the same as that provided by a fastcasual restaurant, a grocery store, or a windshield repair company. There isn’tone customer service vision that’s right for every organization. You needsomething unique to your organization.
Perhaps you’re not the CEO or owner of a company, but that doesn’tmean you can’t create a customer-focused culture within your own area ofresponsibility. Business units, locations, and even individual teams can eachcreate their own customer service vision.
The Center for Sustainable Energy is a nonprofit organization thatfacilitates clean energy projects for consumers, businesses, and governments.One example is California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP). The Stateof California provides a rebate for the purchase of zero-emission and plug-in
hybrid vehicles. The Center for Sustainable Energy administers the rebateprogram on behalf of the state.
The customer service team that supports the CVRP has its owncustomer service vision: Make it easy to join the clean vehicle movement.This vision aligns with the organization’s overall mission statement:Accelerating the transition to a sustainable world powered by clean energy.Having a separate-but-aligned team vision gives the CVRP team specificfocus and direction about what they’re trying to do for their customers.
Jennifer Rey is the Senior Operations Manager overseeing the CVRP.She uses the department’s vision statement to continuously emphasize theimportance of customer service with her team. It guides the way employeesinteract with customers, how the application process is designed, and eventhe design of the rebate application website. “It has to permeate througheverything that you do,” Rey explained.
One example of this is a video her team made to educate automotivedealers on the clean vehicle rebate process. Customers often learn detailsabout the rebate program from the salesperson who sold them their vehicle,so it’s important for salespeople to provide clear and accurate information.The training video makes it easy for the CVRP team to deliver a consistentmessage to the large network of dealers selling vehicles that qualify for arebate.
Culture needs to be clearly defined, whether it’s in a large companywith thousands of employees or a single team within a small nonprofit. As wediscussed in Chapter 2, employees can get lost if they don’t have a sharedcustomer service vision or the vision isn’t clear.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN THERE’S NO CLEAR VISIONChances are that your company already has something that could beconsidered a customer service vision. There might be a mission statement, alist of core values, or a set of service standards. Perhaps your organizationhas several of these. However, none of them define your company or teamculture unless employees can consistently point to one clear message thatguides how they serve customers.
One restaurant chain wanted to create a customer-focused culture, but itgave its servers too much to think about. There was a mission statement, aninternal service slogan, a set of four service standards, and a 17-step service
procedure for serving every guest. All these elements pointed to outstandingcustomer service, but each sent a slightly different message.
These elements can be called cultural artifacts. A cultural artifact is anystatement, symbol, or physical item that helps define an organization’sculture. A challenge occurs when an organization has multiple culturalartifacts that don’t provide a single direction.
The bevy of cultural artifacts at the restaurant chain created confusionfor the servers. Should they focus on the mission, which prioritized creating agreat guest experience? Or should they follow their 17-step serviceprocedure, which prioritized consistency and upselling?
I was asked to give a presentation about developing a customer-focusedculture at the company’s leadership retreat. The senior leadership team andthe chain’s store managers were all gathered in the room. I displayed a list ofall their cultural artifacts and asked, “Which of these is the most important?”
At first, there was silence. Nobody knew the answer because it wassomething they’d never talked about. Until that moment, these leaders hadlooked at each cultural artifact individually, but never all together. Theysuddenly realized why servers were frequently confused about the best wayto serve their guests.
The CEO fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat. It’s not easy being a leaderwhen your entire team suddenly sees a glaring blind spot in the corporatestrategy. But once that blind spot comes to light, it’s an important aspect ofleadership courage to acknowledge and address the issue head-on.
The CEO turned to the group and asked them to weigh in on which ofthe cultural artifacts was the priority. As they talked, it became evident thatthe mission statement resonated most strongly with the leadership team. Thegroup eventually determined that statement should serve as the customerservice vision, emphasized over everything else.
This meeting led to some important changes. The restaurant chain pareddown its 17-step service procedure to just 10 steps. It aligned the serviceprocedure with the mission statement so the two sent a consistent message.And it integrated the service slogan and service standards into the serviceprocedure itself, so the servers had fewer cultural artifacts to keep in mind.
Many organizations have multiple cultural artifacts that have no realmeaning to employees. They have mission statements, vision statements,corporate values, and brand slogans that send conflicting messages or arewritten in such unclear language that employees don’t understand them.
Individual departments have their own service slogans and standards, andthese don’t always align with their corporate counterparts. Employees inthese organizations naturally became confused as to what’s really mostimportant.
A good customer service vision creates clarity, not confusion. It’s okayto have multiple cultural artifacts, but they should all support a singleoverarching customer service vision that serves as the primary definition ofyour culture. Employees at all levels of the organization, from the CEO to thefront lines, need to have agreement on what their organization’s culturestands for.
HOW TO CREATE A CUSTOMER SERVICE VISIONMany companies over-engineer the process of creating their customer servicevision. Expensive consultants are hired to spend months conducting researchand writing drafts before presenting their recommendations to senior leadersat an executive retreat. The final product is inevitably so convoluted or out oftouch with reality that it fails to resonate with employees.
It doesn’t have to be that way. A simple, straightforward approachusually works better. There are three steps to creating a customer servicevision. The first is gathering input from all stakeholders. The second iswriting the vision itself. The third step is validating the vision statement withkey stakeholders.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
STEP I: GATHER INPUTCreating a customer service vision shouldn’t be an autocratic process drivenby a few executives. You want the vision to feel right to employees if it’sgoing to guide their behavior. Therefore, you need to include them in theprocess.
Here are examples of employee groups you might want to include:
Frontline EmployeesMiddle ManagementSenior Executives
If you’re creating a vision for a team or department, you might have adifferent set to consider:
Employees on your teamYour bossKey partners in other departments
Customers are the one group you shouldn’t consult in this process becausethis is a future-focused exercise. This may seem counterintuitive, butcustomers are notoriously bad at telling you what they want. You’ll get theirinput later, when you ask for feedback on how well you’re executing thecustomer service vision.
Once you’ve identified the stakeholder groups from whom you wantinput, it’s time to gather data. Modern technology makes this easy. You canuse an online survey, an internal chat program, or even old-fashioned email.
Even large corporations use this process. In 2003, IBM rewrote itscorporate values by holding an online forum that gave every employee theopportunity to contribute their perspective. An estimated 50,000 employeesparticipated from around the world, and the massive discussion generatednearly 10,000 comments. The entire event took place over a span of just 72hours.21
When I help my clients create a customer service vision, I usuallygather stakeholder input with an online survey. It’s a fast, easy, andinexpensive way to gather data from a large group of people. I use SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com), but there are many other surveyprograms available.
You can capture everyone’s input with just one open-ended question:What would you like customers to think of when they think about the servicewe provide?
The question allows participants to weigh in using their own words.This approach provides a lot of unstructured data in the form of theircomments, but it’s actually very easy to analyze. I use a text analyticsprogram to create a word cloud, which is a visual depiction of the writtencomments. The most commonly used words are large and bold, whileinfrequently used words are less prominent.
Premium Survey Monkey users have access to a word cloud feature, but
there are other free word-cloud programs available. One example is Wordle,which allows you to create a word cloud in just a few minutes. You can seesome examples and create your own word cloud for free at www.wordle.net.
The word cloud provides a quick visualization of the organization’scollective thinking around customer service. For example, when I workedwith the Center for Sustainable Energy to create its customer service vision,the three most prominent words in its word cloud were friendly, like, andhelpful. When the group wrote its customer service vision, members of thegroup discussed these words and why they were important. A consensusquickly emerged: they wanted customers to picture the organization as afriendly person who was so helpful that customers would actually like theprocess of buying a clean vehicle. That discussion led to what became theorganization’s final vision statement: Make it easy to join the clean vehiclemovement. (You can see the team’s word cloud here: http://bit.ly/1PpxPSz.)
It’s also important to gather examples of existing cultural artifactsrelevant to customer service. This may include a company mission statement,vision, values, customer service slogan, or service standards. These will behelpful guides when it comes time to write the customer service vision. Ifyou’re writing a customer service vision for an individual team ordepartment, having these cultural artifacts handy will help you align whatyou create with the organization’s overall culture. In some cases, such as therestaurant chain I mentioned earlier, an existing artifact might be chosen tobecome the customer service vision.
STEP 2: WRITING THE VISIONThe next step in creating a customer service vision is to convene a meeting todraft the statement.
You’ll accomplish two things in this meeting. The first is the actualwriting of the customer service vision; the second is clearly articulating whatthe vision means through illustrative examples.
I’ve found through trial and error that the optimal group size for thismeeting is seven to 10 people. With more than that, it’s too hard to integrateeveryone’s opinion while you’re word-smithing; with fewer, you won’tinclude enough perspectives.
The composition of the group is also important. It should include arepresentative sample of all levels of the organization, including at least one
frontline customer service employee. This will help ensure that multipleperspectives are represented. I’ve facilitated this exercise many times where afrontline employee has made an important contribution that never would havedawned on a mid-level or senior-level leader.
The meeting should last no more than two hours. This is enough time towrite the customer service vision statement while giving people just a littlebit of time pressure. Limiting the time causes people to go with their gut andavoid overthinking. This is desirable for writing a customer service visionbecause we want it to immediately resonate with employees when they readit.
Figure 3.1 is a sample meeting agenda. You can download the agendafrom The Service Culture Handbook to help write your own vision by visitingwww.serviceculturebook.com/tools.
Figure 3.1 Customer Service Vision Writing Agenda
Time: 2 hours
1. Clarify objectives.Write a customer service vision statement (share examples)Identify illustrative examples
2. Review data.Review survey data (i.e., word cloud)Review existing cultural artifacts (mission, vision, etc.)
3. Draft vision.1. Split into two teams2. Each team drafts a vision statement (15 minutes)3. Share drafts and compare4. Edit down to one draft5. Gut check with the group:
1. Is the customer service vision simple and easilyunderstood?
2. Is it focused on customers?3. Does it reflect both who we are now and who we aspire
to be in the future?
4. Capture examples.Identify illustrative stories that exemplify employees livingthe vision
The first step in the meeting is to clarify the purpose of the meeting: to writea customer service vision statement and identify illustrative examples thathelp explain what the vision means. Be sure to share a few examples of goodcustomer service vision statements from other companies, so participantshave an idea of what the end result should look like. (You can find examplesfrom REI, Shake Shack, Publix, and Safelite AutoGlass earlier in thischapter, and more examples throughout the rest of this book.)
The second step is to review the data you’ve gathered. I typically do thisby sharing the word cloud representing all the survey results, plus anyexisting cultural artifacts pertaining to customer service. We spend just a fewminutes as a group discussing our general impressions of the input. (To savetime, you may want to share this information with the group prior to themeeting.)
The third step in the meeting is to draft the customer service visionstatement. Some organizations already have something that could pass for acustomer service vision statement; if you have something like this, start there.As a group, compare the existing statement to the feedback collected to see ifit’s a match. If so, keep it. If it’s close, but not quite there, modify it. If theexisting artifact isn’t a great match, set it aside and start from scratch. (In myexperience, nine times out of ten the group decides to start from scratch.)
Writing even a simple statement is difficult when there are too manyopinions involved. To counteract this, divide the group into two teams ofthree to five people. Give them 15 minutes to draft a vision statementreflecting the input gathered from key stakeholders.
A good customer service vision statement follows these threeguidelines:
1. It’s simple and easily understood.2. It’s focused on customers.3. It reflects both who you are now and who you aspire to be in the
Let’s pause for a moment and look once again at REI’s mission statement,which is also its customer service vision. We inspire, educate and outfit for alifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship. Notice how it fulfills the threecriteria: it’s simple and direct; it’s implicitly customer-focused, even thoughthe word “customer” isn’t mentioned; and it’s an accurate depiction of whoREI is now in addition to being an aspiration for the future.
Okay, let’s get back to the writing. Sometimes, groups will finish in lessthan 15 minutes, but don’t let them go longer; time pressure sharpens theirthinking. Once both groups have finished, ask them to write their drafts on apiece of flip chart paper or a white board so you can view bothsimultaneously.
At this point, let the group take a short break: a five-minute pause letseveryone clear their minds, use the restroom if needed, and refill their coffeeor water. Ask them not to work on the vision statement while they’re takingtheir break; you want their subconscious brain to take over. Taking a shortbreak allows the participants’ strongest thoughts and feelings to percolate tothe surface, versus overthinking the process.
When you reconvene, try to reconcile the two team’s statements. Oneway to start is by asking members of one team to describe what they likeabout the other team’s statement. (This is a brainstorming exercise, so don’tdiscuss what’s wrong with it!) Then the other team gets to describe what theylike about the first team’s statement.
Invariably, a few key themes emerge. Sometimes, it’s just a key word ortwo that both groups feel are important. Help the groups combine the bestaspects of both drafts until you’re able to edit the two drafts down to oneclear, simple statement.
Then step back and do a final assessment to see if the statementresonates.
You know you’ve achieved your goal if the entire group is excited thatthe customer service vision accurately describes the type of service they’dlike to deliver.
You still have work to do if anyone is uncertain. Even a lone voice ofdissent can signal that something’s not quite right. I’ve often seen groupsdiscover a weakness in their vision statement because a single person playedthe role of devil’s advocate. If this happens, keep making adjustments untilthe vision statement clicks with the whole group.
The final step is to develop illustrative examples. These are anecdotes
that clearly define behaviors that are aligned with the customer service vision.Later, when you share the vision with the entire organization (or team,department, etc.), the examples will help individuals understand how they cancontribute. (We’ll cover that part of the process in Chapter 4.)
The examples should be true stories because focusing on what peoplehave already done helps anchor the authenticity of your vision statement. Inmy experience, if the customer service vision statement is an accuratereflection of the culture, the group never has difficulty coming up withmultiple examples.
STEP 3: VALIDATING THE VISIONThe final step in the process is to validate the vision with key stakeholders.This involves sharing that vision with people who weren’t part of the writingprocess to get their reaction.
There are two important reasons for doing this. The first is that thegroup that wrote the customer service vision statement is susceptible to groupthink, a phenomenon where group members naturally start thinking alike in asubconscious effort to preserve harmony. Validating the customer servicevision with a larger group of stakeholders helps ensure that it clearlyresonates with people who didn’t write it.
The second reason for getting a reaction from key stakeholders is thatthese are the people who will help achieve buy-in from the rest of theorganization. For example, the vision needs enthusiastic support from seniorexecutives since their actions have a significant impact on organizationalculture.
Here are a few groups to consider for an organization-wide initiative:
Senior executives (especially the CEO)Junior executivesInfluential departmentsLong-term employees
You may also want to consult union leaders if your employees work under acollective bargaining agreement.
There are multiple ways to engage stakeholders.
You can accomplish this via one-on-one or small group meetings,especially with busy people like senior executives.You can hold focus groups, town hall meetings, or departmentmeetings to share the customer service vision.If your group is particularly large, you can use a survey to getinput from your stakeholders.
This process is much simpler if you’re creating a customer service vision fora single team, department, or business unit. It’s easy to share the vision witheveryone on the team to get their reaction.
You’ll know whether your customer service vision is on target if itreceives enthusiastic support. Ideally, you want people to read the statementfor the first time and think “Yes! That’s us!”
A lukewarm reception generally means there’s something that doesn’tfully click with employees, which does occasionally happen. If this happensto you, take time to carefully consider the feedback you receive. Think aboutwhat adjustments you can make to resolve their concerns. The solution isoften as simple as changing one or two words in the statement to get it justright. In rare cases, you may need to reconvene the vision writing team toproduce another draft.
Once you’ve finalized your customer service vision, you’re ready toshare it with the entire organization (or team, department, etc.). This giveseveryone clear and consistent guidance on how your organization wants itscustomers to be served. It will become the cornerstone of your customer-focused culture.
We’ll cover how to do that in Chapter 4.
NOTES:20 Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (NewYork: Vintage Books, 2013).21 Paul Hemp and Thomas Stewart, “Leading Change When Business Is Good,”Harvard Business Review, December 2004. https://hbr.org/2004/12/leading-change-when-business-is-good.
Engaging Employees with Your Culture
IN 2016, JETBLUE AIRWAYS WAS honored as the top-rated airline for the12th consecutive year in global market research company J.D. Power’s NorthAmerican Airline rankings. The airline also led all airlines on the AmericanCustomer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for the fourth straight year. This putsJetBlue’s customer satisfaction ahead of even the iconic Southwest Airlines.
Leading a competitive industry in customer service for 12 straight yearsis an astonishing feat. A company has to consistently do a lot right just tolead the pack for one year, let alone for multiple years in a row.
JetBlue regularly does many things that delight its customers. Forinstance, the airline offers the most legroom in its economy class of anyairline.22 Passengers can access free in-flight television and free internet onmost aircraft. JetBlue is also known for its friendly, caring, and helpfulemployees, whose consistency in serving customers has helped cement itsreputation as a customer service leader.
It shouldn’t be surprising that JetBlue’s CEO, Robin Hayes, credits thecompany’s culture for its success. “JetBlue’s distinctive culture is a keycompetitive advantage. Our 18,000 crewmembers are highly engaged, proudto work for JetBlue and provide outstanding customer service on a dailybasis. They truly Inspire Humanity.”23
JetBlue has numerous initiatives and programs aimed at helping itsemployees engage with the culture. This tremendous level of engagement is abig part of why JetBlue employees are so obsessed with consistentlydelivering outstanding service—and why it earned a Top 10 ranking onForbes’s 2016 list of America’s Best Employers. “Our people are the heart ofthe special culture that we cherish,” said Hayes. “Our customers feel that—and it’s what they love about JetBlue.”24
HOW JETBLUE ENGAGES ITS EMPLOYEESAn engaged employee is someone who is purposefully contributing toorganizational success. This is more elusive than you might think.
Before employees can be engaged with providing outstanding customerservice, they must first understand the organization’s customer service visionand how they can contribute. A 2013 study by the employee engagementconsulting firm BlessingWhite found that the number one employeeengagement driver was “greater clarity about what the organization needs meto do—and why.”25
Employees also need to be committed to actually achieving thecompany’s customer service vision. It’s not enough for them to merelycomplete their assigned tasks; they must buy in to the company culture.Engaged employees regularly look beyond their job description to see howthey can make a difference for their customers.
The company’s customer service vision consists of its missionstatement, Inspire Humanity, and its five core values: safety, caring, integrity,passion, and fun. In a time when many airline passengers feel like livestockbeing herded into an uncomfortable plane by gruff and uncaring employees,JetBlue’s customer service vision emphasizes connecting with its customerson a human-to-human level. The airline does much to ensure that itsemployees, called crewmembers, understand the company’s customer servicevision and are committed to helping achieve it.
JetBlue is careful to hire people who reflect its culture. In 2015, thecompany hired only five percent of the more than 140,000 people whoapplied to work there. Job applicants learn about the JetBlue culture duringthe screening process, and are selected in part for their compatibility with thecustomer service vision.
Once they’re hired, the airline provides crewmembers with extensivetraining to ensure that they understand the business and know what’sexpected. All JetBlue crewmembers attend a two-day orientation programthat introduces new hires to JetBlue’s culture and its core business strategies,so they know right up front how they can contribute. Crewmembers alsoreceive specialized training for their individual role (flight attendant, gateagent, etc.), as well as ongoing training that reinforces the importance of thecustomer service vision and the company’s strategic priorities.
The company makes a concerted effort to seek input from crewmemberson managing the business. Executive leaders visit JetBlue locations every
quarter to discuss business updates with crewmembers in person, and thecompany conducts both annual and monthly engagement surveys to solicitcrewmember feedback on the quality of their working experience.
JetBlue also has six Values Committees that provide guidance onworkplace policies. Each Values Committee represents a different group ofemployees (airport operations, flight attendants, pilots, etc.), and committeesare comprised of crewmembers elected by their peers. The committeesinfluence company policies, work with executive leadership to resolveworkplace challenges, and help support company culture.26
JetBlue’s individual leaders play a pivotal role in keeping crewmembersengaged with the Inspire Humanity vision. Laurie Meacham, who leadsJetBlue’s Social Media, Customer Commitment, and Corporate RecoverySpecialist teams, provides a great example. Her teams assist passengers viasocial media and email, and help resolve passenger complaints that requirecoordination across multiple departments. She emphasizes the JetBlue culturein nearly everything she does as a leader.
Her teams primarily work remotely out of home offices, but Meachamkeeps everyone connected through daily briefings. She also brings her teamstogether once a quarter for a face-to-face meeting, so people can stayconnected on a more personal level while strengthening their commitment tothe culture.”It’s really important to have regular touch points,” saidMeacham. “If you don’t encourage touch points, you risk cultural drift.”
Crewmembers also acknowledge each other for outstanding servicethrough a peer-to-peer recognition program. “We like to give shout outs tothe team,” Meacham explained. Sharing frequent feedback helpscrewmembers take responsibility for maintaining the culture amongst theircolleagues.
Meacham encourages these interactions between crewmembers becausebuilding relationships is a big part of JetBlue’s Inspire Humanity culture.“It’s walking the talk,” said Meacham. “We need to do the same thing for ourcrewmembers that we do for our customers.”
This translates to a company that’s known for connecting with itscustomers. For example, some customers are such aviation enthusiasts thatthey regularly track individual planes in JetBlue’s network. When apassenger posted a picture of a particular plane on JetBlue’s Facebook pageand asked, “Why is this aircraft in San Salvador?” the crewmember whoresponded knew the details would be important. The crewmember took the
time to research the answer, even contacting other departments, beforeresponding. These little details may seem trivial, but they’re hugely importantto the person who asked the question.
A highly-engaged workforce is a common theme among organizationswith customer-focused cultures. Rackspace employees call themselvesRackers because they’re passionate about delivering Fanatical Service. REIemployees join the company because they’re active people who enjoy sharingtheir enthusiasm for the outdoors with others. Employees at the Center forSustainable Energy tend to drive fuel efficient cars and carpool to workbecause they’re personally committed to the organization’s mission.
Some organizations overlook the importance of employee engagementbecause many of the people who serve their customers are not companyemployees. A fast food chain might consist of independently-ownedfranchises. A start-up consumer products company might outsource itscontact center. A furniture store might contract a delivery company to deliverfurniture to its customers.
Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire provides an excellent example ofhow to engage employees who serve your customers, but don’t actually workfor your company. Their customer service vision is: To Create theFriendliest, Cleanest & Most Enjoyable Fan Experience in Major LeagueSoccer. In sports, the outcome of a match has a big impact on the fan’sexperience, but there are other factors, too. Nicolette Trobaugh, the Fire’sDirector of Fan Services, says, “We really try to focus on every other aspectof the game to make it the best experience possible.”
Most of the people who serve fans at a Chicago Fire match don’tactually work for the soccer club. The concessions are run by a contractorwho uses a combination of employees and volunteers to serve guests. Thestadium itself is owned and managed by the Village of Bridgeview, the townjust outside Chicago where the stadium is located. Trobaugh has only a smallinternal team of employees to help ensure everyone serving guests isdelivering a consistent experience.
One factor is making sure staff members are well informed so they canquickly and accurately answer questions and offer assistance. On game days,a member of Trobaugh’s team patrols the stadium and quizzes employees onproduct knowledge, asking questions ranging from the Fire’s customerservice standards (called Fire Fundamentals) to specific information aboutthat day’s match. Employees who correctly answer five out of five questions
are given a special chip. Once an employee collects five chips, they canredeem them for Fire merchandise.
The on-the-spot recognition element is key to this program’s success.“Nobody likes to be quizzed,” says Trobaugh, “but people get competitivewhen they know they can win a prize.” During the 2015 season, more than 50employees were quizzed at each match with 99 percent of them answeringfive out of five questions correctly.
Another way the Fire leverages informal communication to improveservice is through something called Spark Training. This is a short, pre-shifttraining session that’s focused on helping a specific department (concessions,parking, etc.) address a particular problem. Trobaugh and her team combthrough guest survey results to find trends they can address with SparkTraining. They use the training to help the vendor “spark” an immediateimprovement in that area.
Organizations like JetBlue and the Chicago Fire work hard to developan engaged workforce. Leaders in these companies understand their successhinges on getting employees to understand and commit to the customer-focused culture.
Numerous studies have linked employee engagement to a better-qualityof customer service. For example, Gallup’s 2013 State of the AmericanWorkplace Report revealed that companies with highly-engaged employeesaveraged customer satisfaction ratings that were 10 percent higher thancompanies with a disengaged workforce.27
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU DON’T ENGAGE YOUR EMPLOYEESA lack of employee engagement causes many problems. Companies struggleto provide consistent service when there isn’t a shared customer servicevision. Employees are less likely to go the extra mile to serve a customerwhen they aren’t committed to their organization’s success. And talentedpeople are more likely to leave a company when they don’t feel passionateabout the culture.
One organization embarked on an employee engagement initiativedesigned to get employees to commit to the organization’s goal of being thebest in its industry. Unfortunately, a series of missteps by senior leaders ledto disengaged employees and declining service quality.
One problem was the overall approach. They hired a consulting firm toconduct an employee engagement survey. Cross-functional committees werethen formed to study the survey results and recommend improvements to theexecutive team. This became a bureaucratic process that dragged on formonths, with few changes ever being implemented. Even worse, employeesweren’t surveyed again until 18 months later to see if engagement hadimproved. By then, many of the employees who had participated in the firstsurvey had left.
Meanwhile, the organization experienced massive budget cuts andlayoffs. An initiative designed to help the organization create a customer-focused culture was put on hold and then cancelled due to lack of funding.Employees were now being asked to achieve the same results with fewerresources, and became frustrated and disillusioned with what they saw asunreasonable expectations from senior leaders. Service quality declined asexperienced employees left the organization.
Organizations struggle to engage their employees with a customer-focused culture for three reasons.
The first is that a customer service vision has not been clearlydelineated, or employees aren’t aware of it. Employees can’t make apurposeful contribution if the organization hasn’t sufficiently defined successand then shared that definition.
The second reason is that employees’ commitment hasn’t been secured.Amazingly, many organizations aren’t even trying to engage their employees.A 2015 study from the consulting firm Deloitte found that just 28 percent ofrespondents agree that their organization had an up-to-date employeeengagement strategy.28
The third reason companies struggle with employee engagement is thatsenior leaders themselves aren’t fully committed. Some companies just focuson engaging new employees, which can result in the more tenured employeesbecoming disengaged. A 2015 study by the employee engagement softwareprovider Quantum Workplace found that employees who have been on thejob for three to five years are 17 percent less engaged than employees whoare still in their first year with the company.29
Deloitte’s 2015 survey revealed that engaging employees with thecorporate culture was the most important human resources challenge faced byorganizations around the world. The same study found that less than half ofthe participants felt their companies were ready to address the issue.
Many companies treat their employee engagement efforts like a sideproject rather than an essential part of their business. A typical organizationapproaches engagement by administering an organizational climate survey toemployees every 12 to 18 months. These surveys look at core drivers of jobsatisfaction, but often don’t assess the two essential elements of engagement:
1. Does the employee understand the customer service vision?2. Is the employee committed to helping achieve it?
Conducting a survey only every 12 to 18 months makes it difficult to enactmeaningful changes or assess the effectiveness of whatever improvements areattempted. Most companies following this model appoint a committee tostudy the results and make recommendations to the executive team. Ittypically becomes a long, drawn-out bureaucratic process where few changesor improvements are actually implemented.
Engaging employees isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of workand commitment that many leaders aren’t prepared for. But if you’re up for it,you can use the following step-by-step plan to get there.
HOW TO ENGAGE YOUR EMPLOYEESThere are three major steps to getting your employees to commit to acustomer-focused culture:
1. The initial roll-out of your customer service vision.2. Reinforcing your vision.3. Assessing employee engagement levels.
Each of these steps is essential to engaging employees, whether your focus ison the entire workforce or an individual team within an organization.
STEP 1: ROLLING OUT YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE VISIONThis step begins with the assumption that you’ve already created a customerservice vision that clearly defines the level of service your employees are
expected to provide. You can’t engage your employees without thisunambiguous statement of purpose, so it’s an important starting point.(You’ll find a step-by-step guide for creating a customer service vision inChapter 3.)
With your vision in place, the first step to getting your employees tocommit to it is to develop a communication plan for introducing it to theentire organization (or individual team, department, or location if that’s thescope of your initiative). Start by creating a goal for developing this plan, andthen work backwards to determine how you can accomplish it.
Your communication goal should be to ensure that all employees cananswer three specific questions about the customer service vision:
1. What is it?2. What does it mean?3. How do I personally contribute?
You should, of course, know the answers to these questions yourself beforedesigning your communication plan. If you haven’t done this already, now isa good time to create an answer key. The answer key should outline the typesof answers you’d expect to see, rather than required verbatim responses. It’sactually best if employees answer these questions in their own words; thisisn’t an exercise in memorization. What’s important is that employeesunderstand the customer service vision and know how to use it to guide theirperformance.
Creating an answer key for the third question can be tricky becauseemployees in different roles, departments, or locations generally makedifferent contributions to customer service. For example, imagine a restaurantthat strives to provide a comfortable, family-friendly experience for guests.The hosts might say they contribute by making families feel welcome. Theservers might say they ensure families have an enjoyable experience duringtheir meal. Bussers might say they keep tables clean and glasses filled sofamilies remain comfortable. The cooks might say they prepare deliciousmeals so families enjoy dining out without having to wait too long. All ofthese answers tie back to an overarching theme, but in each instance, they’realso tied to the employee’s specific role.
Once you’ve created your answer key, identify a communication plan to
ensure employees know the answers. There’s no single best way tocommunicate your customer service vision. Your specific plan will dependon how many employees you need to reach, where they’re located, and whatcommunication systems your company already has in place. There are manyways to do this, but here are a few examples:
Have the CEO announce the customer service vision in acompany-wide communication.Leverage existing communication vehicles, such as internal chatprograms, email, employee newsletters, bulletin boards, andintranet sites.Produce a short video that explains the customer service vision.(You can see a great example from Rackspace here:https://youtu.be/WhhpzZWXBk8)Create signs, posters, and job aids to distribute to various parts ofthe company.Develop a short training program to introduce the customerservice vision to employees.Conduct a train-the-trainer session for organizational leaders, sothey’ll know how to introduce the customer service vision to theirteams in a consistent way.Ask team leaders to meet with their employees as a team or one-on-one to discuss the customer service vision.
A good communication plan includes both variety and repetition.You want to communicate through a variety of methods so you capture
your audience’s attention and they don’t tune you out. And you should repeatthe same message through each of those communication methods becauserepetition is the key to anchoring new ideas into long-term memory.
You can download a communication plan worksheet atwww.serviceculturebook.com/tools. Figure 4.1 is a sample communicationplan from a mid-sized software company I worked with.
Figure 4.1: Customer Service Vision Communication Plan
Phase One: Announcement
A. Share the customer service vision via company-widecommunication from the CEO
B. Reinforce the vision via messaging from the corporatecommunications department
C. Display the vision on signage and posters at all company locations
Phase Two: Initial TrainingD. Hold town hall-style kick-off meetings at each location to discuss
the visionE. Create one-page job aids to distribute to all employeesF. Provide employees with mugs, t-shirts, and other items to support
Phase Three: In-Depth TrainingG. Integrate the customer service vision into existing customer
service training programsH. Have managers follow up with employees after the training to
observe them using the vision to guide their daily workI. Integrate the vision into an existing employee feedback form used
by managers to coach employees on their performance
The communication plan helped ensure all the software company’semployees understood the customer service vision and how they contributed.This translated to higher engagement levels, where employees understoodwhat made the company successful and took the initiative to solve pressingcustomer service challenges on their own without prompting from theirmanagers.
STEP 2: REINFORCING THE CULTUREMany customer-focus initiatives fail when there’s a big rollout with a lot offanfare but no plan to sustain it. Slowly but surely the initiative fades fromemployees’ memories as they’re consumed with daily tasks and workassignments.
The way to avoid this problem is by continuously reinforcing the culturewith employees long after the initial rollout, consistently reminding them of
the customer service vision and fostering employee commitment.Just like the rollout communication plan, there’s no one-size-fits-all
solution. The size of your organization, your existing culture, and whetheryou’re engaging an entire company or an individual team all have an impacton how you approach ongoing reinforcement. What matters is that you createreinforcement programs that are right for your situation.
For example, let’s recap some of the ways JetBlue reinforces itscustomer-focused culture with crewmembers:
Reinforcement messages from the CEO in corporatecommunications.Quarterly in-person business updates from executive leaders.Values Committees that support and reinforce the culture.A peer-to-peer program where crewmembers recognize their co-workers.Leaders like Laurie Meacham who model the culture on a dailybasis.
Companies with highly-engaged employees often use the performanceevaluation process to reinforce the culture. Employees receive feedback onbehaviors that align with the culture, as well as suggestions for improvement.In some organizations, the performance review process helps ensureemployees are championing the culture before they can be considered for apromotion.
No matter how much coaching, training, or feedback they get, there arestill some employees who can’t or won’t fit in. Keeping these employees inthe organization can be toxic, since it sends an implicit signal to others thatthese employees’ actions are acceptable. Also, sometimes employees whodon’t fit in actively attempt to persuade other employees to undermine theculture, as well. In this case, it’s imperative to act quickly to terminate theseemployees.
This is a true test for many organizations. Some customer serviceleaders are willing to overlook an employee who doesn’t fit with the culture,as long as they’re productive. Other leaders just don’t have the heart to letsomeone go, even if their presence is hurting the performance of otheremployees or causing good employees to leave the organization. But
companies with highly-engaged employees actively work to removeemployees who can’t or won’t fit with their culture.
Letting an employee go doesn’t have to be heartless. One of my favoriteexamples involved a manager named Mike. He was a productive employeewho just couldn’t fit in with his company’s culture. His boss finally reached apoint where it was time to cut Mike loose.
The Human Resources Director at the company knew Mike had thepotential to be a good employee, so he called a colleague at another companyin town where he thought Mike would be a better fit. The HR Directorarranged for Mike to have an interview at the other company later that day.When Mike was called in to meet with his boss and the HR Director, he wasinformed that he was being let go, but he was also told about the interview.Mike ended up getting the job at the new company, where he became aterrific employee who was a good fit with that company’s culture.
STEP 3: ASSESSING EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENTIt’s critical that you periodically assess employee engagement. The purposeof the assessment should be to evaluate existing levels of employeeengagement and identify opportunities to make things even better. Thestronger your employees’ understanding of the customer service vision, andthe stronger their commitment to helping achieve it, the stronger your culturewill be.
Many people instantly think of an annual employee engagement survey,but there are other options to consider. One alternative is to use theperformance review process to assess engagement, since engagement andperformance are both measures of contributions to organizational success.This helps you identify individuals and teams whose contributions to theculture are flagging, and initiate honest dialogue with these people tounderstand the reasons why.
One of my clients provided its managers with leadership training to helpthem become more comfortable with having these performance discussionson a regular basis. Individual contributors were also trained in a parallelprogram, so they could do a better job of handling their end of the feedbackdiscussion with their manager. My client then hired me to facilitate meetingswith each of its locations and departments to help managers and theiremployees establish team norms for engaging in an ongoing performance
dialogue. As you might have guessed, these discussions were all centered onreinforcing the company’s culture.
Another option is to rely on direct, informal dialogues with employees.This approach works particularly well in smaller organizations or onindividual teams. For example, you might have regular conversations withemployees to assess whether or not they have clarity on those three essentialquestions:
1. What is the customer service vision?2. What does the customer service vision mean?3. How do I personally contribute to the customer service vision?
Nicolette Trobaugh and her Fan Experience team at the Chicago Fire used aversion of this approach with their match day quizzes. Coming up with a funway to spot check employees’ knowledge of their customer serviceexpectations helped generate enthusiasm for the fan-focused culture.
Here are a few suggestions if you decide to conduct an employeeengagement survey. First and foremost, I suggest measuring employeeengagement more than once per year. Imagine measuring anything else that’simportant to the business just once a year! How could you manage yourbudget if you only looked at your finances annually? Similarly, how can youimprove customer service if you only ask for feedback on customer servicelevels once every twelve months?
The problem is that a survey is just a snapshot in time. Employeeengagement survey results are primarily impacted by an employee’s mostrecent experiences. That means a positive or negative experience shortlybefore the survey is launched has a disproportionate effect on the results.There’s even a joke among some managers that the best way to boost youremployee engagement scores is to throw a pizza party for your team rightbefore the annual survey goes out. A few managers I know have actually heldoff on disciplinary action with employees until after the engagement surveyto avoid getting a low score from a potentially disgruntled team member.
The other problem with only doing an annual survey is that if youimplement any changes as a result of the feedback, you won’t know if they’reeffective until a year later. That’s too long to make the survey a meaningfulmeasurement, since so many other changes will happen during that time. The
economy could rise or fall, the company could launch a new product or closedown a division, or a wave of new employees could join the company.Variables such as these make it difficult to compare survey results from yearto year.
An alternative for larger companies is to divide your employee base into12 random groups and survey one group every month. This provides amonthly snapshot of employee engagement while surveying each employeeonly once per year. Or you can survey all employees once per year, butconduct short check-in surveys with sample groups of employees once permonth.
However you choose to do it, getting engagement data more frequentlythan once a year will help you be more responsive to workplace climateissues, since you’ll be able to compare your progress from month to month.
This may seem like a lot of work, but we’re actually just getting started.Engaged employees will only stay engaged if they perceive their companytruly believes in the customer service vision. They want to see theorganization and its leaders walk the talk. That’s difficult to do on aconsistent basis, but we’ll lay out a plan for making it happen in Part 3.
NOTES:22 Most legroom in coach claim,” JetBlue, December 21, 2016.http://www.jetblue.com/travel/planes/.23 JetBlue, “Hayes’s letter to shareholders” (excerpt), JetBlue 2015 Annual Report.24 “JetBlue Named Top 10 Place to Work in Forbes’ ‘America’s Best Employersof 2016’ List,” JetBlue, March 23, 2016.http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160323006015/en/JetBlue-Named-Top-10-Place-Work-Forbes’.25 BlessingWhite, Employee Engagement Research Report 2013, 2013.26 JetBlue, Business, Social, and Environmental Sustainability, 2015.https://www.jetblue.com/p/JetBlueResponsibilityReport2015.pdf.27 Gallup, Inc., 2013 State of The American Workplace, 2013.http://employeeengagement.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Gallup-2013-State-of-the-American-Workplace-Report.pdf.28 Dan Brown, Sonny Chheng, Veronica Melian, Kathy Parker, and Marc Solow,“Global Human Capital Trends 2015,” Deloitte University Press, February 2015.29 Quantum Workplace, 2015 Employee Engagement Trends Report, 2015.
Part 3: Changing Your Company’s Service DNA
Aligning Your Business Around a Customer-FocusedCulture
SHAKE SHACK IS A NEW York City institution. It originated in 2001 as atemporary hot dog cart in Madison Square Park to help fund the park’srevitalization. The cart became an instant hit, drawing huge crowds and longlines when the weather was nice.
In 2004, the city decided to replace the hot dog cart and install apermanent food kiosk in the park. Restaurateur Danny Meyers’s UnionSquare Hospitality Group had been running the hot dog cart even though hiscompany was best known for its fine dining restaurants, including the UnionSquare Café and Gramercy Tavern. The company decided to bring its finedining expertise to a reimagined version of a roadside burger stand, which ledto the opening of the first Shake Shack, a fast casual restaurant sellingburgers, hot dogs, fries, and frozen custard.
Today, Shake Shack’s popularity is stunning. At this writing, there areeight locations in New York City alone, and a total of 19 in New York State.The lines are so famously long at its original Madison Square Park locationthat the company installed a Shack Cam so people could go online and judgethe size of the crowd before deciding whether to head over. In 2015, the WallStreet Journal published an article outlining the optimal times to get in theShake Shack line at Citi Field when attending a New York Mets baseballgame. Many tourists who come to New York include Shake Shack on their“must visit” list.
The chain’s popularity is also growing outside New York City. By2016, Shake Shack had locations in 14 states, the District of Columbia, and agrowing list of international restaurants in cities such as London, Istanbul,Dubai, Moscow, and Tokyo.
The company has won a string of accolades as it’s grown. It was namedone of the 25 Most Innovative Consumer and Retail Brands in 2014 byEntrepreneur.com. And in 2015, Shake Shack won the Wisetail Award,which recognizes innovators in Learning and Development, for its employeeengagement.
People flock to Shake Shack because of its outstanding food and for theexperience. Employees are friendly, outgoing, and well trained. Despite thehuge crowds, they’re attentive to their customers and keep their restaurantsclean. In some strange way, many people feel that waiting in line at ShackShake along with all the other enthusiastic customers is part of the fun.
The company went public in 2015. Its first annual report highlighted thecustomer-focused culture as its top competitive strength: “We believe that theculture of our team is the single most important factor in our success.”30
HOW SHAKE SHACK ALIGNS EVERYTHING AROUND CULTUREShake Shack’s customer service vision is Stand For Something Good. Thisvision stretches beyond the high level of customer service it tries to deliver:it’s a strategic guide for managing the entire company.
Shake Shack aligns key operational decisions around its customerservice vision, ensuring that everything it does reinforces the culture. Youcan see this alignment in five key areas:
1. Goals2. Hiring3. Training4. Empowerment5. Leadership
Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
GoalsThe company has a goal of adding 10 new domestic company-operated ShakeShacks per year. Given its popularity, it could easily grow at a much faster
rate. However, the operation has limited its growth rate to ensure it canmaintain focus on its Stand For Something Good culture. It’s concerned thatgrowing too rapidly could compromise the supply chain, food quality, hiring,training, site selection, or other factors that give the chain its unique identity.
Every Shake Shack employee is given a stake in the company’s successthrough a revenue-sharing program paying one percent of top line revenue ona monthly basis. The program, called Shack Bucks, adds two dollars per hourto the average employee’s paycheck.31 The Shack Bucks program helpsevery employee stay focused on the company’s overall success.
HiringShake Shack hires employees who embrace its customer service vision. Thecompany looks for what they call “51%’ers”: people who are warm, friendly,motivated, caring, self-aware, and intellectually curious.32 The idea is to hirefor fit with the company’s culture and then train employees on the technicalskills required to do their jobs. This hiring practice helps reinforce the culturebecause new employees are already known to be a good fit.
The company has a web page that offers extensive information about itsculture, core values, and what it’s like to work at Shake Shack. This makes iteasy for prospective hires to understand exactly what type of person thecompany is looking for.
TrainingShake Shack employees receive extensive training, and the first priority forevery new hire is to learn about the company’s culture. Employees are taughthow to incorporate the company’s five core values into their daily work. Ofcourse, they also receive training on customer service, the Shake Shackmenu, their individual jobs, and food safety.
Shake Shack has a promote-from-within philosophy focused ondeveloping employees into future leaders who can help others follow itscustomer service vision. The company cross-trains employees to help themlearn a variety of skills, and publishes a career ladder showing how they canadvance to higher positions within the company. Leadership training is alsoavailable to help employees develop the skills necessary to move into
EmpowermentEmployees are empowered to go beyond their normal routine to delight theircustomers. The company’s CEO, Randy Garutti, described the company’sempowerment philosophy to a group of new employees before a storeopening: “Put us out of business because you are so damn generous withwhat you give the people who walk in this door. If there’s a kid crying, who’sgoing to walk over with a free cup of custard? I challenge you to put us out ofbusiness with how generous you are. Go do it. Give away free stuff.”33
Empowerment involves more than just giving employees the authorityto go above and beyond to serve customers. It also includes processescarefully designed to make it easy for Shake Shack’s employees consistentlyfulfill the vision. Employees receive detailed instructions on best practices forcompleting daily tasks, such as food preparation, maintaining restaurantcleanliness, and serving guests. These processes prioritize quality over speed.For example, Shake Shack’s burgers are cooked following a highly detailedprocedure that takes far more time and effort than a typical fast casualrestaurant. It’s designed to create the unique flavor that customers love.
LeadershipFinally, Shake Shack’s leaders are fully committed to its vision. Seniormanagement uses Stand For Something Good to guide all their decisions. Thecompany provides extensive leadership training so its store-level leadersknow how to use the vision as their guide. Garutti visits multiple locationsevery week to reinforce the company’s vision with store managers andemployees. Managers meet with their employees daily to review goals anddiscuss opportunities for continued improvement.
Aligning all of these actions around Shake Shack’s Stand ForSomething Good vision enables the company to consistently reinforce theculture. The company even works with external stakeholders, such assuppliers, to help them understand the customer service vision so they canoperate under the same guidelines when doing business with Shake Shack.This alignment is the secret to its ability to consistently impress its customers
in a way that bedevils most other companies.The other customer-service-obsessed companies profiled in this book
follow a similar blueprint. Rackspace hires people who can embrace givingFanatical Support and then empowers those employees to consistently goabove and beyond. Bright House Networks, a cable company you’ll meet inChapter 9, designed a new process to make it easier for customer service repsto make judgment calls on giving account credit, and then tasked itsmanagers with coaching reps to ensure those judgment calls consistentlyalign with the vision. Zendesk, a software company you’ll meet in Chapter12, created a customer service vision, and then its senior leaders aligned theorganization’s management philosophy around those values.
Culture at these companies is constantly reinforced by aligning multipleoperational facets around the specific customer service vision. This process isso rigorous in customer-focused companies that it becomes embedded in theorganizational DNA, making service a fundamental part of how employees atthese companies think, act, and understand the world around them.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOUR BUSINESS AND CULTURE AREN’TALIGNEDAlignment can support and reinforce an organization’s culture, but a lack ofalignment can undermine any culture-building efforts. It’s not enough todevelop a clear customer service vision and communicate that vision toemployees. The vision only becomes real if it matches what people areactually doing. This means it must be constantly reinforced withinemployees’ daily work.
Let’s look back at the Comcast account cancellation example fromChapter 1 to see how misalignment contributed to that company’s dismalcustomer service reputation. If you recall, a Comcast customer named RyanBlock had such a difficult time trying to cancel his account that he startedrecording the call halfway through. Block posted the recording online and itquickly went viral.
We can start by assuming that Comcast doesn’t actually provide poorcustomer service on purpose. After all, its public apology to Block describedthis situation as an unusual occurrence:
“While the overwhelming majority of our employees work veryhard to do the right thing every day, we are using this veryunfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to alwaystreat our customers with the utmost respect.”
However, Comcast’s core business processes in the summer of 2014 weremisaligned with this notion of always treating customers with the utmostrespect. You can see this in a strategy that prioritizes short-term revenue overlong-term customer satisfaction. That’s why the company hired RetentionSpecialists whose goal is to keep customers from canceling. These RetentionSpecialists have goals and incentives for preventing cancellations, not forkeeping customers happy. They receive extensive training on overcomingobjections and preventing cancellations, not for how they can make thecancellation process as easy as possible.
The account cancellation process itself was intentionally designed tomake canceling an account difficult. Customers are required to call, eventhough they can handle many other transactions through the company’sonline self-service function. When a customer got a Retention Specialist onthe phone, that employee wasn’t empowered to deviate from a processcarefully designed to block cancellation attempts. Respect for the customer’stime was outweighed by the company’s goal to secure short-term revenue.
Finally, Comcast’s leaders reinforced the notion that capturing short-term revenue was more important than customer satisfaction. They evaluatedemployees based upon their retention statistics, not their service quality.Bonus programs were implemented to reward employees for talkingcustomers out of canceling, and employees could actually lose money if theyweren’t successful.
All those things pointed employees toward stonewalling customers whotried to cancel. An employee who politely canceled a customer’s accountwithout hesitation would have been violating Comcast policy.
Clearly, the company’s operations were misaligned with the notion ofproviding outstanding service.
Comcast is an easy target for this discussion because so many parts ofits operation have been directly opposed to serving customers. Othercompanies may have a few business practices pointed towards a customer-focused culture, but employees still receive confusing messages because theorganization isn’t fully aligned.
One example happens when managers set a target score for a customersatisfaction survey, and then become fixated on achieving the goal withoutregard for how it’s achieved. They implement incentives to encourageemployees to achieve high scores or threaten to punish employees with write-ups or termination if their scores fall below a certain level. This has the effectof encouraging employees to manipulate customers into giving them a goodsurvey score rather than using the survey for its intended purpose ofgathering constructive customer feedback.
Getting too focused on achieving a goal without understanding itsconnection to the customer service vision is just one of the potential problemscaused by misalignment. Companies routinely hire employees who are a poorfit for their culture because leaders are anxious to fill positions at a low cost.New employees in many companies are given little to no customer servicetraining, so they can’t possibly know how to fit in with the company cultureor live up to the customer service vision. Processes are frequently designed tocontrol and standardize behavior rather than empowering employees todelight their customers. And leaders in many companies spend shockinglylittle time coaching and training their teams to reinforce the customer serviceculture.
Another misalignment occurs when different departments within anorganization fail to embrace the same customer service vision. Thisinevitably causes inconsistent service and harms the company’s reputation.
Customer service channel management provides an excellent example.A customer service channel refers to the method a customer uses to contact acompany for customer service. Customers typically have multiple channeloptions when contacting a company, such as the phone, email, a self-servicewebsite, or one of several social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Acustomer might also be able to visit one of the company’s physical locationsto try to resolve the problem in person.
In many companies, misalignment occurs because these variouschannels are managed by different departments. Phone and email could beoperated by a contact center, the website might be run by the marketingdepartment, and social media by the company’s communications department.The physical locations could be managed by another department known asretail operations. If these departments approach customer service differently,they create an uneven experience for the customer—and that hurts thecompany’s brand.
One side effect happens when companies inadvertently encouragecustomers to air their grievances on Twitter. A 2016 study by Execs in theKnow, a customer experience networking organization, found that socialmedia was solely managed by the Marketing or PR function in 46 percent ofcompanies, with no involvement by the customer service department. Themanagers in these departments are often more empowered to resolve issuesthan their counterparts answering phone calls, emails, or other contacts.34
This means that angry customers who vent their frustration on Twitterabout a go-nowhere customer service call often get a fast response and a swiftresolution. Many customer service leaders tell me social media complaintsget higher priority than complaints submitted via other channels. Since thesecomplaints are public, corporate executives worry about a negative image. Asa result, customers soon realize that they can complain via Twitter any timethey need assistance.
This kind of misalignment can create mistrust among employees.People in one department might blame another team for poor service, andvice versa. These issues rarely get fixed, and instead are allowed to continue.A 2016 study by my consulting firm, Toister Performance Solutions, revealedthat 36 percent of contact center employees facing a severe risk of burnout atwork felt their coworkers did not deliver outstanding customer service.35
You can see from these examples that alignment is at fault when acompany espouses a certain brand of customer service while employees act ina completely different way.
HOW TO CHECK YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE ALIGNMENTChapters 6 through 10 detail how to align the five operational cornerstones ofa customer-focused culture: goals, hiring, training, empowerment, andleadership. Each chapter focuses on a specific concept and provides step-by-step guidance for aligning that concept with your customer service vision.
For now, a good starting point is to check your organization’s overallalignment using a short assessment. It’s a quick way to determine areas ofstrength and identify opportunities for improvement. I’ve listed the fiveassessment questions below, or you can download a copy atwww.serviceculturebook.com/tools. (You can also use this tool to assess thealignment of an individual team within your organization.)
Having a customer service vision is a prerequisite for completing this.You can’t gauge your company’s cultural alignment unless you havesomething with which you’re trying to align. If you haven’t done this yet, Isuggest revisiting Chapter 3 for step-by-step instructions on creating yourvision.
Start by rating your organization on the five statements contained in theassessment. Use a scale of 1 (Almost Never) to 5 (Almost Always). Bebrutally honest about your scores, since an artificially high score will onlyhide opportunities for improvement.
1. We set business goals that represent progress toward our customerservice vision.
2. We hire employees who are passionate about our customer servicevision.
3. Employees are given sufficient training to teach them how todeliver service that fits our customer service vision.
4. Employees are empowered with the authority, resources, andwork procedures they need to fulfill our customer service vision.
5. Organizational leaders reinforce our customer service vision withtheir employees on a daily basis.
Tally up your scores to get your total. This gives you a summary alignmentscore for your organization or team. Compare your total score to thealignment key below.
A score of 20 to 25 indicates alignment. Your organization iswell positioned to deliver outstanding customer service.A score of 15 to 19 indicates partial alignment. Many aspects ofthe organization are aligned with your culture, but there are someareas for improvement.A score of 14 or less indicates misalignment. Yourorganization’s lack of alignment may be causing poor customerservice. There are significant areas for improvement.
Looking at your overall score as well as the individual ratings for eachcategory, try to identify areas where you feel your organization or team isaligned—and also look for specific areas where there can be improvement.
The categories are there to be helpful, but don’t get too hung up onwhere your organization falls. This assessment is meant to be more of aconversation starter than a definitive analysis of your organization’salignment.
It’s interesting to complete this assessment for multiple departments tosee how they compare. Start by assessing your organization as a whole. Next,complete the same assessment for individual departments that have direct orindirect customer contact. Compare the results to see if some teams are morealigned than others.
Now you’re ready to read the following chapters, which give you step-by-step instructions for each of the five cornerstones of a customer-focusedculture.
NOTES:30 Shake Shack, 2014 Annual Report31 Rob Brunner, “Shake Shack leads the better burger revolution,” Fast Company,June 2015. http://www.fastcompany.com/3046753/shake-shack-leads-the-better-burger-revolution.32 Shake Shack, 2014 Annual Report.33 Rob Brunner, “Shake Shack leads the better burger revolution,” Fast Company,June 2015. http://www.fastcompany.com/3046753/shake-shack-leads-the-better-burger-revolution.34 Execs In The Know, The Corporate Perspective: Exploring Multi-ChannelCustomer Care, Customer Experience Management Benchmark Series, February2016.35 Jeff Toister, “How to Battle Agent Burnout.” Toister Performance Solutionswhite paper, 2016: www.toistersolutions.com/burnout.
Setting Goals That Drive Your Culture
SHOPPING FOR A CAR CAN be a daunting task. There is an overwhelmingnumber of makes and models to choose from, and it’s hard to know if you’regetting a good deal. That’s why many car buyers use an independent reviewsite like Cars.com.
Cars.com helps consumers research new and used vehicles and find themake and model that best fits their needs. They can use the site to get pricinginformation and check to see if dealers in their area have the car or truck theywant in stock. Customers also use the website to search for reputablemechanics.
Cars.com has built a reputation for outstanding customer service. In2015, it was ranked as the top automotive review site for the third straightyear.36 The company has an industry-leading 85 percent customersatisfaction rating for its phone support. And its contact center won theInternational Customer Management Institute’s 2014 award for best customercare team in the small-to medium-sized contact center category.
Like other organizations profiled in this book, employees at Cars.comare obsessed with serving their customers. Cars.com’s parent company,TEGNA, Inc., defines its customer service vision this way: Empowering thepeople we serve to act with conviction and navigate their world successfully.That’s exactly what its employees try to do for people who are purchasing anew vehicle. They try to take a complicated and important purchasingdecision and give people the information and tools they need to act withconfidence.
There’s one aspect of building a customer-focused culture where Cars.com particularly excels: getting employees to buy into its culture by usinggoals and metrics to drive behavior.
HOW CARS.COM USES GOALS TO DRIVE ITS CULTURECars.com measures customer satisfaction, or CSAT, via customer surveys.Like many companies, Cars.com’s leaders set CSAT goals in an effort tomotivate employees to go the extra mile to help improve service quality.What makes Cars.com different from most organizations is how they connectCSAT goals and other metrics to their customer service vision.
Heather Rattin, the company’s Vice President of Operations, runs thecustomer care team. She and her team use their survey data to continuouslyrefine the customer experience and make it easier for car buyers to use theirsite. Rattin is careful to avoid fixating on a target CSAT score. Instead, hergoal is to make it as easy as possible for consumers to use the company’s site,so Cars.com becomes their preferred source for car-buying information.
CSAT survey data alone doesn’t always provide all the answers. Rattinand her team create a story by combining this data with other information,such as the volume of customer service inquiries, the specific reasons peoplecontact customer care, and comments on individual surveys. “We use thisdata to catch trends with individual employees, but also with our products,”she explains. For instance, her team was able to use customer comments fromsurveys with low scores to identify and fix a user interface issue on itswebsite that hadn’t been discovered in testing.
Rattin also looks to her employees to help improve the product andcustomer support processes by sharing their feedback. For instance, “We lookat what confuses new hires in training, because they’re coming at it from afresh perspective,” Rattin says. At the end of each week of training, thetrainer conducts a roundtable discussion with new hires to discuss things theythink could be improved. Their suggestions and ideas are then shared with thecompany’s training team and senior management for consideration.
The customer care team at Cars.com also uses an internalcommunication platform, called Chatter, to share ideas for improving service.Employees are asked to answer two questions when contributing their ideas.First, why is this better for the customer? And second, why is it better for thecustomer care agent? Rattin believes that understanding why things are donea certain way helps employees become more committed to a process, even ifit requires a little extra effort. It’s easier for them to suggest actionable ideasfor improvement because they understand how a process or procedure fitsinto the big picture.
The company has also encouraged employee feedback by helping its
managers get better at listening. According to Rattin, “A lot of our focus hasbeen on training managers and team leads to listen carefully to theiremployees and get to the heart of issues.”
As an example, managers discuss customer service survey data withtheir employees on a daily basis. Rattin believes this dialogue betweenmanagers and their employees is necessary so they can work together toinvestigate why metrics like CSAT are trending in a certain way. Thecollaboration helps employees feel invested in finding ways to improveservice and then take pride in knowing they helped create the solutions.
Combining CSAT data with other metrics has also helped Rattin make abusiness case for investing more in the company’s customer care team. Whenthe team needed an upgraded knowledge management system, Rattincombined CSAT data with productivity figures to pitch the investment to thecompany’s CFO. A knowledge management system is a database of companyinformation that makes it easier for employees and customers to answerquestions, and Rattin was able to show how a new system would makecustomers happier and also save Cars.com money, since employees woulduse the upgraded tool to serve customers faster.
The way Cars.com approaches customer service goals echoes acommon theme at many companies with customer-focused cultures. Likemany organizations, these companies typically have goals for key metricslike CSAT, customer loyalty, and cost savings. However, customer-focusedcompanies are careful not to get too focused on meeting any one metricwithout considering the overall impact. Leaders at these companies combinedata from multiple sources, share this information with employees, andinvolve employees in finding ways to continuously improve. The ultimategoal is to drive behavior that’s aligned with their customer service vision.
Fidelity’s Workplace Solutions division provides employers withretirement and benefits solutions for their employees. Its customer servicevision is providing better outcomes, with the ultimate goal of providing thebest customer service in the financial services industry. Like Cars.com,Fidelity’s Workplace Solutions division sets goals for key customer servicemetrics, but those goals are only part of the story.
The division has something called a Voice of the Customer Ambassadorprogram that’s a cross-functional team of employees tasked with findingways to continuously improve service and inspiring other employees to dothe same. Ambassadors are nominated by senior managers and serve on the
committee for 18 months. They’re expected to spend eight to 12 hours eachmonth working on customer service improvement projects.
One of the things the team is most known for is “busting rocks.” A“rock” is the internal term used for issues that contribute to poor customerservice or experiences. Voice of the Customer Ambassadors combine datafrom multiple sources to identify rocks, prioritize the biggest rocks, and thenwork with other employees across the division’s seven locations to findsolutions.
Bill Schimikowski, the Vice President of Customer Experience forWorkplace Solutions, explains that the Ambassadors are deliberately chosenfrom multiple functions so they represent all aspects of the operation.According to Schimikowski, this helps the team reach across corporate silosthat might otherwise prevent progress. “It’s easy to blame legal when wecan’t do something that would benefit our customer,” he says, “but when youhave a lawyer on the Customer Ambassador team, that person can see bothsides of the issue and propose a workable solution.”
Organizations like Cars.com and Fidelity Investments aren’t satisfiedwith simply achieving a certain customer satisfaction score. Theseorganizations get their employees obsessed with customer service by settinglofty expectations for customer service, and then use data to find ways tocontinuously improve. Leaders in these companies also understand thedanger in focusing too much on making metrics look good withoutunderstanding that the ultimate goal is to serve customers in a way that alignswith the customer service vision.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN GOALS DON’T ALIGN WITH YOURVISIONCompanies almost always create goals around customer service metrics. Theyset targets for average survey scores, speed of service, and even how closelyemployees adhere to their work schedule. The underlying managementphilosophy is that goals provide clarity and motivation: clarity by definingthe outcomes they’re expected to achieve, and motivation because people aregenerally motivated to put in extra effort when they have goals in front ofthem.
The trick lies in getting those goals to align with the customer service
vision. Otherwise, goals can influence employee behavior in undesirableways: employees may do something to achieve the goal that’s not alignedwith their company’s customer service vision.
Employees in one company are expected to achieve a 95 percentaverage on a satisfaction survey sent to customers after they finished aninteraction via phone, email, or chat. They’re paid a monthly bonus whenthey achieve the goal, which is intended to be a healthy incentive for them toprovide great service. Unfortunately, it also incentivizes these individuals togame the system to their advantage.
Here’s what sometimes happens when a member of the frontline teamassists a customer who seems upset. The customer service rep knows that ifhe continues helping her, she might give him an “unsatisfied” ranking on thesurvey, which could jeopardize his monthly bonus. He also knows he has theoption of transferring the customer to an escalations team that handles upsetcustomers and tricky situations. Transferring the customer means he avoidsgetting a bad survey, while his coworker on another team gets stuck cleaningup the mess.
The manager of the escalations team explained to me how the 95percent customer satisfaction goal was actually demotivating to her team. Shesaid achieving the goal was easy for the frontline team that primarily handledcustomer inquiries. A customer would contact the company, ask the customerservice rep a simple question, and get a survey to ask if they were satisfiedwith the response. Achieving the 95 percent goal was almost a foregoneconclusion.
The escalations team had it much harder because they worked withcustomers who were unsatisfied with the initial response they received andwanted to talk to someone with more technical knowledge or more authority.These customers were upset to begin with, which makes them predisposed togiving lower survey scores. Plus, members of the frontline team would oftentransfer upset callers unnecessarily to avoid lowering their own scores, whichmeant the escalations team had it even tougher.
This structure all but ensured the escalations team would never achievethe 95 percent target. Meanwhile, their counterparts on the frontline teamreceived their bonuses every month. It seems unfair to judge the escalationsteam by the same goal as the other teams, but that’s exactly what thatcompany did.
Some organizations set customer service goals without a clear
understanding of how the goals could drive behavior. One customer serviceleader I interviewed told me that her company surveys its customers and thenreports the average score to senior management on a monthly basis. That wasthe extent of how the business used that data. Senior management mightmake a comment or two about the way the scores were trending compared tothe previous month, but absolutely nothing would be done. Apparently thisisn’t unusual—an industry analyst I know estimates that just 10 percent ofcompanies use their customer service survey data to actually improve service.
That’s the inherent problem with relying solely on metrics withoutconnecting them to the customer service vision. Heather Rattin and her teamat Cars.com understand this challenge, so they combine metrics with othersources of data, such as the specific reasons customers need support, to tell amore complete story. Her goal is always to fulfill the customer service visionof empowering the people we serve to act with conviction and navigate theirworld successfully. This approach is unusual, as the vast majority of customerservice leaders I speak to just look at data points without digging deeper tounderstand what can be done to improve.
Survey begging is another type of bad behavior that can happen whenemployees get too focused on the goal and lose sight of the customer servicevision. This term describes a situation in which an employee asks a customerto give a positive score on a survey by explaining how it will directly benefitthe customer, the employee, or both. Some employees offer discounts or evenfree merchandise in exchange for a good score. Other employees try to pullon their customers’ heartstrings by explaining that they’ll get in trouble ifthey don’t maintain a high average.
Many employees who beg for survey scores have admitted to me thatthey’re selective about the customers they ask to rate them. Unsurprisingly,they focus on the ones they perceive will give them a good rating. Retailemployees might use a pen to circle the survey invitation on bottom of acustomer’s receipt and write their name next to it while encouraging thecustomer to fill it out. On the other hand, if a customer appears to be upset orgrumpy, the employee might tear the survey invitation off the bottom of thatcustomer’s receipt so they don’t risk getting a bad score.
There are plenty of other poor behaviors that come from employees whoare overly goal focused. For instance, technical support teams often havetargets for how quickly they can close out support tickets. Employees onthese teams make their numbers look good by cherry-picking issues they
know can be resolved faster. If they encounter a difficult issue, they’ll closethe ticket and mark it as resolved without verifying that the issue is actuallyfixed. This forces customers to open a new support ticket to get their issuehandled. It’s an annoying extra step for the customer, but it starts the clockanew for the employees with a support ticket closing speed goal.
In some cases, employees have even falsified data to achieve theircustomer service goals. For instance, employees at one business submittedfake surveys in an effort to inflate their overall customer satisfaction rating.Another company caught employees creating loyalty program accounts forfake customers to help them achieve their goals for loyalty programregistrations. At Wells Fargo, a company we’ll learn more about in Chapter10, employees created over two million phony bank and credit card accountsin an effort to meet aggressive sales targets.
All these problems happen when customer service leaders set goals thatcause employees to lose sight of the company’s customer service vision.They’re bad goals because they encourage bad behavior.
Bad goals have three distinct characteristics:
1. They divert attention away from the customer service vision.2. They reward individualism.3. They rely on extrinsic motivation.
Let’s look back at the company that paid a bonus for maintaining a 95percent survey average. Customer service leaders inadvertently encouragedpoor behavior because they created a bad goal: Customer ServiceRepresentatives who earn a satisfied rating on 95 percent or more of theircustomer service surveys each month will receive a $100 bonus.
The cash bonus for achieving the 95 percent average focuses employeeson achieving the score, but not necessarily delighting customers in theprocess. Since the bonus is paid individually, employees are encouraged tofend for themselves by transferring angry customers to someone else, even ifit might hurt the team and the customer. And the cash bonus is an extrinsic,or external, motivator, which means employees are serving customers to earncash, rather than because they’re passionate about helping people.
Companies with strong customer service cultures still set goals for theiremployees. The difference is that they never lose sight of the customer
service vision. Metrics such as survey score averages are helpful performanceindicators, but only if the data are primarily used to find ways to continuouslyimprove.
HOW TO SET GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE GOALSThis section of the chapter will provide you with step-by-step guidance forsetting good customer service goals. We’ll look at the criteria that make agoal good, the SMART model for setting clear goals, and importantconsiderations when communicating goals to your team. You can alsodownload a goal-setting worksheet here: www.serviceculturebook.com/tools.
GOOD GOAL CRITERIAGood goals have three distinct characteristics that are the opposite of badgoals:
1. They focus attention on the customer service vision.2. They reward teamwork.3. They rely on intrinsic motivation.
Remember the bad goal example from earlier in the chapter? CustomerService Representatives who earn a satisfied rating on 95 percent or more oftheir customer service surveys each month with receive a $100 bonus.
Here’s an example of what that 95 percent goal might look like if werewrote it using the good goal characteristics: We will earn a satisfied ratingon 95 percent of our customer service surveys this month.
The first element of a good goal, focusing attention on the customerservice vision, is admittedly tricky. A customer service team could easily fallinto the trap of focusing on getting a good score, rather than using the surveyas a tool for continuous improvement. This is where a strong leader can setthe tone.
Heather Rattin and her customer service team at Cars.com reviewsurvey comments on a daily basis. They’ve made a habit of looking beyondthe score to find out what their customers are really thinking. This dailycommunication focuses them on finding ways to serve their customers better,
rather than on getting a better score. The score is just one indicator of howwell they’re doing; the focus is on continuous improvement that really has animpact.
The second element of a good goal is rewarding teamwork. Multipleemployees often need to work together to deliver outstanding customerservice. For example, in a typical restaurant, the host, server, busser, and chefall have an impact on customer satisfaction. Team-oriented goals encourageeveryone to work together and help each other out.
In one organization I worked with, the escalations team shared the samecustomer service goal as the first tier team. This caused the first tier team andthe escalations team to work together to prevent customers from gettingtransferred. For example, they made a list of the top 10 problems that causedcalls to be transferred to escalations and identified several which could behandled by the first tier team if they only had a little more information. Thisallowed the first tier team to solve more problems quickly. It also freed up theescalations team to spend more time on the truly challenging issues. Theresult for the entire group was improved customer satisfaction.
The third element of a good goal is relying on intrinsic motivation. Thismeans that employees are internally motivated to achieve the goal. Theybelieve in the goal and what it stands for, and they’re willing to do what ittakes to get there.
There’s a fundamental truth here that many business leaders fail torealize: most customer service professionals genuinely want to help theircustomers. I’ve spoken with thousands of customer service employees andhave seen this common theme: setting a customer service goal and thenworking together as a team to achieve it causes motivation to soar.
Of course, surveys are just one example of a way to measure customerservice. There are many other metrics that can be used. Here are a fewexamples:
Customer retentionWord-of-mouth referralsRatings on external review sitesFirst contact resolutionAverage response time (emails, chat, social media, etc.)
I liken these metrics to the gauges on a car’s dashboard. Achieving a certainspeed, holding the engine at a specific rate of revolutions per minute, ormaintaining a particular fuel level isn’t the objective. Instead, these gauges alltell you part of the story about how the car is performing and provide an earlywarning signal if something goes wrong. The real goal, of course, is reachingyour destination. In customer service, the destination that customer-focusedcompanies are constantly heading toward is their customer service vision.
Involving employees in the goal-setting process is one additionalelement of a good goal that’s not an absolute requirement, but it is a bestpractice. This gives people a greater sense of ownership for the goal sincethey helped set it. Getting employee feedback up front can also help youidentify situations when a goal might not be achievable.
THE SMART GOALS MODELThose three elements of a good goal are a great starting point, but customerservice goals should also follow the SMART model. There are a few differentversions of the SMART model for setting goals, but here’s my preferredversion:
S = SpecificM = MeasurableA = AttainableR = RelevantT = Time-Bound
You can find a SMART goals worksheet atwww.serviceculturebook.com/tools.
Companies often set vague customer service goals that are difficult todefine and measure. For example, I’ve seen more than one company set thisgoal as part of their strategic plan: Improve customer service.
The challenge with a goal like this is it’s hard to know what exactlyneeds to be improved. Nobody can say for sure how we’re doing now, whatneeds to change, nor whether the goal has been achieved.
A SMART goal provides a much clearer blueprint to follow. We willachieve a satisfied rating on 95 percent of our customer service surveys this
month.Let’s take a look at how this fits the SMART model.We know it fits three of the criteria right away. It’s specific because it
focuses on the customer service survey. The goal can be measured bycounting the percentage of surveys with a satisfied rating. It’s also time-bound because we’ve set the end of the month as the deadline for achievingthis goal.
Some context is required to know if the goal fits the other two criteria.You don’t know if it’s attainable without knowing the current survey resultsand what needs to be done to achieve the 95 percent result. You might be ontrack if last month’s result was 94 percent; you might be wildly off base ifyour previous score was 72 percent.
It’s also hard to know if the goal is relevant without comparing it to thecustomer service vision. Goals for customer satisfaction scores are typicallyrelevant, but many companies also set goals that aren’t directly relevant tooutstanding service. Examples include productivity goals, goals forcomplying with company policy, and even attendance goals.
COMMUNICATING GOALS TO THE TEAMSMART goals that meet the good goal criteria can help motivate customer-obsessed employees. The key is that employees need to be aware of the goalsand understand how close they are to achieving them. It’s the responsibilityof customer service leaders to ensure this happens.
First, you’ll need a scoreboard. This is something that allows employeesto easily access customer service objectives and results. It could be anelectronic display, a physical bulletin board, or something employees canaccess on their computers.
One manager I know used a bulletin board to inform employees aboutthe score for secret shopper reports. The team’s goal was to average an 85percent score on secret shopper reports each month, so the manager attacheda string horizontally across the middle of the board and put a sign on thestring that read “85%.” As secret shopper reports came in, the manager wouldeither pin a copy of the report above or below the line, depending on thescore. Employees could quickly see how they were doing in comparison tothe goal and review any report that fell short of the target.
The next thing you’ll need is a regular announcement. This is a formal
reminder to employees about the goal and the results they’ve achieved. Itcould be shared in an email update, a monthly newsletter, or in a presentationfrom a customer service leader.
The rule of thumb is to share this information as often as you would anyother vital business information. So if you update the company on financialperformance once per month, it’s a good idea to do the same for customerservice. Providing regular, formal updates helps establish customer service asan important aspect of business performance.
The third part of your goal communication strategy is regular informalcommunication from customer service leaders. Think of this as a coachsharing updates with an athletic team and helping the athletes adjustaccordingly. This includes one-on-one meetings, informal emails, andinformal team meetings.
Let’s go back to Cars.com. Rattin and her managers share customerservice survey results with their teams on a daily basis. That meansemployees are receiving constant, consistent updates about what’s going welland what needs some extra attention.
I have one last reminder about customer service goals. Whatever metricor metrics you choose to measure customer service, make sure employeesdon’t get so fixated on achieving a score that they lose sight of the customerservice vision. The metrics are meant to help you measure progress ratherthan being the definition of success.
Goals help customer service leaders and employees alike assess what’sworking well and where there are opportunities for improvement. That’sbecause customer-focused organizations never settle for good enough. Thesecompanies are constantly trying to find ways to make their customer serviceeven better.
NOTES:36 Jeanette Cooper, “Digital Air Strike Releases 2015 Social Media Trends Studyfor the Automotive Industry,” Digital Air Strike, November 3, 2015.http://digitalairstrike.com/digital-air-strike-releases-2015-social-media-trends-study-for-the-automotive-industry/.
Hiring Employees Who Will Embrace Your Culture
AT FIRST GLANCE, PUBLIX SEEMS like an ordinary supermarket. There’s aproduce section, a bakery, and aisles filled with packaged food. The checkoutstands are near the front.
Yet everything feels just a little different. There’s a large, welcomingcustomer service desk near the front entrance. The aisles are wider than atypical supermarket. The restrooms are clean. The produce section even hassigns describing how to select, store, and prepare various fruits andvegetables.
You might also notice the employees. They’re outgoing, friendly, andhelpful—and there are lots of them. It seems like there’s someone ready tohelp everywhere you turn in the store.
The supermarket industry as a whole enjoys high customer servicerankings on sites like the Temkin Ratings and the American CustomerSatisfaction Index. Publix is at the very top. In 2016, it was the top-ratedsupermarket chain in the Temkin Customer Service Ratings (#2 among allbusinesses) and the top-rated company in any industry in the TemkinCustomer Experience Ratings.37 Publix also earned the #3 ranking amongsupermarket chains on the American Customer Satisfaction Index for 2016.That same year, MSN named the company “America’s FavoriteSupermarket.”38
Publix has developed a strong, customer-focused culture by followingmany of the same steps as other organizations profiled in this book. Thecompany has a clear customer service vision, Where Shopping is a Pleasure,that guides all aspects of the business including strategic decisions, storelayouts, and employee training. Its leaders work hard to engage employeeswith the customer-focused culture by providing ongoing training andrecognizing them for emulating company values.
Above all, Publix does exceptionally well in hiring the right people. Thecompany builds and sustains a customer service culture by consistently hiringemployees who have a passion for delivering the type of service for whichPublix is known.
HOW PUBLIX HIRES FOR CULTURE FITCustomer service isn’t a job that’s right for everyone. The qualities we expectin a customer service professional, such as friendliness, helpfulness, andempathy, don’t come naturally for many people. That’s why companies needto be picky about who they hire for customer-facing roles.
Imagine hiring an employee for Publix, a company offering world-classcustomer service. An average employee won’t do. You need someone withextraordinary people skills—someone who enthusiastically embraces theWhere Shopping is a Pleasure customer service vision.
Hiring managers at Publix don’t need to find just one extraordinaryemployee. The chain has more than 1,000 stores spread across six states inthe Southeastern United States. This means it must employ thousands ofoutstanding customer service professionals who fit in with the company’scustomer-focused culture. To address this challenge, Publix created aselection process that helps it recruit the right employees.
This selection process begins with a culture page on the company’swebsite that provides job candidates with extensive details about what it’slike to work at Publix. The page includes information about the company’smission and values, testimonials from happy employees, job descriptions foropen positions, career paths highlighting advancement opportunities, and tipsfor applying for a job. This makes it easy for prospective job applicants to seeif Publix is an organization they’d enjoy working for. (See for yourself athttp://corporate.publix.com/careers.)
Internally, the company defines the qualities of an ideal employee tomake the selection process easier for hiring managers to make consistenthiring decisions. Marcy Hamrick, its Manager of Talent Acquisition, lists thetop three39:
1. Driven by a need to serve others2. Passionate about working together as a team
3. Capable of great attention to detail
The company’s carefully-designed employee selection process helps hiringmanagers evaluate applicants for these qualities. For example, job applicantswho are granted an interview are asked to prepare a short statementdescribing how they can help Publix deliver outstanding customer service.Candidates are asked to deliver their statement at the start of the interview.The interviewer uses the content of the statement to help assess whether theapplicant is driven by a need to serve others.
Publix has another unusual twist in its selection process. In an age ofonline job applications, people who wish to work in a Publix store (versus ina corporate role) must apply in person. Each store has a kiosk near the frontwhere people can browse through open positions and complete a jobapplication.
Instructions on the Publix website make it clear that job applicants forin-store positions are encouraged to seek out employees with questions aboutthe working environment or the application process when they come into astore to apply for a job. Whether or not a candidate uses this opportunity toengage with potential coworkers is a way of testing whether the person ispassionate about working together as a team.
Yet another element in the selection process is how the candidateprepares for an interview. The company’s career page offers a list ofinterviewing tips to help job seekers put their best foot forward. One tipadvises candidates to thank the hiring manager at the end of the interview,and then to ask when a decision will be made. Another tip advises candidatesto bring appropriate work samples, so a person applying for a cake decoratorposition might bring pictures of cakes they’ve decorated. Observing whethercandidates follow these interviewing tips is a good way for hiring managersto determine if the candidate is capable of great attention to detail.
Publix also uses behavioral interviews as part of its selection process. Abehavioral interview consists of a set of questions that focus on an applicant’sprior experience. For example, an interviewer might ask a prospectiveemployee to describe a situation when he or she served an angry customer.Asking for specifics requires the candidate to look beyond hypotheticalexamples and share a real story. The interviewer can use the response toassess whether the candidate could easily recall a relevant example, and if thecandidate described an appropriate course of action.
Another essential aspect of hiring for culture fit is the company’spromote-from-within philosophy. Publix tries to hire internal candidates forleadership positions whenever possible, because these employees tend tohave a firm grasp of the company culture and have demonstrated their abilityto model it for the people on their team. For instance, Todd Jones, thecompany’s CEO, joined Publix in 1980 as a bagger; he spent the next 36years working his way up, and became CEO in early 2016.
This focus on hiring people who embrace the company culture is a keytrait shared by many customer-focused companies. Rackspace hires peoplewho come from professions like hospitality that require a lot of empathy,based on the company’s belief that technical skills can easily be taught, butempathy is much harder to develop. Shake Shack recognizes that its promote-from-within philosophy is an essential part of maintaining the chain’s StandFor Something Good culture as the company grows.
Clio, a company you’ll meet in Chapter 8, gives job applicants a samplecustomer email and asks them to write a response. This simple test gaugesseveral qualities that are part of Clio’s company culture.
1. Applicants must be resourceful enough to find the answer to thecustomer’s question (the answers can be found on its website).
2. They must be able to write a response that’s easy to understand.3. They must demonstrate the ability to use their personality to
connect with the customer via a brief email.
It’s a tall order, and not everyone can do it, but that’s what makes this test aneffective way to screen for candidates who will fit in with the company’scustomer-focused culture.
Many organizations use product advocacy as a way of screening jobcandidates for culture fit. The idea is to hire employees who are alreadypassionate about the company’s products or services. For example, manypeople who work at REI are outdoor enthusiasts who view the job as anopportunity to support their passion through discounts on equipment andclothing, the opportunity to lead classes, or the chance to share theirenthusiasm with others.
Just one good hire can make a big difference in a company’s or team’sculture. One client I worked with sold accessories for boats, RVs, and golf
carts. The company had a small team of support professionals who answeredphone calls and emails from customers. None of the support team memberswere particularly enthusiastic about boating, RVing, or golfing, so theysometimes had a challenge connecting with their customers. This changed,however, when the company hired a new employee who was an avid boater.The new employee shared her personal knowledge with her coworkers, whichhelped them understand their products better. This, in turn, led to an increasein sales as everyone on the team was more able to enthusiastically helpcustomers to confidently make a purchasing decision.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HIRE EMPLOYEES WHO DON’T FITYOUR COMPANY’S CULTURECustomer-focused companies like Publix build and sustain a customer-focused culture by hiring people who are already obsessed with providingtheir unique brand of customer service. But what can happen if a companyhires people who don’t fit the company’s culture?
One small company hired a customer service representative namedBrandon, a recent high school graduate who had no previous work experienceand no real ambition. This wasn’t the typical profile for a successfulemployee, but he was hired anyway at the owner’s insistence. Brandonhappened to be dating the owner’s daughter, and he wanted to give Brandonan opportunity. (Or perhaps he wanted to keep a close eye on his daughter’sboyfriend!)
Brandon immediately clashed with the customer service team’s culture.The rest of the team had a great deal of enthusiasm for helping customers andenjoyed learning the intricacies of each new product line. Brandon, on theother hand, had no enthusiasm for serving others and little interest in learningabout the company’s products.
Brandon’s coworkers began to bristle at how his laziness created extrawork for them. For instance, he frequently promised customers that he wouldfix a problem, but then neglected to follow through and resolve the issue. Thecustomer would inevitably call back angry at the lack of a resolution, andanother customer service rep would have to bear the brunt of it.
The rest of the customer service team was relieved when Brandon quitafter just a few months on the job. The customer service manager was
relieved, too, since the owner had vetoed any corrective action the managerhad suggested to address Brandon’s poor performance.
Unfortunately, the customer service team now had a lingering mistrusttoward management for allowing someone who was so obviously not a fit toremain part of the team.
This case may be a little extreme, but it illustrates three of the problemscaused by poor hiring decisions:
1. Poor customer service2. Reduced morale3. Increased turnover
It’s difficult to provide outstanding customer service when employees lackenthusiasm for helping others or have no affinity for their company’sproducts or services. The sporting goods retailer Sports Authority went out ofbusiness in 2016 after being plagued by a variety of problems, including poorcustomer service and disengaged employees. If you visited Sports Authorityto buy camping gear, you’d likely be greeted by an employee whosehelpfulness consisted of pointing to the camping section from across thestore. Contrast this with the same shopping trip at REI, where you’d morelikely be served by an associate who was an avid camper and genuinelyenjoyed helping others gear up for a successful camping trip of their own.
Morale also suffers when poor hiring decisions are made. Newemployees disturb team unity when they don’t embrace the culture. Theirinability or unwillingness to serve customers creates extra work for otheremployees, who usually resent having to go out of their way to clean up a co-worker’s mess. Stress levels rise, too: a 2016 study of contact center agentsfound that 36 percent of agents who faced a high risk of burnout felt theycould not rely on their co-workers to deliver outstanding customer service.40
Turnover is perhaps the easiest-to-measure problem caused by poorhiring. A study by the Center for American Progress estimated that replacingan employee can cost an average of 20 percent of an employee’s annualsalary for employees who make $50,000 or less per year.41 To put that inperspective, the average annual wage for a customer service employee in theUnited States is approximately $27,000.42 Replacing that employee costs$5,400, assuming the 20 percent replacement cost average.
What goes into that $5,400 figure? It includes increased wages andovertime needed to cover shifts for the lost employee, recruiting expenses(advertising, interviewing, background checks, drug screening, etc.), trainingcosts, new equipment (tools, uniforms, etc.), and administrative costs. Youcan calculate the cost of turnover for employees in your organization or onyour customer service team using the turnover calculator found here:www.serviceculturebook.com/tools.
High turnover plagues many industries employing lots of customerservice workers. Contact centers regularly experience annual turnover rates of20 percent or higher. Retail stores often face turnover rates of 50 percent ormore. Hospitality industries, such as restaurants, can see as many as 70percent of their employees leave each year.
It’s incredibly difficult to sustain company culture in a business wherethere’s a revolving door of employees.
So why do some companies consistently hire the wrong employees?Some managers grow tired of the extra work caused by being short-staffedand simply rush to hire someone without thoroughly vetting theirqualifications. Other managers don’t know how to select the right employees.In many cases, there’s no company-wide consensus on what qualities make ajob applicant a good fit with the culture.
Some organizations try to address these issues by creating a structuredprocess to recruit and select new hires. Unfortunately, a hiring process won’tguarantee that you’ll hire stellar employees. There’s often one of three flawsstanding in the way.
The first flaw is emphasizing experience when recruiting jobcandidates. Recruiters look for people who have previously worked in jobssimilar to the one for which they’re hiring. The theory is that people withsimilar experience will have developed easily-transferrable skills.
The problem with this approach is that not all experience is necessarilygood experience. An employee may have learned bad habits from a previousemployer, especially if that company wasn’t customer-focused. Or the jobcandidate might be leaving a previous job because he or she wasn’t a verygood employee; if so, they’ll likely struggle in the new job too.
The second flaw in many hiring processes is focusing too much onskills. Skills are necessary in almost every job, whether it’s an interpersonalskill like empathizing with customers, or a technical skill like the ability totroubleshoot a software program. However, having the right skills doesn’t
mean an employee will be a fit with the company culture. For instance, manypeople know how to work as a cashier and ring up customer transactions, butthere are many dour, surly cashiers who would immediately clash with thecustomer-focused culture at a company like Publix.
The third flaw is trying to hire for culture fit without clearly definingwhat that means. Leaders often make the mistake of using their gut feeling inan interview to determine if a prospective employee has the proper attitudeand will fit in well with the team. What these leaders end up doing is hiringpeople like themselves. A 2012 study by three researchers at the Universityof Pennsylvania—Jason Dana, Robyn M. Dawes, and Nathanial R. Peterson—revealed that just asking random questions to assess a candidate’s futureperformance actually results in worse hiring decisions than if the candidatehadn’t been interviewed at all!43
Rene was an area director for a company with locations throughout thecountry. Her company had a well-defined process for hiring customer serviceemployees, but she also had the autonomy to make the ultimate hiringdecision for employees in her area. Although Rene had a bubbly personality,she tended to be disorganized and unfocused. When it came to hiringemployees, she routinely hired individuals who had bubbly personalities butwere disorganized and unfocused, just like her. These hires clashed with thecompany’s hiring profile that called for organized, conscientious employeeswho could anticipate customer needs and resolve issues before theyhappened. Hiring employees who didn’t fit with the company cultureultimately cost Rene her job when her area’s performance couldn’t keep upwith the high standards expected throughout the company.
Adam Grant, author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move theWorld, told Forbes Magazine, “Emphasizing cultural fit leads you to bring ina bunch of people who think in similar ways to your existing employees.”44His point was that hiring people based on an arbitrary assessment of fit canlead to stagnation. Instead, Grant suggested that companies should hire basedon what a potential employee can contribute to the culture. Healthy teamshave a diversity of perspectives, personalities, and skills that complementeach other.
Hiring without regard for culture fit is dangerous – but going by gutinstinct to hire for fit can be just as dangerous. So what should organizationalleaders do to hire the right employees to serve their customers? The answerlies in having a well-designed hiring process.
HOW TO HIRE FOR CULTURE FITPublix and other organizations with strong, customer-focused cultures have aprocess in place to screen job applicants for both skills and culture fit. Theactual process varies from organization to organization, but there are threegeneral steps:
1. Create an Ideal Candidate Profile2. Design test to find Ideal Candidates3. Commit to the process
STEP 1: CREATE AN IDEAL CANDIDATE PROFILEIt’s helpful to think of an Ideal Candidate Profile as an enhanced jobdescription.
Job descriptions typically outline the key responsibilities, as well as theskills and qualifications required to be successful in a given position. Manycompanies use job descriptions as a guide when hiring employees.
An Ideal Candidate Profile takes this a step further by highlighting thecharacteristics an employee should possess that would make him or her agood fit with the company culture. It also separates the qualities a jobapplicant must have to be hired from those that would be nice for theapplicant to have, but which they could also develop through training.
The reason for separating the Must-Haves from the Nice-to-Haves iswhat recruiters call the Purple Squirrel Problem. There are a lot of things thatare purple and there are a lot of squirrels. But it’s very difficult to find apurple squirrel! In recruiting, this means it’s difficult to find the perfectemployee with every desirable quality. The more Must-Haves that are listedon your Ideal Candidate Profile, the harder it is to find that person.Prioritizing your Must-Haves will help you focus on what you really need.
You can create an Ideal Candidate Profile by separating jobqualifications into these categories:
Organizational Must-HavesOrganizational Nice-to-HavesJob-Specific Must-HavesJob-Specific Nice-to-Haves
The Organizational Must-Haves category includes qualities that describe anemployee who is a good fit with your company’s organizational culture. Anemployee needs to possess these qualities regardless of their role within theorganization. At Publix, for example, all new hires are required to be “drivenby a need to serve others,” no matter whether they work in the bakerydepartment, the produce department, or in a corporate role.
The Organizational Nice-to-Haves category consists of qualities thatwould be nice for a new employee to possess, but aren’t required. Thesequalities might be used to make a final hiring decision if one qualifiedcandidate has a few more Nice-to-Haves than another, but the company isalso willing to hire a new employee who doesn’t have them. For instance,Publix looks for job applicants who are current or former employees becauseit has a hire-from-within strategy, but external candidates are also considered.
The Job-Specific Must-Haves category is composed of qualifications aperson needs to be considered for a specific job. For example, an applicantmust have prior experience as a Meat Cutter or Meat Cutter Apprentice toapply for a Meat Cutter position at a Publix store. A person who lacks theexperience of being a Meat Cutter but is still interested in working as onewould be encouraged to apply for a Meat Cutter Apprentice role, since thatposition doesn’t require prior experience.
Finally, the Job-Specific Nice-to-Haves category is, like theorganizational Nice-to-Haves, composed of qualifications that might break atie between two qualified candidates, but are not absolutely required. Forinstance, a Meat Cutter Apprentice working at Publix might have a leg up ona job applicant with meat cutting experience at another grocery chain, butworking as a Publix Meat Cutter Apprentice isn’t a Must-Have qualificationto become a Publix Meat Cutter.
In my experience helping clients create Ideal Candidate Profiles, thebiggest challenge is separating the Must-Have qualities from Nice-to-Haves.A good test to see if something is truly a Must-Have is to compare yourexisting employees to your Ideal Candidate Profile. If a successful employeelacks a Must-Have quality (or lacked it when he or she was first hired), thenyou know that quality isn’t truly a Must-Have.
Figure 7.1 contains a sample Ideal Candidate Profile for a tasting roomhost at a fictitious winery, Sunny Hills Vineyard. I’ve also created an IdealCandidate Profile worksheet you can download and use to create your ownprofiles: www.serviceculturebook.com/tools.
Figure 7.1: Ideal Candidate Profile
Organization: Sunny Hills VineyardPosition: Tasting Room Host
Customer Service Vision: We make it fun to discover great wine.Organizational Must-Haves
Enthusiasm for wineContinuous learnerTeam player
Understanding of the wine industryGeneral knowledge of common wine varietalsFamiliarity with the unique characteristics of our winery’sgrowing region
A passion for teaching others about wineAbility to develop rapport with guestsCapable of clear and confident communication
Introductory Sommelier certification (or similar)Current TIPS certification cardPrevious winery experience
Here’s another tip that can help you save some time. Once you create yourfirst Ideal Candidate Profile, you can use it as a template to create profiles for
other positions. The first two categories, Organizational Must-Haves andOrganizational Nice-to-Haves, should stay the same for each position, so halfthe work is already done.
STEP TWO: DESIGN TESTS TO FIND IDEAL CANDIDATESOnce you create an Ideal Candidate Profile for a position, you need to designa screening process that tests for each quality in the profile, indicatingwhether job applicants fit those particular qualifications. To do this, take eachitem in your Ideal Candidate Profile and determine how you’ll tell whether ornot a job applicant possesses that quality.
These tests are the basis of your candidate screening process.As an example, think about what you might see on a candidate’s resume
or job application that could indicate a good fit with your organization. Anonprofit that runs music programs for children has applicants list hobbiesand interests on their job application. The recruiter looks for applicants whoplay an instrument, sing, or have an avid interest in music, because peoplewho have a strong connection to music are much more likely to relate to themusic program participants than people who don’t share that passion.
The interview is another important opportunity to test job applicants forculture fit. The key is to use what’s called a structured interview, where everyapplicant for the same position is asked the same standard set of questions.Each question should connect to at least one quality on your Ideal CandidateProfile for that role.
Let’s say you manage a tasting room at a winery and want to hiretasting room hosts who are passionate about teaching guests about wine. Youmight test job applicants for this quality by asking each person to share anexperience they had where they learned something about wine that mostconsumers don’t know. A good response would be a story where the jobapplicant spent time learning about wine and could relate what they learnedin a clear and easily-understood manner.
Many recruiters limit themselves to looking at just three sources ofinformation: the candidate’s job application, their resume, and their responsesto interview questions. These are all helpful, but there’s no reason to limityourself to just these three! A well-structured selection process can test acandidate’s qualifications in a wide variety of ways.
One of my clients created an Ideal Candidate Profile for employees
working in the parking department on a college campus. They wanted peoplewho could anticipate potential problems and plan ahead to avoid them. Theway they tested job applicants for this quality was subtle, but effective.
When a recruiter scheduled an interview with a job applicant, therecruiter did not volunteer to give the applicant directions to the parkingoffice. (Like many college campuses, finding parking and then navigating toa specific office was difficult.) Successful applicants did one of two things.Some would ask the recruiter for directions, in which case the recruiterreadily provided the requested information. Others went on the school’swebsite to research transportation options, parking locations, and estimate theamount of travel time required.
Unsuccessful applicants arrived late for the interview. They would tellthe recruiter they couldn’t find parking or got lost trying to find the office. Nomatter the excuse, it was a good test to show the applicant didn’t naturallyanticipate a problem that plagued many visitors to the college campus.
I want to offer one word of caution about the candidate screeningprocess. Successful candidates will generally be delighted to receive a joboffer. But what about the people who aren’t offered a job? In many cases,these people far outnumber the people who are hired. It’s important to designa selection process that treats all candidates with dignity and respect.Companies frequently waste candidates’ time with multiple steps that don’tadd value to the selection process. Some fail to notify rejected applicants oftheir status.
Keep in mind that all job applicants are potential customers. They mightchoose whether or not to do business with your company in the future basedon their experience with the selection process. They may encourage ordiscourage friends and family members to apply for an open position basedon their impression of your organizational culture. If at all possible, you wantjob applicants to love your organization even if they don’t get to join it.
STEP THREE: COMMIT TO THE PROCESSImpatience may be the biggest reason why companies fail to hire employeeswho fit their organizational culture. It takes time to create an Ideal CandidateProfile for each position. It takes more time to design a screening process thattests for each quality in the profile. And it takes guts to stick to the process.
Yet many businesses find themselves suddenly faced with an urgent
need to hire customer service employees. A company might be opening anew location that needs to be staffed. A busy season might be approachingand extra employees will soon be needed. Or a key person may have left andmust be urgently replaced.
All these circumstances create pressure on hiring managers to fillpositions quickly. In doing so, they might be tempted to skip steps in theprocess and hire someone less qualified than would normally be consideredfor a position. The danger here is in hiring the wrong employee. Poor hiringdecisions tend to have a cumulative effect on a manager’s time. Theemployee needs more training. The manager has to fix the employee’smistakes. The rest of the team develops morale issues caused by an employeewho doesn’t fit in. Plus, the manager will soon need to hire and train yetanother employee when the poor hire doesn’t work out.
Companies with strong customer service cultures stay committed totheir hiring process. Hiring great employees creates a self-reinforcing cyclefor customer-focused companies. Your employees will deliver outstandingservice, which makes a strong positive impression on your customers.Customers see your company as a great place to work, so more people applywho already love your brand. With more applicants, you can be even moreselective about whom you hire.
NOTES:37 The Temkin Group, “2016 Temkin Customer Service Ratings,” Temkin Ratings,2016. http://temkinratings.com/temkin-ratings/temkin-customer-service-ratings-2016/.38 Janna Herron, “America’s favorite supermarkets, ranked,” MSN, July 18, 2016.http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/companies/americas-favorite-supermarkets-ranked/ss-BBu4jPa?li=BBnb7Kz#image=1.39 Deena Shanker, “They’re hiring! These great employers have 108,622openings,” Fortune, March 12, 2015. http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/best-companies-open-positions/.40 Jeff Toister, “How to Battle Agent Burnout.” Toister Performance Solutions,2016: www.toistersolutions.com/burnout.41 Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn, “There Are Significant Business Coststo Replacing Employees,” Center for American Progress, November 16, 2012.https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/CostofTurnover.pdf.42 PayScale estimates the average hourly wage for a customer service employee inthe U.S. is $13.01 per hour. This works out to $27,060.80 for an employee whoaverages 40 hours per week.43 Jason Dana and Robyn M. Dawes, “Belief in the Unstructured Interview: ThePersistence of an Illusion” (working paper) University of Pennsylvania, August 15,2012. http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~danajd/interview.pdf.44 Dan Schwabel, “Adam Grant: Why You Shouldn’t Hire For Cultural Fit,”Forbes, February 2, 2016.http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2016/02/02/adam-grant-why-you-shouldnt-hire-for-cultural-fit/#2f71777c56f5.
Training Employees to Embody Your Culture
A CUSTOMER CALLED CLIO’S SUPPORT team with a unique billing request.She wanted to pay by check even though the company’s software is only setup to accept credit card payments.
Clio provides legal practice management software that helps lawyersrun their law practices. The software is provided on a subscription basis, andcustomers are billed monthly or yearly to access it via the internet. The callerwas a busy lawyer who didn’t want to spend a lot of time dealing withsupport to get her issue resolved.
Support calls like this are a common challenge for many softwarecompanies. Customers often want special features or options that aren’tavailable, and there’s always a risk they’ll take their business to a competitorif they can’t get what they want.
Here’s where support agents at a typical company simply tell theircustomer, “Sorry, but that option isn’t available.” Then it’s up to thecustomer to decide if they want to keep their account anyway or take theirbusiness elsewhere.
Not at Clio. While the support agent was aware that paying by checkwasn’t an option, he didn’t want to lose the customer’s business. He knewthat preventing churn (i.e., retaining customers) was a key part of thecompany’s customer service vision: Our goal is to help our customerssucceed and realize the full value of our Product. This results in Evangelistsand less Churn.
The agent listened patiently to the lawyer’s concerns, hoping to find away to make her happy and convince her to keep her account. She explainedshe was used to paying for services by check and believed this was thesimplest way for her to keep track of her expenses. This insight helped thesupport agent understand that the customer’s real need was to keep things
easy and spend as little time as possible managing her Clio account.So he explained to her how automatic credit card billing was actually
easier than paying by check. It would save her time since the payments weremade automatically, and it would prevent any service disruptions since shewouldn’t have to remember to mail a check each time her payment was due.
The customer was delighted by the end of the call. She felt like thesupport agent had listened to her concerns and understood her needs. Best ofall, she kept her Clio account.
Daily customer interactions like this have helped Clio grow at a 40percent rate annually. Most of that growth is driven by word-of-mouthreferrals from happy customers who tell other lawyers about the company’sexcellent software and helpful service.
This outstanding service generates incredible customer loyalty. Clio’schurn rate is just one percent, meaning that 99 out of 100 customers renewtheir subscriptions. The company’s customer satisfaction ratings areconsistently in the mid-90 percent range.
This isn’t an accident. Clio’s executives made a strategic choice to useservice as a way to differentiate the company from the competition. A bigpart of this strategy is training all Clio employees to embody its serviceculture when assisting customers.
HOW CLIO TRAINS ITS EMPLOYEES TO EMBODY ITS CULTUREIt’s not enough to know what the vision says at Clio. Employees are expectedto know what it means and be able to explain how it applies to them. To thisend, they’re given extensive and ongoing training to help them embodyClio’s culture when serving customers.
Chapter 4 explained how to engage employees with your organization’scustomer service culture. In many ways, this process overlaps with training.However, there’s one key difference. Engagement is a process of cultivatingemployee attitudes so they believe in their company’s customer servicevision and want to use it as a guide in their daily work. Training providesemployees with the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities to turn that desireinto action.
Let’s look at the example of Clio’s customer support rep from thebeginning of this chapter. He was engaged because he had a desire to applythe customer service vision of helping customers succeed in using Clio’s
software so they’d remain loyal. His training helped him in this quest. Thecustomer support rep knew what payment methods were available and whichwere not. His rapport-building, active listening, and empathy skills allowedhim to have a constructive dialogue with the customer about her reasons forwanting to pay by check. Finally, his ability to partner with this individualand propose an acceptable solution ultimately saved the account and created ahappy and loyal customer.
Clio’s customer support team receives a lot of training to reinforce thecompany’s vision and develop their ability to embody it in the service theyprovide. New hires are introduced to the vision during their initial training.It’s augmented with training videos from the online education companyLynda.com to help agents develop specific customer service skills likerapport building, active listening, and empathizing.
In addition, support agents receive ongoing training on how to actuallyexecute the customer service vision. This includes one-on-one coaching fromtheir supervisor to help develop their skills, regular team meetings toreinforce the vision, and performance feedback based on guidelines reflectingthe vision. This constant training and reinforcement ensures that supportagents never forget the role they play in Clio’s customer service culture.
Training isn’t limited to Clio’s customer-facing support team.Employees in other departments receive training to ensure they understandthe company’s customer service philosophy. Rian Gauvreau, Clio’scofounder and Chief Operating Officer, wants all of the company’semployees to see their job through the eyes of their customers.
“The way to solve for customer pain is to put your customer first,”Gauvreau said. One of the ways employees learn to put the customer first isthrough what’s called “support ride-alongs.” This is where people from otherparts of the company spend time working alongside support agents to solvecustomer issues. “It motivates the staff to know they’re helping customers,”Gauvreau explained.
The ride-alongs help employees better understand the issues customersface. For instance, if a product designer is working on a new feature, she canreflect on the time she spent doing a support ride-along to envision how thatfeature will look from a customer’s perspective.
In addition, Clio hosts an annual user conference, giving employees theopportunity to meet customers face-to-face. User conferences are commonfor software companies. They gather existing and prospective clients for a
few days of product training, best practice sharing, and user feedbacksessions. These conferences are generally marketing initiatives aimed atincreasing customer loyalty or enticing new clients. What makes Cliodifferent is how they use this opportunity to help employees strengthen theircustomer focus.
For instance, each year, developers spend the first day of the conferencegathering feedback and suggestions from customers in attendance. By daytwo, the company implements changes to the online software based on thefeedback they received on day one! Making changes so quickly demonstratesthe company’s commitment to helping its customers succeed.
Another example of a culture training initiative at Clio was an exercisecalled “Know Our Customer.” Every employee in the company participated(about 200 employees), with each person interviewing at least one customer.The goal was to create an opportunity for all employees to develop theirempathy skills by spending time learning from a customer. As a result of thisexercise, people in all departments were able to adopt a customer perspectivewhen doing their jobs.
Training doesn’t always have to be a formal process. In fact, most of thelearning that occurs in the workplace happens through informal experiences.At Clio, this includes discussing and reinforcing customer focus in all-handsmeetings and one-on-one conversations with a supervisor. The company alsohas a peer-recognition program where employees give each other kudos for ajob well done. The only requirement is that the recognition must include adescription of how the employee’s actions aligned with being customer-focused.
Comprehensive and ongoing customer service training is a commoncharacteristic among companies with strong service cultures. Zendesk (acompany you’ll meet in Chapter 12) has something similar to Clio’s ride-along program, where employees who don’t normally work in customersupport spend time responding to customer issues. Shake Shack trains all itsleaders to embody their Stand For Something Good philosophy and reinforcethose values with their employees. JetBlue has all newly hired crewmembers(employees) attend a two-day orientation to learn about the company culture.
Leaders at customer-focused companies understand that employees canget lost without the right training and guidance.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU DON’T PROVIDE CULTURETRAININGMany companies fail to provide employees with specific training on how toembody the culture. This happens for a variety of reasons. In someorganizations, leaders fail to recognize the need to give employees specificinstructions on how to use the culture as a guide to serving customers. Inother companies, leaders prefer to spend time on other work and don’t makedeveloping the culture a priority.
In one example, a customer service representative was asked to describehis company’s customer service philosophy. He knew the company had a setof five core values, but he struggled to come up with an answer.
The rep knew the five core values were supposed to represent howpeople should interact with customers, coworkers, and other importantstakeholders. There was a sign displaying these values in front of the buildingwhere he worked, and another sign hung within sight of his cubicle. He evenhad a mug on his desk with the five values written on it, which he’d beengiven at a meeting where the values were announced.
What this employee didn’t know was what the values meant, or howthey applied to his daily work. He’d never received any training on this, andhis boss never discussed the values with the team.
The five values were crafted by the company’s corporatecommunications team after months of deliberation, focus groups, and word-smithing sessions with senior leaders. They sounded good, but they didnothing to guide employees’ actions.
When employees aren’t trained on their company’s customer serviceculture, employees can’t consciously use the culture to guide their actions.Furthermore, individual employees, different departments, and variouscompany locations are likely to develop their own interpretations of thecustomer service philosophy that might or might not complement oneanother.
Some companies attempt to train employees on the customer serviceculture, but there isn’t full commitment. Many organizations rely on a singlelearning event such as a big kick-off party or a one-time training session. Theinitial excitement quickly fades as these companies fail to constantly andconsistently reinforce the culture through multiple training programs andongoing informal learning opportunities.
The challenge with training through just a single event is that mostinformation is stored in our brains on a “use it or lose it” basis. For example,you probably had a combination locker in high school. Most of us could openthat locker in just a few seconds back when we used it on a daily basis. Butwhat would happen if you stood in front of that same locker today? Evenassuming the combination hadn’t changed, most people wouldn’t be able toopen it. The combination you used to recall instantly has long been forgottenbecause you stopped using it.
When I worked for a parking management company, all new employeeslearned about the company’s customer service vision in a new hireorientation session organized by my corporate training department. My teamwas also responsible for conducting site audits at our various locations toevaluate customer service. One of the items on the audit was spot-checkingemployees to see if they could describe the customer service vision.
The results varied widely. At high-performing locations, employeestypically had the customer service vision memorized. They could describewhat it meant and explain how they used it as a guide when servingcustomers. These employees remembered the vision not just from their newhire orientation, but also from frequent discussions with their boss and signsdisplaying the vision that hung at their parking facility. They also attendedthe company’s annual customer service refresher training where they werereminded about the vision.
The audit results were very different at our locations with poor customerservice performance. Here, most employees had forgotten what they learnedabout the customer service vision in their new hire orientation by the timetheir location was audited. Their manager didn’t discuss it with them, thevision wasn’t displayed anywhere at their location, and they didn’t attend theannual refresher training.
Other companies do a great job of training and reinforcing theircustomer service vision among customer-facing employees, but they don’t dothe same thing for employees working in other departments. This creates adisconnect between employees who view themselves in customer service andthose who don’t.
All employees are ultimately connected to customer service in someway, whether directly or indirectly. A restaurant server is obviously incustomer service because he or she has direct and frequent contact withguests. But what about the chef? A guest’s satisfaction will be affected by
whether the chef cooks the meal properly or honors special requests. Howabout the dishwasher? This person may never interact directly with a guest,but a guests’ experience will certainly be impacted by whether or not thedishes are clean.
The IT support manager for a major retail chain described the danger ofnot viewing certain departments as essential to customer service. “Our storesget it. We do lots of training and continuously support our culture. But it’sbeen a slow process in IT. Before I got here, culture just wasn’t somethingpeople talked about it. All the training focused on the technical aspects of thejob.”
Let’s say one of the stores experienced an issue with its point of salesoftware, the software used to ring up customer transactions, track sales, andcontrol inventory. It’s critical to that store’s operations. If the company’s ITdepartment lacks a customer-focused culture, the IT employees might notprioritize helping a store manager work through the problem while trying tominimize the impact it has on customers.
Some companies inadvertently train their employees to actually workagainst their desired culture. Remember the Comcast Retention Specialistswe profiled in Chapter 2? The focus of their job was to talk customers out ofcanceling their accounts. These Retention Specialists received extensivetraining on overcoming customer objections while making it difficult forcustomers to get what they wanted.
HOW TO TRAIN EMPLOYEES TO EMBODY YOUR CULTUREA basic training program should contain three elements: objectives,instruction, and reinforcement.
Objectives represent what you want employees to know or be able to doas a result of the training. Instruction consists of the training activities youuse to make sure employees can accomplish the objectives. Andreinforcement is what you offer to ensure that employees don’t forget whatthey have learned.
Here’s a step-by-step guide you can use to develop a training programin your company, department, or team.
STEP ONE: CREATE OBJECTIVESThe first step in developing a basic training program is to create objectives.Good training begins with clear objectives that spell out what knowledge,skills, or abilities an employee should possess by the end of the program.This allows you to measure whether that employee has met the objectives.
Training without objectives is vague, non-specific, and difficult tomeasure. A company might design a training program to “help employeesunderstand our culture.” But what does that mean? How will you knowwhether or not employees actually understand the culture?
A training program to prepare your employees to embody yourcustomer service culture training program should start with this objective:
Employees will be able to correctly answer these questions aboutour customer servicevision:
What is our customer service vision?What does it mean?How do I personally contribute?
Objectives like this influence how you design your training program. At aminimum, your training will need to help employees memorize yourcompany’s customer service vision, understand it well enough to explain itclearly, and link the vision to their own job duties. Employees should also beable to give specific examples of how they can embody the customer servicevision on the job.
Of course, you’ll need to answer these questions yourself before tryingto train employees to answer them. Otherwise, it would be like givingstudents a test without having an answer key to grade their work.
Let’s go back to Clio for a moment. The example I shared at thebeginning of this chapter provided evidence that the company’s support agentcould answer all three questions about the customer service vision: Our goalis to help our customers succeed and realize the full value of our Product.This results in Evangelists and less Churn.
First, the support agent had a card on his desk with Clio’s customerservice vision on it, which he referenced while serving his customer. This
indicated he knew the company’s vision.Second, the agent showed that he understood what the service vision
meant when he told the customer he didn’t want her to cancel her accountand was committed to finding a solution that would work for her. This madethe customer happy because she felt that he had listened to her concerns.
And finally, the support agent showed that he knew how he couldpersonally contribute when he took the time to listen to the customer and lether know he understood her real needs. After the call, he pointed to theinteraction and explained that it was his job to help customers so theyremained happy and loyal Clio customers.
The last question—How do I personally contribute?—is sometimesdifficult for employees to answer if they don’t have direct contact with theircustomers. For example, a software developer at Clio might be tempted tothink there’s little she can do to provide outstanding service. However, afterreceiving training, that developer should realize there are actually many waysshe can contribute. She can develop new features that solve pressingcustomer needs. She can tap into her empathy for customers to designsoftware that’s intuitive and easy for them to use. And she can be responsiveto the support team when they have questions about a new feature or pointout a bug that needs to be fixed.
All these actions enable Clio to deliver the kind of outstanding servicethat makes customers loyal to Clio and enthusiastic about recommending thesoftware to other lawyers.
You can add other objectives to your customer service culture trainingprogram, as long as they help employees understand and embody the culture.For instance, this could be an ideal time to introduce employees to customerservice standards or procedures. You might also develop different objectivesfor new hires than those for your experienced employees. New hires trulyneed an introduction to your company’s culture, while experiencedemployees should already have an understanding of the culture and may justneed to polish their skills or acquire some more advanced techniques.
STEP TWO: DESIGN AN INSTRUCTIONAL PLANThe second step to developing a training program is to design an instructionalplan. This plan helps your employees achieve the objectives you’ve writtenfor your culture training. You’ll want to create a plan that ensures every
employee can provide examples of ways they personally fulfill thecompany’s customer service vision in their daily jobs.
In their book Telling Ain’t Training, workplace learning andperformance experts Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps outline a simplefive-step model that can easily be used to design your culture trainingprogram.45
1. Rationale: Discuss why the training is needed.2. Objectives: Share the training objectives.3. Activities: Conduct activities to help participants learn.4. Evaluation: Determine whether the objectives have been met.5. Feedback: Confirm that objectives have been met and/or coach
employees to improve.
Figure 8.1 illustrates a sample customer service vision training plan for Clio’ssupport team. You can also download a training plan worksheet atwww.serviceculturebook.com/tools.
Figure 8.1: Customer Service Vision Training Plan
Company: ClioDepartment: Customer SupportRationale: The purpose of this training is to help Customer Support teammembers understand the customer service vision and apply it to their dailywork.Objectives: Employees will be able to correctly answer these questions aboutour customer service vision:
What is our customer service vision?What does it mean?How do I personally contribute?
Self-study: Ask participants to identify places where they see thecustomer service vision written and bring a list with them to theworkshop. (Example: signs hung at workstations.)In class: Have participants take turns describing the customerservice vision in their own words.Follow-up: Ask each participant to write a Thank You letter tothemselves from an imaginary customer, thanking them for servicethat aligned with the vision. Encourage participants to attempt toearn similar feedback from a real customer.
Self-study: Verify each participant identifies at least one writtenexample of the vision.In-class: Verify each participant describes the vision from theirown perspective.Follow-up: Verify each participant writes a Thank You letter thataligns with the vision.
Provide each participant with feedback on the outcome of theiractivities evaluations.
Activities, the third step, is where many people get stuck. Here’s what I’velearned in over 25 years as a corporate trainer: keep it simple. Many novicetrainers get so excited about adding engaging or creative elements that theylose sight of the end goal, which is to make sure employees can accomplishthe learning objectives.
The definition of a good training program is one that accomplishes itsobjectives on time and on budget. With that in mind, I prefer to follow astraightforward, three-step model for creating training activities: tell, show,and do.
Tell the participants what you want them to know.
Show them an example.Have the participants do something that demonstrates their newknowledge, skill, or ability.
There are many simple, creative activities you can develop following thismodel. Here are three examples:
This simple activity is ideal for one-on-one or on-the-job training:
Tell: Explain the customer service vision.Show: Give the participant(s) a visual aid with the vision writtenon it.Do: Ask the employee(s) to describe how they see the visionguiding their work.
Another activity involves exploring an internal or external web page yourcompany has that describes your organizational culture:
Tell: Walk participants through the web page.Show: Point out the customer service vision and anything else thathelps explain the culture (video, employee testimonials, etc.).Do: Give participants some time to explore the web page, andthen follow up by asking each one to describe how he or shethinks the customer service vision relates to his or her job.
Yet another activity is a photo scavenger hunt; this works well inenvironments where there’s ample visual evidence of the customer servicevision:
Tell: Discuss the company’s customer service vision withparticipants. Then explain that you’re going to send them on ascavenger hunt; their goal is to use their smart phones to takepictures related to the vision. Give them a short but workable timeframe in which to do this.Show: Provide an example, such as a picture of a poster with thecustomer service vision printed on it, so participants know what to
look for.Do: Have participants complete the scavenger hunt. As a bonus,divide them into teams and have each team give a shortpresentation on what they found, using their pictures as visuals.(Optional: Provide a list of items for participants to photograph.)
The activities you create are only limited by your budget, allotted time, andimagination. Just remember to keep it simple. Your training is effective aslong as it accomplishes your objectives.
STEP THREE: PROVIDE REINFORCEMENTThis third and final step in developing a basic training program is perhaps themost overlooked part of the training process. You must continuouslyreinforce the concepts taught if you want the participants to remember themand regularly apply them to their work.
Customer-focused organizations have made reinforcement part of theiroperating DNA. As we discussed in Chapter 5, companies with strongcustomer service cultures align key components of their operations (goals,hiring, training, empowerment, and management) with their customer servicevision. Each of these components naturally reinforces employees’ knowledgeand understanding of the company’s service vision on a daily basis.Nevertheless, it’s still a good idea to have a specific plan in place to reinforceyour culture training and ensure employees are constantly reminded of theconcepts they’ve learned.
One way to construct your plan is to use the 70-20-10 Rule, originallycreated by the Center for Creative Leadership.46
Over time, leadership development experts at the Center noticed thatleaders developed their skills from three primary sources:
70 percent came from challenging assignments20 percent came from mentors (usually the boss)10 percent came from formal learning
While there’s little evidence to support 70-20-10 as a hard and fast rule for
leadership development, it’s proven to be a useful guide for structuringtraining programs. Let’s see how we can use it to reinforce culture training.
Challenging Assignments (70%). Clio’s “Know Our Customer”initiative is an excellent example. Employees had to make time toget to know at least one customer, so they could better understandhow customers used their software. Another example comes fromCars. com, where Heather Rattin and her team spend time eachday solving problems that cause customer dissatisfaction.Mentors (20%). Organizational leaders should be the first peopleto attend customer service culture training. They need to knowexactly what their employees are being taught, so they canreinforce those lessons through daily informal interactions, teammeetings, department announcements (emails, etc.), and formalone-on-one feedback sessions. (We’ll discuss more ways forleaders to reinforce the customer service vision in Chapter 10.)Formal Learning (10%). This might include a training class, e-learning program, one-on-one session, or other learning event usedto initially train employees on how to embody the customerservice culture. Customer-focused organizations like Clio andJetBlue make sure all new employees receive extensive training onthe company culture. They also provide periodic refresher trainingto ensure employees don’t stagnate.
Providing employees with constant training on the culture may seem like alot of work—and it is. The effort is well worth it.
Let’s go back to the Clio support agent whose story we shared at thestart of this chapter. What would have happened if he had not been trained toembody Clio’s customer service vision? The customer might have grownfrustrated and asked to speak to a supervisor, which would take up valuabletime that the supervisor could otherwise have spent coaching and trainingemployees. And in the end, the client might have cancelled her account sinceshe couldn’t get what she wanted, which would cost Clio years of reliablerevenue and any potential referrals she would have made to other law firms.
Now, multiply that by the dozens of interactions that single support rephas with customers each day. Multiply that number again by the 20 agents on
the team. In just one day, there could be hundreds of customers who areimpacted, for better or worse, by employees’ ability to embody the culture.
Fortunately, the support agent was well trained. He was enthusiasticabout Clio’s culture and demonstrated a genuine desire to help his customersucceed. She ended the call happy with her service and determined to keepher account. And that made all that training worthwhile.
NOTES:45 Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps, Telling Ain’t Training, (Alexandria,VA: ASTD Press, 2002).46 Ron Rabin, “Blended Learning for Leadership: The CCL Approach,” Center forCreative Leadership, 2014. http://insights.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/BlendedLearningLeadership.pdf
Empowering Employees to Support Your Culture
KANYON HILLAIRE UNDERSTANDS THAT MAKING customers feel confidentgoes a long way toward their having a good experience. He’s a SafeliteAutoGlass technician who fixes and replaces broken glass—crackedwindows, dinged windshields—on cars.
It’s annoying for a customer to experience a broken car window. On topof that, it can be unsettling to have a stranger arrive at your home or businessand ask for the keys to your car.
Hillaire understands he needs to quickly build rapport with hiscustomers. “Trust is a very big thing,” explained Hillaire. “It takes years andyears to trust somebody, and we have minutes.”47
On a normal service call, Hillaire builds trust by carefully explainingthe procedure before he starts working. However, one day he went to call acustomer to confirm his arrival time and discovered that this customer wasdeaf. This meant it would be much harder to provide his normal trust-building explanation.
Hillaire decided to visit his friend Amanda, who knows American SignLanguage. He recorded a video on his cell phone of Amanda signingHillaire’s explanation of the service process. The video began with, “Myname is Amanda. My friend, Kanyon, asked me to help him explain howtoday’s appointment will go.” When Hillaire went on his service call, heshowed his customer the video, and it immediately broke the ice.
This simple gesture wasn’t in a Safelite AutoGlass employee trainingmanual. It was something Hillaire did on his own initiative. He didn’t ask forpermission to record the video or to spend the extra time. He just did it.
I asked Hillaire why he didn’t write down the instructions, instead oftaking all that time to meet his friend and create the video. Hillaire explainedthat his goal was bigger than just providing information.
“Customer service for me is allowing that person to feel comfortableand safe. Then they can trust me, and when I am working on their car ortruck, they want to trust me. So yes, I could have written it down, but I wouldhave missed out on the joy I saw in my customer’s face as he was watchingthat video. I would have missed out on watching the walls drop and watchingthe trust begin to grow.”
Stories like this have helped Safelite AutoGlass develop a reputation foroutstanding customer service. The company’s service has been profiled inbooks, blogs, and podcasts. In 2016, Safelite won two awards from theinsurer USAA for innovation and supplier excellence in contributing toUSAA’s own outstanding service reputation. This is a big deal, especiallywhen you consider that USAA is regularly ranked as the number onecustomer service company in the United States.48
Like the other companies profiled in this book, Safelite has worked hardto develop a customer-focused culture. Safelite calls it People powered,customer driven. One of the keys to its success is empowering employees likeHillaire to deliver exceptional service.
HOW SAFELITE EMPOWERS EMPLOYEES TO DELIVEROUTSTANDING CUSTOMER SERVICESome people think of empowerment as the ability to go above and beyond thecall of duty. Hillaire’s choice—to go out of his way to make a connection andbuild trust with a deaf customer—is a perfect example of this.
But empowerment means much more. Empowerment is puttingemployees in a position where it’s easy for them to provide outstandingcustomer service.
Many customer service leaders have told me that the number-oneobstacle to empowerment is getting employees to realize how much they’rereally able to do for their customers. Employees must possess a strong desireto proactively look for opportunities to deliver outstanding customer service.So empowerment starts with employees having a service mindset.
Safelite’s customer service vision provides employees with clearguidance on what they’re expected to do:
Achieve extraordinary results by looking at our business through
the eyes of our customers and making it easy for them to dobusiness with us and ensuring their experience is memorable.
Hillaire used the vision as a guide when serving his customer. He started witha desire to make the customer feel comfortable, so he tried to imagine theservice call from the customer’s perspective—i.e., through the eyes of thecustomer. Hillaire knew the video of his friend Amanda signing hisexplanation of the procedure would make it easier for the customer tounderstand the process. By taking the time to create a personal video, heensured the customer’s experience was memorable.
This service mindset starts at the top. Tom Feeney, the company’s CEO,described the empathy technicians are expected to display for customers whoneed glass repaired on their vehicles. “There’s a lot of emotion going throughyour mind. What we try to do is bring a peace of mind to that experience.”49
But this service mindset is just the starting point for empowermentbecause empowering employees means providing them with the resources,tools, and authority to serve customers at a high level. Safelite uses itscustomer service vision to guide the development of processes that enableemployees to succeed.
Consider a typical service appointment. A customer connects withSafelite either directly or through their insurance company. When they call,the customer is immediately connected to a live person rather than beingrouted through an annoying phone menu. Within a few minutes, the Safelitecustomer service rep is able to diagnose the problem, identify the part neededto fix it, check inventory to make sure the part is in stock, confirm what’scovered under the customer’s auto insurance policy, and schedule atechnician to come do the repair. Customers can also choose a self-serviceoption on the Safelite website that guides them through this process.
Most customers don’t realize how much planning and how manyresources are required to deliver this kind of service. Safelite has to staff itscontact center with enough people to answer each phone call with a liveperson. Employees need to be trained to ask the right questions to determinewhat work needs to be done. The company has to have a robust computersystem capable of checking inventory, connecting with various insurancecompanies, and managing technician schedules.
This customer-focused approach continues on to the service call itself.On the day of their appointment, customers receive an email with a picture of
the technician who will be visiting them, including a brief biography.Technicians also call or text customers directly to let them know they’re ontheir way to the appointment. Once they arrive, technicians must have theskills to develop rapport with customers and then expertly complete therepair.
The entire repair process is designed to make it easy for technicians toserve their customers and fulfill the customer service vision. Emailingcustomers a picture and biography of their technician ahead of time to makethem feel more confident is an example of looking at our business throughthe eyes of our customers. Allowing customers to quickly schedule anappointment and have the technician come to them (versus driving to aservice center) is part of making it easy for them to do business with us. Anda unique part of the Safelite process means that the technician will vacuumthe customer’s car and clean all the windows (not just the new one) as part ofthe service—which is a powerful way of ensuring their experience ismemorable.
All this combines to help Safelite achieve extraordinary results.Having a good product or service backed by the appropriate resources,
tools, and processes can empower employees to deliver excellent customerservice most of the time. However, there are still occasions when somethingunusual happens, and an employee needs to be able to depart from the normalroutine. A procedure can’t be created for every possible situation, butemployees can be encouraged to use the customer service vision as acompass to point them in the right direction.
Let’s go back to Kanyon Hillaire. Safelite technicians like Hillaire aretrained to look for ways to connect with their customers and develop rapport.Shooting a video of his friend explaining the service procedure in AmericanSign Language is an example of using that training (and Hillaire’s ownnatural instincts) to find a way to connect with a deaf customer.
Customer-focused companies like Safelite also empower theiremployees to help the company continuously improve. After his service call,Hillaire emailed Renee Cacchillo, the Vice President for CustomerExperience and Brand Strategy, to share his story and suggest that a videolike his be created for all technicians to use.
That in itself is extraordinary. Safelite has over 11,000 employees, yetHillaire felt comfortable reaching out to a senior leader. That would beunthinkable in many large companies, where frontline employees jokingly
refer to the corporate office as “the ivory tower” and often don’t even knowthe names of key executives.
It was also extraordinary that Cacchillo listened to Hillaire’s feedback.Like many effective leaders, she knows that great ideas can come frompeople doing the daily work. Hillaire’s suggestion made so much sense thatSafelite now equips its technicians with videos explaining the serviceprocedure in both American Sign Language and Spanish.
Trusting employees to do the right thing is another essential element ofempowerment. Each service appointment involves a one-on-one connectionbetween a customer and a Safelite employee. That requires the company totrust people like Hillaire to follow company procedures and use goodjudgment with limited supervision.
Like other customer-focused companies, Safelite emphasizes hiring theright people and then giving them adequate training to understand andembody the company culture. They also understand that employees naturallytend to be trustworthy if they’ve bought into the culture and are empoweredto serve their customers.
Another terrific example came from Bright House Networks. Itprovided cable, internet, telephone, and home security service toapproximately 2.5 million customers spread out over five states, before thecompany was purchased by Charter Communications in 2016. Bright HouseNetworks’ customer service agents were empowered to issue a customeraccount credit of up to $1,000 without seeking permission from a supervisor.
The company had a process where any credit of $250 or higher wasreviewed by a supervisor. The credit had already been issued by the time ofthe review, so it was purely intended to ensure that customer service agentswere making good decisions. If an agent made a questionable call, theirsupervisor could coach them on how to make a better choice in the future.
During the first year the policy was in place, managers didn’t find asingle credit that was issued inappropriately. The lesson here is that thecustomer service agents saved their customers and their company time andaggravation by issuing credits that supervisors would have eventually issuedanyway.
Empowerment is a major reason for the success of many customer-focused companies. Clio avoids scripts and encourages customer serviceagents to use their own personalities when interacting with customers. REIhas a generous returns policy that enables associates to accept most returns
without any hassle. And you’ll recall that Shake Shack’s CEO, RandyGarutti, challenged employees at a new store to “put us out of businessbecause you are so damn generous with what you give the people who walkin this door.”
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU DON’T EMPOWER YOUR EMPLOYEESEmployees who aren’t empowered often find themselves in situations wherepleasing customers seems impossible. They might miss opportunities to goabove and beyond because the company culture doesn’t encourage them tothink outside of standard procedures. Or they might feel victimized by a poorproduct, a broken process, or an overly restrictive policy that makes it hardfor them to do their job.
One such occasion happened when a winter storm tested employeeempowerment at a hotel in a small town in West Texas. The storm had shutdown the highway east of town. This meant that guests who were scheduledto check out and drive east extended their stay for another night. Still othertravelers heading east stopped their trip short, since this was the last townbefore the roads were closed. The hotel quickly sold out at what wasnormally a quiet time of year.
The lone hotel clerk working the front desk was overwhelmed. Guestafter guest arrived without a reservation, but she had to turn them awaybecause the hotel was out of rooms. To make matters worse, the hotel’scomputer system went down, which meant the clerk had to manage thecheck-in process manually.
This caused a problem when a couple with a reservation tried to checkin, only to find their room was already occupied. The hotel clerk panicked.She had miscounted the rooms where guests had extended their stay, and nowshe wasn’t sure which rooms were occupied and which ones were not. Shetried to assign them to another room, but that one, too, was occupied.
It was late and the tired couple was getting frustrated. Meanwhile, therewas a growing line of arriving guests forming in the lobby, waiting to findout if they would have a place to stay that night. It was so overwhelming thatthe clerk burst into tears.
The front desk clerk struggled because she wasn’t empowered. Shehadn’t been taught what to do when an unexpected event dramaticallychanged the hotel’s occupancy. The computer, a tool she normally relied
upon to keep track of room assignments, was down. She repeatedly called herboss for help, but her boss wasn’t answering his cell phone. And the frontdesk clerk lacked a customer-focused mindset that would have enabled her toimprovise and find a way to make the best of a bad situation.
Fortunately, a guest with hotel experience intervened. She suggestedthat the front desk associate look for reserved rooms where guests hadn’t yetarrived. It was nearly 11pm, and some guests with reservations simplyweren’t going to arrive because they couldn’t get past the road closures. Theassociate found one room that matched the criteria and was able to check thecouple in after walking to the room herself to verify it was indeedunoccupied.
Operational problems like this make it hard to empower employees. Asof 2016, McDonald’s has spent seven straight years ranked last on theAmerican Customer Satisfaction Index for limited service restaurants.50 Partof the company’s challenge is that its menu expanded 365 percent from 1980to 2014. Each new menu item adds additional processes, equipment, andemployee training requirements, making it challenging for thousands ofcompany-owned and franchised McDonald’s to implement updatesconsistently. This increases the likelihood for errors, which in turn aggravatescustomers. For example, a study by QSR Magazine found that a whopping 12percent of McDonald’s drive-through orders contain an error.51
A lack of empowerment also contributed to the demise of the once-popular Borders bookstore chain. The company’s inventory management wasso poor that sales associates would often be unable to find a product for acustomer, even if that product was physically located somewhere in the store.Research conducted by Zeynep Ton from the MIT Sloan School ofManagement and Ananth Raman the Harvard Business School revealed thatthis happened in approximately one out of six customer interactions when acustomer asked for helping finding an item.52 These sales associates wantedto help the customer and make the sale, but they didn’t have the ability.Remember, a key aspect of empowerment is that the employee has all theright resources available to do their job.
Contact centers also provide an excellent example of howempowerment impacts service quality. A 2015 study by Mattersightdiscovered that 66 percent of customers who call customer service arealready frustrated by the time they get a customer service rep on the phone.53
That’s because, unlike Safelite, the typical contact center requires customersto wade through a frustrating maze of phone menus and then wait on holdbefore someone answers the call.
This puts the customer service rep at a disadvantage since theircustomer is already upset, but it often gets worse. A 2015 research reportfrom the International Customer Management Institute revealed that 74percent of contact centers don’t fully empower their employees to deliveroutstanding customer service.54
And that feeling of disempowerment can cause employees to give upand stop even trying to serve their customers. Technical support agents at abusiness-to-business software company experienced this when the companyreleased an update to its software. The new software was confusing to thesmall business owners who used it, and it had several bugs that made itmalfunction. This caused such a barrage of customer calls that wait timessometimes extended up to an hour.
The technical support reps felt victimized. After all, they didn’t createthe confusing software update that didn’t work properly. They weren’tresponsible for staffing decisions that left the support team unable to handlethe influx of calls. It felt fundamentally unfair to the support reps that theyhad to face the brunt of customers’ anger for a problem they didn’t cause andcouldn’t fully fix. Many members of the team started feeling hopeless andresentful and stopped providing the empathetic and thorough service theynormally provided.
HOW TO EMPOWER YOUR EMPLOYEESCustomer-focused companies do two things to empower their employees.
First, the company develops a culture that instills a customer-focusedmindset in employees. Second, the company provides employees with thetools, resources, and authority to serve their customers at the highest level.
Previous chapters in this book helped you lay the foundation forcreating a customer-focused mindset, where employees are obsessed withcustomer service. It starts with having a clear customer service vision, andthen using that vision to point the entire company in the same direction.Employees must know the vision and understand how it relates to their work.Goals should be set in alignment with the vision, and employees should be
hired and trained to deliver the type of service that the vision describes.The second part of empowerment involves putting employees in a
position to succeed. There are a few things you can do to ensure this happens:
1. Invest in resources, tools, and equipment.2. Define standard operating procedures.3. Give employees the right authority.
Invest in Resources, Tools, and EquipmentSafelite customers get peace of mind, in part because customer service repshave the ability to quickly schedule a service call while identifying the rightpart, checking for an available technician, and reviewing the customer’sinsurance coverage. The company had to make some big investments insystems and staffing to make this happen, but customers are more loyalbecause of their experience. They’re more likely to tell a friend aboutSafelite, which leads to more business. And Safelite can serve its customersmore efficiently, which saves money.
In October 2014, Bright House Networks answered just 50 percent ofcustomer calls within 30 seconds. Recognizing that this was a problem, thecompany invested heavily in a new unified system enabling it to routecustomer calls more efficiently between its multiple contact centers, soemployees could provide faster service. One year later, more than 90 percentof calls were answered within 30 seconds.
Making these sorts of investments isn’t cheap; you’ll need to weigh thecost of the investment against the potential gain to justify the expense. Areasto explore include revenue gain (increased customer loyalty, fewer lost sales,higher average order value, etc.), reduced servicing costs (fewer discounts forpoor service), improved service efficiency (reduced cost per contact,improved first contact resolution, etc.), and improved reputation (increasedword-of-mouth referrals, better ratings on review sites, etc.).
Let’s say you invest $100,000 in a new computer system for yourcustomer service team. You calculate that the new system will help your teamserve customers faster and more accurately, which will result in an additional$40,000 in repeat business per year. If you divide the $100,000 expense bythe $40,000 gain, you can see how long it will take for your investment to
$100,000 ÷ $40,000 = 2.5 years
It’s ultimately up to you (and your CFO, CEO, etc.) to decide if aninvestment is worthwhile, but this is a helpful exercise.
And you can’t expect your employees to consistently deliveroutstanding service if they’re using outdated or non-functioning systems andtools.
Define Standard Operating ProceduresHaving a standard way of doing things may seem counter to empoweringemployees, but it’s an essential step. Remember that empowerment meansenabling employees to provide outstanding customer service. Standardoperating procedures help employees serve their customers consistentlyacross the whole team. These procedures should reflect the best known wayof doing things while still giving employees the flexibility to adjust tounusual circumstances.
At Safelite, it’s standard procedure to email a customer a picture and bioof their technician to help build trust and confidence. The technician is thenexpected to personally contact the customer to confirm their arrival time. Andthe standard procedure calls for the technician to spend a few minutesbuilding rapport with the customer while he or she explains the repairprocess.
All these standards combine to create a consistent experience,regardless of who the service technician may be. When a customer has agood experience with Safelite, they’ll likely call the company a couple ofyears later when a rock dings their windshield again. It’s important that thecustomer has the same great experience, even though it’s likely to be adifferent technician who does the work. Standard operating procedures helpensure that’s what happens.
It’s also easier to manage employees when there’s a set way of doingthings. New hires can learn from clearly-documented practices that areproven to be successful. Managers can supervise their employees in aconsistent manner.
Companies like Safelite have also discovered that standards can’talways be created from the top down. Best practices in customer-focusedcompanies are often identified by frontline employees. For instance, KanyonHillaire took the initiative to create a video for a deaf customer, but he wenteven further to share his idea with senior leadership. As a result, the companycreated videos in American Sign Language and Spanish that are now part ofthe standard procedure for interacting with customers whose preference isone of those languages.
One customer service leader shared a common-sense approach to settingstandards and best practices. Before putting a procedure in place, he hasemployees test the procedure to make sure it actually works as well asintended. Getting employee input improves employee buy-in, but it alsoprevents broken processes or unrealistic expectations from beingimplemented.
Give Employees the Right AuthorityA process or procedure can’t be designed for every eventuality. There aremany customer service situations that are unique, unusual, or unprecedented.In other situations, it’s simply more efficient to give employees the discretionto make decisions that a supervisor would make anyway. Requiring anemployee to seek approval before taking a common-sense action only wastesthe customer’s and employee’s time, and can make the employee feel inept oruntrusted.
There are three keys to empowering employees with the appropriateauthority to serve their customers.
The first is to develop clear red lines that cannot be crossed. The $1,000limit for customer account credits at Bright House Networks is a goodexample. This means a $975 credit is up to the customer service rep’sdiscretion, but a $1,005 credit is not allowed without permission. These redlines make it clear what employees are and are not allowed to do.
The second key is to allow employees to operate in the gray areabetween a standard operating procedure and a red line without fear ofpunishment. This is where employees must be able to use their owndiscretion.
Let’s say a manager discovers an employee issued a $500 account creditthat he disagrees with. That credit is well below the $1,000 red line, so the
manager should not discipline the employee in any way for using what theemployee believed to be appropriate judgment. The fastest way todisempower an employee is to give them grief for doing exactly what youpreviously told them they could, and even should, do.
That leads us to the third key to empowerment: coaching. If a managerdisagrees with an employee’s decision to issue a $500 credit, he shouldn’tpunish her for exercising her own judgment, but he should still engage theemployee in a conversation. The goal is to understand why the employeemade that decision and help the employee understand how to make a betterdecision in the future.
Figure 9.1 shows a sample empowerment procedure for valet parkingattendants working at a hotel. You can download an empowerment procedureworksheet at www.serviceculturebook.com/tools.
Figure 9.1: Sample Empowerment Procedure
Title: Courtesy Discount ProcedurePurpose: Our motto is “Clean, fast, and friendly service.” Valet parkingattendants may use this procedure to offer hotel guests a discount anytime ourservice falls short of our motto.Procedure:
1. Identify a guest service issue. It’s better to notice somethingbefore a guest does (ex: a dirty car windshield), so you can fix itquickly. You can also use this procedure if the guest complainsabout our service.
2. Resolve the issue. You may offer the guest a courtesy discount upto the full value of the parking charge. Keep in mind that theremay be other ways to resolve the issue to the guest’s satisfaction.For example, a dirty windshield can be quickly cleaned.
3. Record the discount. After serving the guest, note the courtesydiscount in the Courtesy Discount Log. Be sure to indicate thereason a discount was given.
Step number three is critical. Your manager will review all discounts andmay have some follow-up questions for you. The purpose is to identify any
service trends that need to be addressed. For example, five discounts for dirtywindshields in two days may signal that we need to find a better way to keepour guests’ windshields clean!
One big concern with empowering employees is that they’ll give awaytoo much. The opposite is frequently true. Managers often have to spend timeencouraging employees to do more for customers, not less.
Another big concern is making sure employees make consistentdecisions. That’s where coaching comes into play. A manager who frequentlydiscusses empowerment with employees in both an individual and teamsetting will help calibrate the team so they all have a similar understanding ofthe best way to handle certain situations.
Recall that empowering employees means putting them in a position tosucceed. It’s a combination of the right resources, clear standards to follow,and the authority to use their discretion. It’s also imperative that leadersmonitor their operations to ensure that empowerment is working.
Here’s an example. A hotel advertised that its airport shuttle arrivedevery 20 minutes. Unfortunately, shuttles actually took closer to 30 minutesto arrive. This meant that shuttle drivers weren’t empowered to meet the 20-minute promise.
Measuring how the shuttle’s performance stacked up against whatguests expected was a key first step, so hotel managers talked to shuttledrivers to get their input. They rode the shuttle and timed each leg of thejourney to understand where time was spent. Then, through a collaborativeeffort between managers and shuttle drivers, new procedures wereimplemented. The shuttle route was adjusted to be more efficient, andadditional shuttles were added during peak times. All these steps finallyempowered shuttle drivers to meet the 20-minute standard.
You can do the same thing with your customer service operation. Lookfor opportunities to improve. Collaborate with frontline employees fromvarious teams to identify problems and get everyone on the same page. Fixproblems that prevent employees from helping their customers.
There’s one last step in the empowerment process.It’s essential that customer service leaders share empowerment stories
with their team. These stories spark imagination by reminding employeeswhat can be done and help them maintain an empowerment mindset.
Safelite does an excellent job of this. Let’s go back to Kanyon Hillaire,who took the initiative to create a video explaining a repair process to a deaf
customer. Safelite posted a short video on YouTube and the company websitedetailing Hillaire’s story as an example of a creative way to connect with acustomer.
Examples like this inspire other employees. They reinforce the conceptof employee empowerment by showing how someone used their resources,tools, and authority in a creative way. Celebrating examples such as Hillaire’salso makes it safe for other employees to overcome obstacles and find a wayto achieve the company’s customer service vision.
NOTES:47 You can see more of Hillaire’s perspective in this YouTube video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbsyEMtUGEk.48 Bradley Lehman, “USAA Awards Companies for Innovation, Veteran Supportand More,” USAA, June 9, 2016. https://communities.usaa.com/t5/Press-Releases/USAA-Awards-Companies-for-Innovation-Veteran-Support-and-More/ba-p/93517.49 Tom Feeney interview with Rob Markey, “Net Promoter at the heart of acultural transformation: How Safelite turns hassles into smiles,” Net Promoter SystemPodcast, March 2015. http://www.netpromotersystemblog.com/2015/03/10/net-promoter-at-the-heart-of-a-cultural-transformation-how-safelite-turns-hassles-into-smiles/.50 The American Customer Satisfaction Index publishes these ratings on itswebsite: http://theacsi.org.51 “The Drive-Thru Performance Study: Order Accuracy,” QSR, accessedDecember 21, 2016. https://www.qsrmagazine.com/content/drive-thru-performance-study-average-service-time.52 Zeynep Ton and Ananth Raman, “The Effect of Product Variety and InventoryLevels on Misplaced Products at Retail Stores: A Longitudinal Study” (workingpaper), Harvard Business School, June 2004.http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~gjanakir/Ton_and_Raman6-10-04.pdf.53 “Please Hold for a Reality Check: The Real Reasons Consumers are Fed Upwith Call Centers,” Mattersight, 2015. http://www.mattersight.com/resource/please-hold-for-a-reality-check-real-reasons-consumers-are-fed-up-with-call-centers/.54 “Own the Moments! Understanding the Customer Journey,” ICMI Research,2015. http://www.icmi.com/Resources/Webinars/Own-the-Moments-2015-ICMI-Research-Findings.
How Leadership Can Make or Break Your Culture
IN OCTOBER 2012, HURRICANE SANDY descended on New York City.Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered evacuations and declared a state ofemergency.
While most New Yorkers worried about their safety or the damagecaused by the storm, Anthony Casalena worried about websites.
Casalena is the CEO and founder of Squarespace, a company thatmakes it easy for people without programming experience to build a website.Artists, bloggers, entrepreneurs, celebrities, and many others use Squarespacebecause of its intuitive features, beautifully designed templates, andoutstanding customer support.
The data center housing Squarespace’s servers was in New York City.The hurricane knocked out the power, which normally wouldn’t interruptSquarespace’s service because the building had a backup generator that couldkeep things going for three or four days. But then the building’s basementflooded, shutting down the fuel pump that sent fuel from the basement tank tothe generator on the 17th floor.
Casalena received a message from the data center telling him thegenerator only had 12 hours of fuel left. This meant Squarespace, and all thewebsites it powered, would soon go offline. Jesse Hertzberg, the company’sChief Operating Officer at the time, posted an update on Squarespace’swebsite telling customers to expect the site to go down soon. “We will doeverything in our power to get Squarespace running as soon as possible, andwe will remain online for as long as it is safe.”
Casalena knew he had to do something, so he hurriedly left his SoHoapartment and walked to the data center. He later explained his thoughtprocess in an interview with The Observer. “I am really, really proud ofSquarespace’s uptime and everything we accomplished. So, sitting there in an
apartment where there’s no electricity or anything else—I mean, I wouldhave to be, like, so lame not to walk down to the data center and just try andhelp. What am I going to do, sit at home in my apartment? That’s justabsurd.”55
When Casalena arrived, he realized that the generator on the 17th floorwas working fine. The problem was getting fuel there to keep it running. SoCasalena organized a bucket brigade to manually haul fuel to the generator.Employees from Squarespace, Peer1 (the company that hosted Squarespace’sservers), and Fog Creek (Peer1’s parent company) worked through the nightto maintain the generator’s fuel supply.
Miraculously, Squarespace managed to keep its service running, whichmeant that thousands of customer websites stayed online. Casalena reflectedon the team’s herculean efforts. “It’s okay to care about things, you know?Even things as silly as websites.”56
This was an extraordinary situation, but it was also a reflection ofSquarespace’s customer-focused culture. The enterprising spirit that Casalenadisplayed that night permeates throughout the entire company.
HOW SQUARESPACE LEADERS REINFORCE THE CULTURECasalena wasn’t working alone to keep the data center running duringHurricane Sandy. He pushed the initiative and modeled the necessarycommitment, but other employees were needed, too. Employees found fueldrums on craigslist that were used to haul the fuel. They manually carried thedrums up to the 17th floor, which was a challenging physical task. Still moreSquarespace employees were required to run normal operations. Others keptcustomers informed by posting frequent updates on the Squarespace statuspage and Twitter, and answering customer emails. A few more brought foodto those working nonstop to keep the data center running.
Leadership is an essential element of creating a customer-focusedculture. Leaders provide employees with direction, guidance, and inspiration,which means leaders must model the customer-focused culture. It’s unlikelythat Squarespace’s employees would have shown this extraordinary level ofcommitment and dedication during a natural disaster if their CEO wasn’tleading the way.
Casalena and his senior leaders consciously help employees connect
with the company’s customer service vision. The vision consists ofSquarespace’s mission statement framed by six core values. The mission isSquarespace makes beautiful products to help people with creative ideassucceed, and the six core values are:
Be Your Own CustomerEmpower IndividualsDesign Is Not a LuxuryGood Work Takes TimeOptimize Towards IdealsSimplify
Casalena’s hiring philosophy is a great example of how to hire people whoare aligned with the mission and values. Casalena explained to the venturecapital blog First Round Review that when you hire for culture fit, “You havepeople you can trust to make the best decisions without you while remainingaligned with your vision.”57 We learned about the importance of hiring forculture fit in Chapter 7, but it’s Casalena’s insistence that ensuresSquarespace includes culture fit as a key part of its employee screeningprocess.
A tangible example of how hiring for culture fit impacts service is thesupport team’s ability to understand and empathize with customers. JesseHertzberg, Squarespace’s former COO, told me, “Everyone who works hereis a customer.” They all have Squarespace websites of their own, whether it’sa personal blog, a side business, or some other online presence, therebyfulfilling the Be Your Own Customer core value.
This empowers technical support agents to quickly respond to customerissues with helpful and thorough suggestions. Support agents can create apersonal connection with their customers because they know what it’s like touse the product.
Casalena himself models the value that every employee is aSquarespace user. He started the company in 2004, when he wanted to findan easier way to build a website. He built the original software and spent thenext several years personally supporting customers who needed assistance.As the company grew and he had to build a customer support team, Casalenawas careful to ensure that support employees could serve customers with the
same level of empathy that he did.Casalena and the rest of the Squarespace leadership team have made
several strategic decisions that reflect the company’s customer focus. In2012, the company decided to streamline its pricing plans (part of theSimplify core value). The new pricing scheme meant that some existingcustomers who had pre-paid for a year of service were now paying more fortheir service than new customers. To address this inequity, Squarespacegenerously offered existing customers a credit for the price difference whenthey switched to one of the new plans.
Most companies wouldn’t forego all that revenue in the name ofcustomer goodwill, but Squarespace’s leaders understood that the creditshelped engender long-term customer loyalty. It also prevented the company’ssupport team from having to field a barrage of complaints from existing userswho were angry about paying more than new customers.
Another customer-focused strategic decision came when Squarespaceupgraded its product from version 5 to version 6. Squarespace 6 was such aradical product redesign that Squarespace 5 customers who wanted to use itwould have to completely rebuild their websites. Most software companieswho upgrade their products like this give customers a grace period to makethe change before they pull the plug on the old version. Squarespace decidedto do things differently.
First, the company announced that they’d continue supportingSquarespace 5 indefinitely. Customers running the old version could continueto do so without having to completely rebuild their websites usingSquarespace 6.
Second, the company gave every Squarespace 5 user the ability to builda new website on Squarespace 6 for no additional charge. This meantcustomers could experiment with the new product and rebuild their site onSquarespace 6 at their own pace. Then they could choose to make the switch,or they could stick with their existing Squarespace 5 site.
The decision to run two versions of Squarespace simultaneouslyreflected a strong customer focus. Leaders like Casalena had an intimateunderstanding of what it’s like to build and run a website, and how muchhassle it is to have to re-build an existing site. They wanted to give theircustomers all the upside of the new product without the downside of beingforced to make the switch.
Throughout this book, we’ve seen other leaders reinforce the customer-
focused culture in their organizations.Rob La Gesse at Rackspace reinforced the ideal of being available to
customers by publishing his personal contact information in a blog post, soperhaps it was no surprise when support reps tweeted their personal numbersto customers when the phone system was down. (Taking a page out of LaGesse’s book, my phone number is 619-955-7946 and my email [email protected])
Jerry Stritzke, REI’s CEO, decided to close all REI stores on BlackFriday in 2015, the busiest retail shopping day of the year. Instead, REIcreated a marketing campaign called #OptOutside to encourage REIemployees and customers to spend time outdoors. This might have hurt short-term profits, but it was squarely aligned with REI’s mission of helping peopleenjoy the outdoors. It sent a clear message that Stritzke truly believed in thecompany’s customer focus.
Recall Kanyon Hillaire, the Safelite AutoGlass technician introduced inChapter 9, who took the initiative to make a video that explained thewindshield replacement procedure in American Sign Language for a deafcustomer. He shared his idea with Renee Cacchillo, Safelite AutoGlass’sVice President for Customer Experience and Brand Strategy, who made asimilar video available to all Safelite technicians. Cacchillo reinforcedHillaire’s decision-making, so it felt safe for Hillaire and other technicians totake similar customer-focused initiatives in the future.
Leaders in customer-focused companies realize that employees look tothem to set a positive example. They model the culture in their dailyactivities, so people understand that any executive pronouncements aboutculture are more than just lip service. They make strategic decisions using theculture as a guide, even when it means sacrificing short-term profits in favorof long-term customer relationships.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF LEADERS DON’T REINFORCE THECULTUREMany companies would have you believe that they’re customer-focused evenwhen they’re not. Senior leaders extol the virtues of their unique and specialculture in corporate communications and create lofty slogans to inspireemployees. Meanwhile, these leaders often undermine attempts at true
customer focus.Wells Fargo, one of the largest banks in the U.S., provides a cautionary
tale. In 2016, the bank was fined $185 million after it was discovered thatemployees had opened more than two million phony bank and credit cardaccounts over a five-year period. The accounts were opened in the names ofexisting customers—by bank employees struggling to achieve aggressivesales targets—without the knowledge or consent of those customers.
John Stumpf, the bank’s CEO, had publicly championed the notion ofWells Fargo’s customer-focused culture. He was quoted on the Wells Fargowebsite as saying, “Everything we do is built on trust. It doesn’t happen withone transaction, in one day on the job or in one quarter. It’s earnedrelationship by relationship.” Even his message to employees announcing thefines for the widespread fraud maintained that the company was stillcustomer-focused. “Our entire culture is centered around doing what is rightfor our customers.”58
The reality was very different. Employees were encouraged by bankleaders to ignore the needs of their customers and do anything they could toopen new accounts, even if it meant committing fraud. “I had managers in myface yelling at me,” said Sabrina Bertrand, a former Wells Fargo banker.“They wanted you to open up dual checking accounts for people whocouldn’t even manage their original checking account.”59
Wells Fargo’s example proves that executive pronouncements aboutculture are meaningless if they don’t match what leaders and employees areactually doing. The intense pressure to open unauthorized customer accountsoverrode any notion of “doing what’s right for our customers.” Thecompany’s real culture was pressure-driven and deceitful.
Even seemingly small decisions can send a symbolic message toemployees. One vice president at another company undermined herorganization’s customer-focused culture initiative when she refused to let amanager discipline or fire an employee who consistently provided poorcustomer service. The employee’s productivity numbers were so good thatthey elevated the rest of the team’s, and the vice president was scared thatletting the employee go would reflect poorly on her business unit’s results.Allowing an employee to be misaligned with the culture, and preventing theemployee’s manager from addressing it, sent a clear message that this seniorleader favored short-term productivity over long-term customer relationships.
Some leaders are afraid to publicly demonstrate their commitment to the
culture. One company president was so uncomfortable interacting withfrontline employees and customers that he went to great lengths to avoid bothgroups. When he made site visits to the company’s various locations, hequickly sequestered himself in an office with that location’s general managerwhile completely ignoring other employees. This president’s aloofness sentthe message that he considered himself too important to speak to frontlineemployees, which undermined his desire for employees to provide warm andfriendly service.
Another challenge faced by executive leaders is relying too much ondata to manage the business without having a firm grasp of what’s reallyhappening. For example, a retail store received its weekly stock shipment onSaturday mornings. Corporate leaders scheduled the stock truck to optimizethe truck’s routing without considering how the timing of a shipment affectedthe store’s operations. This was the busiest sales time of the week, but thestore manager wasn’t allowed to add extra staff to handle stock duties plusthe heavy sales-floor activity.
Corporate leaders had set a strict limit on the number of employees whocould work the Saturday shift, based on historical sales data—but withouttaking into account increased sales that could be gained by adding sales staffduring the Saturday morning rush. The store manager shared these insightswith his boss, the chain’s area manager, and explained how a few changescould dramatically improve sales. But the company’s senior leaders stuck totheir plan, despite the store manager’s request because they trusted their datamore than they trusted the manager who had intimate knowledge of thestore’s operations.
It’s helpful to acknowledge that leaders face enormous pressure to drivebusiness results. They’re human, like everyone else, which means thatleadership decisions are often guided by the same swirl of emotions—likeoptimism, fear, and a longing for acceptance—that drive frontline employeebehaviors. The big difference is that all eyes are on the leadership team.
Leaders can quickly undermine the customer-focused culture they hopeto create if they make the wrong decision or model the wrong behavior.That’s why it’s critical for organizational leaders to recognize their role inreinforcing the culture, and for them to have a clear plan to fulfill that role.
HOW TO REINFORCE YOUR CULTURE WITH EMPLOYEES
Employees look to their boss, company executives, and other “higher-ups” inan organization for leadership on the culture. In organizations with acustomer-focused culture, leaders consistently act as culture champions.
There are three primary ways they do this: they model the culturethemselves, they use the customer service vision to guide strategic decisions,and they consistently communicate the culture to employees.
Here’s how you can incorporate each of these practices into your ownleadership activities.
Model the CultureAnthony Casalena, Squarespace’s CEO, modeled the customer service visionby helping keep the data center open during Hurricane Sandy. He didn’tmerely dispatch a group of employees to take care of it; Casalena was therepersonally. His leadership demonstrated the caring and passion for customersthat he expects of his employees.
As a leader, you have to show employees what customer focus lookslike. Your behavior sends a strong signal to people that you’re eithercommitted to the culture (like Casalena at Squarespace), or you’re not (likeJohn Stumpf at Wells Fargo).
One of the best ways to do this is to be visible. Spend time connectingwith employees, so they see your commitment to the culture. This isespecially important in large organizations with many locations spread acrossa wide geographical area.
Shake Shack’s CEO, Randy Garutti, provides an excellent example byfrequently visiting Shake Shack locations to review the operation andencourage employees. Unlike the company president I mentioned earlier, hedoesn’t hide in a back office. When employees observe Garutti (and otherexecutives) interacting with employees and customers in a positive way, theyunderstand that these leaders are truly committed to the culture.
In some organizations, leaders periodically spend time directly servingcustomers. They might answer customer questions in the contact center, ringup purchases in a retail store, or greet guests in a hotel lobby. Employees areinspired to use the organization’s customer service vision as a guide to servecustomers when they see their leaders doing the same thing.
Let Your Culture Guide StrategyYour strategic decisions must be aligned with the culture and the customerservice vision if you want a customer-focused organization. All too often,leaders unconsciously undermine the culture they’re trying to create bymaking a decision that doesn’t fit the culture. This is almost always done tochase some sort of short-term financial advantage.
Wells Fargo’s fake account scandal happened in part because thecompany’s executives pushed something called the “Gr-eight” initiative. Thegoal was to get customers to hold an average of eight financial products at thebank. The initiative led to unrealistic sales goals and unrelenting pressurefrom Wells Fargo managers that encouraged employees to open fraudulentaccounts. The strategic decision to push the “Gr-eight” program created adirect conflict with the “do what’s right for our customers” culture that CEOJohn Stumpf promoted.
Customer-focused leaders frequently forgo short-term profits toreinforce the company’s culture in the long term. These enlightened leadersrealize that the continued business and positive word-of-mouth from loyal,happy customers more than makes up for any temporary set-backs.
You’ve seen a few examples so far in this book. JetBlue leaders madethe strategic decision to provide all crewmembers (employees) with trainingon the airline’s culture and business operations, since the resultingcrewmember engagement far outweighs the cost of the training. Executives atClio know the annual software user conference is more than just a marketingboondoggle; they use the event to actively seek client feedback, so they canmake improvements to the product. Safelite AutoGlass’s leaders made thestrategic decision to have a live person answer customer calls, even though itrequires extra staffing in their contact center.
One of my clients devised an ingenious tactic to get her CEO to lookpast short-term cost savings in favor of supporting the company culture. Myclient was the Vice President of Human Resources for a rapidly-growingcompany. She was convinced that she needed to add additional office spaceto accommodate the training needs of the company’s expanding employeebase (her internal customers), so she put together a business case for thecompany’s CEO.
The CEO rejected the plan because she felt the cost of leasing additionaloffice space was too high, but the vice president was undaunted. She invitedthe CEO to attend a new hire orientation session and say a few words to the
company’s new employees. When the CEO arrived, she was horrified to seethe small conference room uncomfortably crowded with people, some ofwhom were sitting on the credenza in the back or leaning against the wallbecause there was nowhere for them to sit. Many of these employees hadspecialized skills and training and had been heavily recruited with generouscompensation packages. The CEO was dismayed to see that their firstimpression as employees of the company was to be packed like sardines intoa tiny conference room.
The CEO approved the new office space lease shortly after attending thenew hire orientation. The business case wasn’t nearly as compelling as seeinga situation that was clearly misaligned with the way the company wanted totreat its employees.
Communicate the CultureLeaders in customer-focused organizations spend a lot of timecommunicating the culture to employees. They remind people of thecustomer service vision, emphasize its importance, and share inspirationalstories of employees using the vision as a guide to deliver outstandingservice.
Employees understand something’s importance based on how oftenleaders talk about it. In customer-focused companies, leaders constantly talkabout service. Here are just a few opportunities where you can do the samething:
Company-wide newslettersTown hall meetingsPosters and signageSite visits to individual locations, departments, or teamsYour direct reports
Repetition and alignment are key. Senior leaders should use a variety of waysto repeatedly reinforce the customer service vision and company culture. Thissends a clear signal that the culture is important.
Middle managers and frontline supervisors must also align theiremployee communication around a similar message. Employees will
remember and understand the customer service vision when it’s reinforced bymultiple leaders and in multiple ways. They’ll quickly discard it as irrelevantto them if the CEO makes an occasional announcement about customerfocus, but their direct supervisor never mentions it.
Leadership teams must have a shared understanding of the companyculture so they can reinforce the culture in a consistent way with employees.I’ve worked with many companies where culture initiatives struggled becausesenior leaders all had very different ideas about what the culture entailed andnever shared those ideas with each other to make sure they were all on thesame page.
I recommend that company leaders quiz each other on the same threequestions all employees should be able to answer about the customer servicevision (from Chapter 4):
1. What is the customer service vision?2. What does the customer service vision mean?3. How do I personally contribute to the customer service vision?
The answers to these questions need to be consistent among yourorganizational leaders if you expect your employees to answer themconsistently. This also means that senior leaders, like all employees, musteither embrace the culture or be asked to leave. Squarespace’s AnthonyCasalena told First Round Review that leaders don’t have to be in 100 percentagreement, but they do need to be closely aligned. Senior leaders whoconsistently disagree with the customer service vision, or who act counter tothe company culture, do more harm than good. “If you think you’d have 80%disagreement with some leaders, then some people probably shouldn’t be atthe company.”
NOTES:55 Kelly Faircloth, “Why Did SquareSpace’s CEO Haul Diesel Up 17 Flights ofStairs? Anything Less Would be ‘Lame’,” Observer, November 5, 2012.http://observer.com/2012/11/squarespace-diesel-peer1-wall-street-hurricane-sandy-data-center.56 Ibid.57 “How Squarespace’s CEO Pivoted to Scale for Millions,” First Round Review(blog). http://firstround.com/review/How-Squarespaces-CEO-Pivoted-to-Scale-for-Millions.58 John Stumpf, “Perspective on Sept. 8 settlement announcement,” Wells Fargo,September 2016. https://stories.wellsfargobank.com/perspective-todays-settlement-announcement/?cid=adv_prsrls_1609_102495.59 Matt Egan, “Workers tell Wells Fargo horror stories,” CNNMoney, September9, 2016.
A Customer-Focused Example
NONE OF THE CUSTOMER-FOCUSED COMPANIES profiled in The ServiceCulture Handbook wanted to be in Chapter 11. It’s understandable, given theconnection in the United States between “Chapter 11” and bankruptcy orgoing out of business.
These companies are my customers because they’ve helped mehighlight the steps necessary to develop a customer service culture. So, we’lljust skip this chapter and go straight to Chapter 12.
Making the Commitment to a Customer-Focused Culture
MOST COMPANIES FEEL PRESSURED TO provide outstanding customerservice. Keeping customers happy is an important part of earning repeatbusiness and maintaining the company’s brand reputation.
But serving customers isn’t always easy. Products break, processesdon’t always work as intended, and getting every employee on the same pageis an enormous challenge.
Now imagine the pressure your company would face if your businesswas developing customer support software.
That’s Zendesk. Its software is used by thousands of companies to servetheir own customers. All the back-end stuff most of us don’t think about runsthrough Zendesk: keeping records of customer contacts, capturing notes fromcustomer service agents, and routing contacts from multiple channels (phone,email, chat, etc.) to the correct person. Zendesk can even send out customerservice surveys to help companies generate Voice of the Customer feedback.
The company has developed a reputation for providing outstandingcustomer service to the companies using its software. Its customersatisfaction rating hovers around an astounding 95 percent. It’s notuncommon for customer service leaders to get excited when they talk aboutZendesk and gush about how the software makes it easier for their companyto deliver service. More of my clients use Zendesk than any other customersupport software platform.
Customer focus initially came easily for Zendesk. The company wasfounded in 2007 by Mikkel Svane, Morten Primdahl, and AlexanderAghassipour. They wanted to make customer support software that was easyto use, so customer focus was a driving principle behind the company’screation. In the beginning, the three founders were closely involved with allaspects of the operation and had direct contact with their clients.
Like many startups, the real challenge was maintaining the culture asthe company grew. In just seven years, Zendesk expanded from a three-person startup run out of Mikkel Svane’s kitchen into a global, publicly-traded organization with customers in 150 countries and territories and morethan 1,500 employees.
Zendesk executives realized the company needed a more formalapproach. Accordingly, in 2014, Zendesk made a commitment to formalizingand growing its customer-focused culture.
HOW ZENDESK MADE THE COMMITMENT TO CUSTOMER FOCUSThe initiative started with the customer support team, which Zendesk callsthe Customer Advocate team. Greg Collins was hired as the Vice President ofGlobal Customer Advocacy in 2014, just a few months after Zendesk had itsinitial public stock offering. The company already had a great product,passionate customers and employees, and a proven track record. Collins wasbrought in to help sustain and grow the culture of customer advocacy as thecompany grew.
“The challenge was we were growing so fast,” says Collins. “It wastough to keep everyone rowing in the same direction.”
The first step in making a formal commitment to customer focus wasensuring that senior leaders supported it. The initiative would start in theCustomer Advocate team, but Collins wanted it to permeate throughout theentire company.
Fortunately for Collins, the idea of formalizing the company’s customerservice culture resonated with executives because many critical elementswere already in place. Customer focus was a core reason the three foundershad started the company, and Zendesk leaders were already careful abouthow customer service was positioned to employees. For instance, the termadvocacy was used for customer support, meaning that support employees—known as Customer Advocates—understood that they were there to beadvocates for the customers they served.
The next step was creating a customer service vision that would serve asa shared definition of outstanding service for all Customer Advocates. Aswe’ve seen throughout this book, a customer service vision is the cornerstoneof a customer-focused culture. It acts as a compass to get every employeepointed in the same direction, which was exactly what Collins had been hired
to do.Collins solicited input from every member of the nearly 200-person
Customer Advocate team, encouraging Customer Advocates from around theworld to share and discuss ideas with each other via an online portal. Theteam ultimately created a set of four values unified by a vision statement, allof which were directly aligned with Zendesk’s corporate mission: to helporganizations and their customers build better relationships.
Serve: Putting Service in ‘Customer Service’Lead: Lead by ExampleInnovate: Don’t Fear the BananaHave Fun: Smile, Dammit
The vision: to be the benchmark of a people-first Support ExperienceSome clarification is in order to avoid confusion.I use the term “customer service vision” to describe a shared definition
of outstanding customer service. Zendesk’s customer service vision includesfour values and a vision statement. For the rest of this chapter, I’ll use theterm “customer service vision” to reflect the overall definition and “vision” torefer to the Customer Advocate team’s vision statement.
Second, “Don’t Fear the Banana” references a parable about a group ofmonkeys placed in a cage. The story is often passed off by keynote speakersas a real scientific experiment; it’s not.
Five monkeys are placed in a cage with a ladder in the middle. On topof the ladder is a banana. Whenever a monkey tries to get the banana, theother monkeys are sprayed with cold water. The monkeys quickly learn toattack any monkey that tries to get the banana.
Next, one by one, the monkeys are replaced in the cage with newmonkeys—who are promptly attacked by the group as soon as they go for thebanana. This behavior persists in the cage even when there are no monkeysleft that had been sprayed with cold water when another monkey went afterthe banana. The lesson is that it’s easy to accept the status quo withoutunderstanding why things are done a certain way.
“Don’t Fear the Banana” was already part of the Zendesk culture whenthe Customer Advocate team created its customer service vision. MikkelSvane, the company’s CEO, was fond of saying it when he wanted to
encourage people to challenge the status quo. As part of the newly-createdvalue statement, “Don’t Fear the Banana” incorporated the existing cultureinto a codified value system.
A customer service vision, whether it’s a set of values, a missionstatement, or another type of cultural artifact, is much more powerful when itclearly reflects an organization’s already-existing culture.
The third clarification has to do with the vision: to be the benchmark ofa people-first Support Experience. This means that Advocates and customersare equally important to Zendesk. It’s common for customer support teams insoftware companies to become overly focused on process or technologywhere support agents feel unempowered to serve their customers becausethey’re constrained by tightly-scripted procedures that don’t provide enoughflexibility to address each customer’s unique needs. The result is thatcustomers may feel like the support agent is talking down to them and nottruly empathizing with their frustration, or even worse, customers suspect thecompany is using automated technology to save money by preventing themfrom connecting with a live person. Zendesk’s Customer Advocate teamemphasizes a people-first philosophy to instill the idea that serving the personis more important than focusing on the technology.
“Process and technology are very valuable,” says Collins. “Yet thesestrategies serve people.”
Collins emphasizes that the values are listed in priority order and arecollectively unified by the vision. This is an important point becauseemployees can easily get confused if there are too many cultural artifacts(like values, a vision statement, a mission statement, etc.) to memorize andfollow. Zendesk Customer Advocates know their number-one priority isPutting Service in ‘Customer Service,’ which means developing healthyrelationships with customers by providing clear, concise, and helpful support.
Once the values and vision were created, Collins hung them on signs inevery Customer Advocate office. He spent time discussing them withCustomer Advocates to ensure that every person knew what they were, whatthey meant, and how the customer service vision should guide their dailywork.
The entire process took just a few months, from gaining executivesupport for the culture initiative, to working with Customer Advocates tocreate the values and vision, to rolling out the final customer service vision tothe team. Many leaders would check the project off their to-do list at this
point and move on to another initiative. For Collins, the work was justbeginning.
He set about incorporating the values and vision into every aspect of theCustomer Advocate team’s daily work. They were incorporated into new-hiretraining, and every new Customer Advocate gets a personal email fromCollins explaining the values and vision and their importance. The values andvision are mentioned in every all-hands meeting and in one-on-oneconversations with employees.
The team is also encouraged to use the values when interacting withtheir coworkers. For instance, Customer Advocates can recognize each otherfor outstanding service. The only catch is they have to mention which one ofthe four values they’re recognizing their colleague for emulating.
Collins implemented a quarterly Advocate Satisfaction survey to helpprovide a barometer of how well Zendesk is creating a people-first SupportExperience for its support agents. The survey asks, “How much do you likeor dislike your current job at Zendesk?” The results are boldly shared on awebsite where the current Agent Satisfaction Score is 91.5 percent.60 “Ibelieve that motivated, happy, and engaged Advocates is how you getmotivated, happy, and engaged Customers,” says Collins.
Customer Advocates now review feedback from customer satisfactionsurveys on a daily basis. Positive surveys are celebrated, while negativefeedback is dissected to identify opportunities for the team to improve. Allthis feedback is shared with the rest of the company to help other departmentsunderstand where they can contribute to increasing customer satisfaction.
Collins has invited people from other parts of the company to share inthe Customer Advocate team’s vision. The company has a SupportExperience Program, where people from other departments can spend timeworking with Customer Advocates to resolve customer issues. The intent isto help employees develop customer empathy, so they can understand howtheir work impacts Zendesk’s customers.
Irina Blok, a Zendesk product designer, described her participation inthe Support Experience Program as a new employee. “Before this experience,I thought it would be easy to be an advocate. But it’s a very hard job. Notonly do you have to know the product completely, you have to be a people-person.”
Blok continued, “Not only did I get to learn about the Zendesk product,I developed hands-on knowledge of what Zendesk is built on: helping
customers solve problems.”61Two things really stand out about Zendesk’s story. The first is that this
wasn’t a one-time project. Collins makes it clear that aligning all CustomerAdvocates around a shared customer service vision is a way of doingbusiness. This is a true long-term commitment to building, growing, andsustaining a customer-focused culture.
The second thing that stands out is that the steps Collins took toformalize the Customer Advocate team’s culture are remarkably similar towhat other companies profiled in this book have done. I didn’t ask Collins aset of predetermined interview questions designed to elicit responses that fitmy model. We just talked. And the more he talked, the more I heardsimilarities with other customer-focused companies.
Collins started by getting support from his executive leadership team.Senior leaders champion the company culture in every customer-focusedcompany profiled in this book. You can’t get employees to commit tosomething that senior leaders won’t commit to themselves.
The next step was developing a customer service vision. Everycustomer-focused company profiled in this book has one. They all lookdifferent, but every one of them provides a clear definition of outstandingcustomer service for employees to follow.
The third piece is aligning daily work around that vision. Goals, hiring,training, processes, and leadership are all focused on delivering outstandingcustomer service. Progress is reviewed relentlessly, and employees sooncome to realize that this is the most important aspect of their jobs. This iswhen they become obsessed with service.
Making a commitment like this isn’t a short-term project. Collinscontinues to work on culture two years after he joined Zendesk. Clio, thesoftware company you met in Chapter 8, started its culture initiative in 2013and continues to diligently work on it today. In 2015, REI started its#OptOutside campaign to close its stores on Black Friday and has now turnedit into an annual event.
Culture requires senior leaders and their employees to be in it for thelong term. It’s incredibly difficult to maintain a customer-focused culturewithout this true commitment.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF YOU DON’T COMMIT TO CUSTOMERFOCUSMany leaders follow what employees jokingly refer to as a “flavor of themonth” plan. A new initiative is introduced, project teams are formed,everyone spends a lot of time on it, and then it just goes away. Soon, anothernew initiative takes its place. People are always working on something new,but nothing seems to stick.
One company wanted to develop a customer-focused culture, but seniorleaders weren’t willing to make a full commitment. The first year, thecompany president approved an initiative to create a customer service vision,but then quickly stopped the initiative in order to refocus her leadership teamon cost-cutting in an effort to improve year-end profits. A few months later,the president was fired by the company’s ownership group, in part becausethe company was delivering poor service.
A new president was hired and expressed his commitment to restartingthe culture initiative. First, though, he wanted to focus the company onemployee engagement, not realizing that culture and engagement go hand-in-hand. The company ran through the same process that many companies use:conducting an employee satisfaction survey, forming committees to reviewthe results, and then ultimately doing very little to make improvements.
The next year, the president expressed interest in the culture initiative,but held off to focus on customer experience. He took the same approach asthe employee engagement initiative: a one-time survey was conducted,committees were formed, and nothing really happened.
Once again, the president missed the connection between culture,employee engagement, and customer experience. He could have been doingall three at the same time! Unfortunately, these flavor of the month initiativesgained very little traction, and very little changed because there was no realcommitment. By now, the original culture ideas had been forgotten.
A major reason this company struggled was because neither presidentfully committed to any initiative that would fundamentally change how theorganization operated. They wasted inordinate amounts of employee time andspent large sums of money on consultants to start new projects, but thepromised benefits never materialized because they didn’t stick with it.
Some leaders try to make customer focus an initiative just for frontlineemployees. As we learned in Chapter 10, this approach doesn’t work either.
Employees follow the example set by their leaders. This means leaders needto model the culture themselves, use the culture to guide strategic decision-making, and consistently communicate the culture to employees.
One customer service executive lamented that she wanted to build acustomer-focused culture, but her company’s CEO “didn’t go for that touchy-feely stuff.” The harsh reality is that a culture initiative can only go as high asthe most senior person supporting it. She realized that she wouldn’t be able toget the entire company to focus on service until the CEO made it a priority,but she also understood that she could have a positive impact on areas shecontrolled directly. So she set out to develop a customer-focused cultureamong the people who reported to her.
Impatience can also sink a customer-focus initiative, because executivesoften severely underestimate the time and effort required to change acompany culture. It seems like every year a research firm produces a surveythat shows customer focus is a top priority for corporate executives, only toreplace that prediction with a similar one the next year.
For instance, a 2013 study by the research arm of the computernetworking firm Oracle revealed that 93 percent of senior executives feltimproving customer experience was a top priority for 2014.62 A studyreleased in February 2015 by Oracle and Forbes Insights, the research groupfor Forbes magazine, showed that 88 percent of customer service executivesfelt their organizations were making good progress toward meeting the needsof their customers.63 Meanwhile, the American Customer Satisfaction Indexdeclined for eight straight quarters during this same time period, from Q12014 to Q4 2015.64
One organization wanted to develop its culture and began by followingthe steps outlined in this book. The organization’s leaders developed acustomer service vision, and employees in individual departments receivedtraining on what the vision meant and how they could contribute.Unfortunately, executives soon became impatient and lost focus on theinitiative.
The first sign of trouble came when leaders didn’t make time to supportthe initial implementation. Senior executives were scheduled to attend visionrollout training programs to express their support for the customer servicevision, but each one found an excuse to cancel their participation. Somedepartments were allowed to skip the rollout training altogether because thedepartment leader was under pressure from a senior leader to focus on other
tasks. Make-up classes were promised but never materialized.A budget freeze halted the vision rollout entirely just a few months into
the initiative. The organization wanted to reallocate spending to focus onother projects that were considered higher priority than building a customer-focused culture. Meanwhile, employee morale worsened and customersatisfaction survey scores declined as employees perceived that yet anotherprogram had been started and then quickly abandoned.
Many leaders struggle to grasp the concept of true commitment. It’s notsomething you can change with an executive announcement, a few trainingclasses, or by hiring a team of consultants. Companies like Zendesk succeedin developing customer-focused cultures because their leaders worked formany years to include customer focus as a part of the culture. The cultureinitiative that Greg Collins and his team at Zendesk led simply codified andgrew what was already there.
HOW TO COMMIT TO A CUSTOMER-FOCUSED CULTURETake a moment to answer the following questions. These are gut-checkquestions, so answer them honestly. Involve other leaders if necessary, orstart by taking an introspective look at your part of the organization.
Question #1: Can you identify how outstanding customer service isvaluable to your business? It’s not enough to say “Yes” to this questionbecause you have a general idea of how service is important. Commitment tocustomer focus almost always wavers unless there’s a clear understanding ofhow customer service directly drives business outcomes. A “Yes” to thisquestion means you have a specific answer connecting service to financialresults. Here are just a few examples:
Can you sell more products at a higher price point, like REI?Can you earn loyalty from a specific customer base, like JetBluedoes with leisure travelers?Can you generate amazing revenue per location, like ShakeShack?Can you become a leader in a competitive market, like Cars.com?Can you improve efficiency through incredible employeeretention, like Publix?
Can you decrease customer churn, like Clio?Can you save time and money by empowering employees, likeSafelite AutoGlass?Can customer-focus make your products more appealing tocustomers, like Squarespace?
Zendesk was ready to make this change because the company needed a wayto maintain its culture as it continued to grow. The market for customerservice software is incredibly competitive, so the company would either gainor lose market share based on how well it served its customers.
Question #2: Are you willing to be a different leader? Shaping aculture, whether at an organizational or team level, is an incredible leadershipchallenge. It takes grit to stay the course when others might question you.Discipline is required to prioritize culture when it seems like a million othertasks need your attention. Humility is another important trait, since we’re allhuman and sometimes make mistakes.
Zendesk’s Greg Collins shared an impressive example aboutaccountability. He told me that every employee is expected to speak up andsay something if they see someone who isn’t living the values or vision. Thatrule even applies to him: employees are encouraged to let him know if theythink he’s making a decision that’s not aligned with the culture—and theydo!
Question #3: Are you willing to fundamentally change the way yourbusiness operates? This is a tough test for many leaders who want to achievecustomer focus but aren’t ready to put in the work to make it happen. Thecustomer-focused companies profiled in this book succeed because they dothings differently than most organizations.
Some of the steps outlined in this book may represent significantchanges. You’ll need to use metrics differently, hire differently, traindifferently, give employees more empowerment than ever before, and changehow leaders work with their teams. Even your strategies, tactics, and policiesmay need to change as you align everything around a customer servicevision.
Zendesk has made core changes as its culture continues to evolve. In2011, the company relocated its headquarters to San Francisco’s TenderloinDistrict, a redeveloping neighborhood where companies receive tax breaksfrom the city in exchange for investing in the community. Mikkel Svane saw
this as an opportunity to develop the company culture. “I think [moving] hashelped us create a richer, more well-rounded company, where people thinknot just about the code, or the product we built, or the customers we serve,but also about our part in the neighborhood. I think it makes our employeessmarter and better employees, and gives a meaning for their life and job.”65
You’re probably ready to make a commitment to a customer-focusedculture if you can truthfully answer “Yes” to all three questions.
There’s still some work to do if any of the questions is a “No” for you.Perhaps you’re not the CEO or company president. You might be
wondering how to get your senior leadership on board with a cultureinitiative.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. I, too, am still searching for asecret technique that will get executives to suddenly make a full commitmentto developing the right culture. But the reality is that your executives need tobe able to answer “Yes” to those same three questions if you want to effectorganization-wide culture change.
All is not lost if you can’t make that happen. What you can do is focuson the area within your control. If you manage a contact center, then make itthe most customer-focused contact center you possibly can. If you manageone location in a company that has many, then help your location develop areputation for outstanding service. If you lead a department that providesinternal service (like Human Resources, Finance, IT, Logistics, etc.), thenmake your department everyone’s favorite go-to department in the company.
There are two things to keep in mind if you truly believe you can makethe commitment to a customer-focused culture.
The first is that the process laid out in chapters 3 – 10 is a step-by-stepguide. Being committed involves sticking to that process and not skippingsteps.
The second thing to remember is that developing your culture takestime, and there will be bumps in the road along the way. You’ll need a planto keep everyone energized and focused.
I recommend creating an annual calendar of activities promoting thecustomer-focused culture to help you, your employees, and the entireorganization remain focused. It’s good to break this calendar down intoyearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily activities. Here are somesuggestions:
Review the customer service vision to make sure it still resonates.Use the customer service vision as a guide during strategicplanning.Engage employees in recommitment activities such as refreshertraining.
Hold an all-hands meeting (including your senior leadership!) todiscuss the state of the business and reinforce the vision.Recognize employees for their contributions to the culture.Conduct training activities to build new customer service skills.
Review customer-focused metrics and generate insight forimprovement.Identify the biggest issues that hurt customer service and thensolve them.Meet one-on-one with employees to give feedback and reinforcethe customer service vision.
Review customer feedback and generate insight for improvement.Hold team-level meetings to discuss top customer servicepriorities, resolve challenges, and reinforce the customer servicevision.Conduct micro-trainings to reinforce one specific customerservice skill. (You can use my free Customer Service Tip of theWeek email for ideas. Sign-up atwww.serviceculturebook.com/tools.)
Use ad hoc employee feedback opportunities to reinforce thecustomer service vision.Put out fires, and then identify and fix whatever caused theproblem.Model the customer service vision to set an example foremployees.
You can find a template to create your own customer-focused activity plan atserviceculturebook.com/tools.
Customer service leaders often ask me whether these never-endingcustomer-focus activities ever get stale. The answer to that is no …andsometimes.
On an organizational level, the commitment should never waver. That’sbecause organizations must constantly evolve to address new opportunities inthe market and solve complex challenges to improve the business and servecustomers even better. There’s always some sort of change going on, whichkeeps things from getting stale.
On a team, location, or department level, customer focus shouldn’t getstale, either. That’s because each part of the organization must alsocontinuously change and adapt as the organization itself evolves. Newemployees will join the team, and it takes work to help them learn about theculture and understand how they, too, can help promote it.
On an employee level, the relentless customer focus can get stale incertain situations. Some employees will consider their job a career and relishthe opportunity to grow, so feeling stuck in the same role for years on endcan feel dreary. Others will enjoy the time they spend in your organization,but it won’t be part of their long-term plan, no matter how exciting you makeit. The important job for a customer service leader is to ensure that allemployees are committed to the culture for as long as they’re there.
The companies profiled in this book maintain a customer-focusedculture in part because their employees are obsessed with solving problems.They want to serve each customer better than the last one. It’s a constantchallenge that always presents some new wrinkle or obstacle. Employees areenergized because they know the entire organization is focused on driving
business results through outstanding customer service.It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of something like that. My hope is
that you can use this book as a guide to create that magic in yourorganization.
NOTES:60 The score is periodically updated. You can view the latest results here:https://www.zendesk.com/customer-experience/customer-service/#customer-service.61 Irina Blok, “A day in the life of a Zendesk advocate,” Zendesk (blog), February2016. https://www.zendesk.com/blog/day-life-zendesk-advocate.62 Oracle, “Global Insights on Succeeding in the Customer Experience Era,” 2013.63 Jake Sorofman and Laura McLellan, “Gartner Survey Finds Importance ofCustomer Experience on the Rise – Marketing is on the Hook,” Gartner, 2014.64 The American Customer Satisfaction Index is updated quarterly.http://theacsi.org/national-economic-indicator/us-overall-customer-satisfaction.65 Heather Somerville, “Four years after Mid-Market tax break, Zendesk wins overcommunity,” The Mercury News, February 20, 2015.
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- Table of Contents
- Part 1: Culture Is the Key to Outstanding Customer Service
- Chapter 1 How Corporate Culture Guides Your Employees’ Actions
- Chapter 2 Why Culture Initiatives Often Fail
- Part 2: Building a Customer-Focused Culture
- Chapter 3 Defining Your Culture
- Chapter 4 Engaging Employees with Your Culture
- Part 3: Changing Your Company’s Service DNA
- Chapter 5 Aligning Your Business Around a Customer-Focused Culture
- Chapter 6 Setting Goals That Drive Your Culture
- Chapter 7 Hiring Employees Who Will Embrace Your Culture
- Chapter 8 Training Employees to Embody Your Culture
- Chapter 9 Empowering Employees to Support Your Culture
- Chapter 10 How Leadership Can Make or Break Your Culture
- Chapter 11 A Customer-Focused Example
- Chapter 12 Making the Commitment to a Customer-Focused Culture