The vast majority of business leaders will agree that customer service is critical to their success. However, most haven’t done what it takes to be a world-class customer service organization.
A recent study by the Relational Capital Group revealed that 89% of senior leaders believe that relationships are the most important factor in their success year over year. However, the study also revealed that only 24% of these leaders actually do anything intentionally to promote building those relationships. Finally, the study further indicated that less than 5% of organizations actually have any specific strategies for helping their professionals develop and strengthen the relationships required to achieve their goals.
The way to tell which companies are the pretenders and which are legit is by asking just one simple question: “Who is in charge of your company’s customer experience?” If the answer is a contact center supervisor or director of the customer service team, they’ve missed the mark.
The role of a chief eXperience officer (CXO) or chief customer officer (CCO) have been two of the fastest-growing executive positions for the past decade, but too often these are empty titles. The majority of companies don’t have anyone who owns their customer experience or who loses sleep at night over how the company is treating customers. Companies have heads of operations, marketing, accounting, sales and human resources, but rarely do they have someone in charge of their second most important asset (after employees). That asset is the customer.
Companies need truly senior-level executive sponsorship and a commitment to the long-term strategy of dominating their industry by providing superior customer service. This entails having a leader who oversees the entire company’s customer service across every department. That person should not be the president, CEO or owner, but someone who reports directly to them.
Why Employees Often Lack Customer Empathy
Customer service and soft skills aren’t common sense. Most people aren’t born with them. Organizational leaders need to realize that a sizable number of their employees have extremely low service aptitude, especially when they’re just entering the workforce. There are several reasons for this.
First, most frontline employees don’t know what “world-class” looks like. Their standard of living typically doesn’t afford them the opportunity to fly first class, stay at five-star resorts, drive a luxury automobile or enjoy other high-end experiences. Similarly, in many businesses, customer-facing employees can’t relate to their customers. They don’t share the same age range, income or professional position. Many businesses have frontline employees in their 20s dealing with clients much older who could be among upper-tiered professionals. Your employees don’t share their customer’s perspective, and therefore, find it difficult to empathize, show compassion or anticipate customers’ needs.
How to Excel in the Relationship Economy
Today, even as businesses cultivate high-tech, digital interfaces with customers, the true differentiator has become customer relationships. Those organizations that focus on human interaction and relationship building will be the ones that dominate in their industries.
In this emerging Relationship Economy, organizations have to intentionally train their employees to avoid the traps of a low service aptitude and embrace the customer’s perspective.
With executive-level leadership working to build a culture of world-class customer service, this involves:
1. Developing a strong service vision. It’s not enough to tell your employees to be pleasant or attentive. You have to tell them how. Make it black and white. Create a vision statement that encapsulates the importance of building customer relationships. Some effective ones include, “Be that Memorable Moment,” and “We Emotionally Invest.”
2. Share strategies for each customer interaction point. Businesses need to focus on what the customer actually experiences during each interaction with their organization. Instituting basic expressions of courtesy and helpfulness, such as eye contact, smiling, an enthusiastic greeting and authentic engagement, can make a real difference — particularly as very few in service industries do even these basics.
3. Become the brand customers or clients can’t live without. The best customer experience companies teach their employees to educate customers rather than sell to them. This involves inspiring employees to know their clients’ industry better than they do, and to serve as trusted advisors or resource brokers. Some go further and instruct their employees to eliminate the word “no” from their vocabularies. They may not always be able to say “yes,” but they can offer alternatives and options.
4. Incentivize customer interactions. A Toronto insurance agency, BKIFG, provided every account executive with a $25 allowance to spend monthly on customers. It reminded employees to pay attention to personal anecdotes from customers, and follow up with a thoughtful surprise. This could mean sending flowers for an anniversary or a gift card to take out-of-town visitors to an exhibit.
5. Build employee engagement. Most believe that the customer is the main beneficiary when a company strives to provide a world-class experience. But improving employee-customer relationships is a sure way to engage staff in their work and the organization. Having a personal relationship with customers makes them want to do a better, more thorough job — one that the CXO or CCO can highlight as living up to the organizational standard, as well as celebrate and reward.
John DiJulius is president of The DiJulius Group and a sought-after authority on world-class customer experience, working with companies such as The Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, Starbucks, Progressive Insurance and more. In his new book, “The Relationship Economy: Building Stronger Customer Connections in the Digital Age,” he shows readers how to attain meaningful, lasting relationships with customers..