Creating a customer service culture can be an excellent way to differentiate your company from your competitors. Many business owners teach their employees that “the customer is always right,” however, building a culture takes a lot more than words. Employees must be trained at all levels to consider customers first. Owners must be willing to walk the talk and authorize employees to meet customer requests, even when these requests fall outside the customer service manual.
Zappos, the online retailer, is notorious for its ridiculously good customer service. Employees are trained and encouraged to do whatever they can to delight their customers. In fact, the company’s motto is: “Powered by service.” Although its prices are often higher than competitors, it has been rewarded for its customer-centered culture through the numbers:
- 75% of purchases are from repeat customers;
- Repeat customers have a higher-than-average order size;
- Repeat customers return to shop more than 2.5 times each calendar year.
We’ve compiled a list of ways owners can build a customer service culture in their companies, using tips taken from companies like Zappos.
Develop and publicize core values for your business. Do some soul searching and work with employees and managers to develop values that your firm can stand behind. Commit to them and let everyone know what they are. Whatever core values you decide on, they have to be represented at the top – by you, the owner – and by everyone else. Publish your core values on your website, in internal manuals, and keep them visible around the office.
Commit to customer service and make it part of your firm’s mission and core values. Be true to it even when making tough decisions about profitability. Many firms cut customer service as an expense when times get tough. Unfortunately, that’s when you really need great service to convince customers to keep spending money with your firm.
In order to make customer service a true part of your firm’s mission, you have to truly commit to it. Virtually every business out there pays lip service to the concept of customer service, but you can gauge their commitment through their interactions with customers.
Treat customer service as an investment, not an expense. Publish your customer service number and email address on every page of your website. Staff enough customer service reps for customers to be able to reach someone quickly and commit to returning customer emails quickly. Customers are used to long hold times and complicated phone menus. Keeping things simple can often mean the difference between a sale and a move to another competitor.
Don’t limit or try to control call times. Call times are often treated as a measure of a customer service department’s efficiency. However, if your reps are always working to get customers off the phone, how good can their customer service really be?
Each department in your company is different and will encounter different types of customer situations. Don’t always rely on a customer service manual. Give your employees guidelines and teach them scenarios they might encounter.
Hire employees that are passionate about customer service. Once you’ve hired and trained them, empower employees to do what they feel is in the best interests of the customer. Often times, it is worth it to authorize employees to act on their own initiative within a certain financial limit. By giving employees the authority to go out of their way to assist customers, companies teach them to make customer needs the basis of everyday decisions.
Walden University teaches students in its Corporate Responsibility classes to publicly reward employees who go above and beyond to treat customers well. Cash awards are great, but there are many other ways to reward the kinds of behaviors you want to encourage. Extra time off is always popular, as are tickets to special events, or even a simple written note placed in the employee’s file.
Make performance reviews as much about customer service and culture fit as sales performance. Make bonuses contingent on customer compliments received and adherence to corporate culture. When employees know that they will be graded on customer service, it will embolden them to stand out by delighting customers.
Give great service to everyone, including:
A pragmatic reason for this is that you never know who might become a customer of your business. A better reason for this is that people are accustomed to not being treated very well by businesses. By treating everyone who interacts with your business well, you’re spreading the message.
Think of the last time you had to call your credit card company, return clothing to a store, or take a car to the mechanic. We dread doing these things because we know hold times will be too long, we’ll have a fight on our hands, and we might get over-charged.
What if, instead, someone at the credit card company picked up on the first ring, store employees took all returns with a smile, and your mechanic published rates on their website? Companies that go out of their way to make each interaction pleasant and transparent stand out like flowers in a field of weeds.
About the Author
Daniela Baker is a social media advocate helping entrepreneurs. Have you been successful at developing customer-centric behavior in your firm? We’d like to hear any tips you might have in the comments.