I once worked for a company that had a call center. Unfortunately, its customer service scores were tanking. So what did the company do? They spent a lot of money hiring a consultant who had experience in luxury brands like Nordstrom and Four Seasons. He worked with the team on defining luxury service and what it means to anticipate a customer’s needs. Sounds great, right? Well it seemed great until the employees returned to the phones to deal with the same issues as before. Suddenly, anticipating needs was out the window.

Customer service training can be tricky. When things go wrong, we’re looking for that fast fix, such as an expert consultant to mend the team. In my case, the problem couldn’t really be solved at the employee level, which is why the consultant was ineffective. The issues were at the source—the company’s leadership. Good service typically starts at the top.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share these key elements from author Kate Zabriskie on what your leadership needs to start a building an effective service culture.

Service Mindset: Great service companies eat, sleep and breathe extraordinary service. They don’t pull people off the phones for a few hours and expect magic. They have a service mission, and it does more than sit in a frame on a wall in some conference room. It’s top-of-mind throughout the organization.

These organizations design processes with the customer’s best interest in mind. Think about that well-known airline, so full of love for its customers that it allows them to cancel flights for full credit on a future trip. Clearly that airline believes most their customers won’t book travel they don’t need, and those who must make a change will eventually choose to fly with them again.

They hire people who genuinely love service and are proud to live the brand. Then they educate and educate. They want to make sure that the people who represent the brand understand what the brand experience is and how to deliver it.

Commitment: Great service companies involve everyone in their service culture and improvement efforts. They invest in their employees and trust them to do what’s right. Their management team models service-centric behavior and holds others accountable for doing the same. They commit to and believe in their staff. Because they’ve chosen their employees well and trained them appropriately, they treat staff members as the adults they are and give them latitude when solving service problems.

Reward: Great service companies reward service-centric behavior. They don’t ignore great work or punish people for taking initiative. They value their employees and recognize that without them there is no customer service. They reward employees by trusting them to do what’s right. They encourage people to find new ways of solving problems.

How can you achieve this same level of greatness? Start by implementing these steps:

  • Articulate your organization’s purpose. Everyone needs to understand your core reason for existing and how the actions he or she takes relate to supporting that mission.
  • Evaluate how customers interact with you. Do you have your customers’ best interests at heart? If not, what changes can you make to remedy those shortcomings?
  • Model what you want to see. People work for people. If you embody the spirit of service, others will as well.
  • Train your staff on what to do and how to do it to accomplish customer service goals. You can’t expect people to deliver great service if they don’t know how.
  • Even if you have no budget, you can reward employees for giving great service. Start with a sincere “Thank you.” Heartfelt appreciation can work wonders.

Source: Kate Zabriskie is president of Business Training Works, Inc.,a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised.