[Originally published in Forbes.com. The author, Micah Solomon, is an author, consultant, influencer, keynote speaker, and trainer in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, and hospitality. (Here are three ways to reach Micah: email, chat, web).
If you want a leg up in providing superior customer service and a chance to bolster employee engagement along the way, then it’s time to expand your viewpoint beyond individual customer interactions to the bigger picture of culture–specifically what I call “customer service culture.”
Building and nurturing your customer service culture should be the foundation that supports and sustains superior customer service. It’s the bedrock upon which a properly designed and focused customer experience should rest.
What follows is a selection of what I call “customer service culture catalysts” to help get you on your way to creating and maintaining your customer service culture. (If you would like a version of this list, formatted for printing or intra-office distribution, let me know and I’ll fix you up.)
1. A well-worded mission statement, short enough to be memorable but long enough to be meaningful. What you want here is something written in understandable English that can be memorized and internalized by all employees to help them grasp the essence of what your company is, or strives to be.
2. A longer but still-brief and carefully worded philosophical framework–I suggest it contain more than 9-12 items. You will also want to create a condensed version of this that’s small enough to be formatted on a laminated accordion card for each employee’s reference. (PS: Don’t condense by eliminating principles; condense by shortening the descriptions.)
3. Explicitly stated and frequently demonstrated support for empowerment. Empowerment should be supported in your foundational documents. It should be reiterated in your training. It should be reinforced every day by people in leadership positions, who should be praising employees for exercising initiative rather than busting chops when empowerment goes wrong.
It’s easy to say, in a vague sort of way, that “employees are empowered to provide superior service.” But to take empowerment beyond lip service, you need to make it clear that judgment calls, even those that prove to be expensive, are the prerogative of every employee (after a training period, of course). And you need to bring this to life through management and leadership that is religious about praising employees for exercising their empowerment even when it doesn’t go perfectly. Make clear that it is okay to make what seemed like the right call at the time even if the results don’t prove to be exactly what you were hoping for.
4. An employee selection (hiring) approach that stresses personality traits rather than prior experience. Different prospective employees will have different aptitudes for service, and if you want your culture to have the best chance of taking root and flourishing, employee selection is an essential place to start. (Here’s some of my writing on how to recruit and hire employees for customer-facing positions.)
5. Involving the CEO or senior leadership in onboarding new employees. This is a non-negotiable. If you don’t make it clear that you value employees’ service right when they join your company, and you don’t take this important early time to stress what is important in your organization, your culture is doomed to emerge haphazardly rather than take the form that you hope for.
6. A daily “customer service minute” (or lineup, or huddle—it doesn’t matter what you call it) ritual. Start every day–or every shift, if you have more than one–discussing a single principle of customer service excellence. By having a different employee leading your huddle every day, this ritual becomes a multi-pronged catalyst of culture: It directly provides learning to all who attend. It develops leadership skills among the employees who lead it. It fosters togetherness and team spirit among the attendees. And, if you make a point of backing up customer service principles with examples of superior service as provided previously within your company, it provides an opportunity to recognize employees for the great service they’ve provided.
7. Managing from the floor. Managers who hide in their offices miss their chance to lend their much-needed support to a budding service culture.
8. In-depth customer service training. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a cultural item (and maybe it seems self-serving, since I offer customer service training myself) but the principle is inescapable: In-depth customer service training is essential. Having the best-intentioned, most carefully selected employees simply isn’t enough if they don’t receive the training they need to do their best.
9. An ethos of lateral service. This means an expectation that there’s no such thing in the organization as “not my job.” It’s demonstrated when everyone, including senior staff, pitches in to get things done in crunch time (like Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who famously mans the phones during the holiday rush). (You may enjoy my customer service-focused interview with Tony, which you can find here.)
10. An “all-hands” approach to solving customer service problems once and for all: Encouraging involvement from all departments after a customer service mishap occurs, to identify what led to the problem and find ways to prevent it in the future. Obviously, this has direct value in improving results, but it has cultural value as well by demonstrating what is valued within your organization.
11. An active internal communication channel to serve as a social media grapevine to promote and assess engagement. Without involvement there is no commitment.
Credit where credit’s due: Thanks to customer service blogger Bill Quiseng (whom you should follow at @billquiseng) for his contributions to this list.
Micah Solomon is an author, consultant, influencer, thought leader, keynote speaker, trainer, and subject matter expert (SME) in customer service, customer experience, customer service culture, hospitality, innovation. (email, chat, web).