Improve Your Customer Service–Starting Today–In Seven Essential Ways

[Originally published in 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).

Customer service transformation isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most effective ways to improve business performance. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are seven service catalysts that can bring powerful results.

1. Empower your frontline employees. It’s not possible for even the most tightly-drafted standards, best practices, and scripts to cover every possible customer scenario, so the only way to ensure superior customer service is through embracing employee empowerment: giving every customer-facing employee the power to do what’s needed to solve the often-unpredictable issues and challenges that come up for and with customers.

2. Stress purpose over function. The concept of purpose-driven thinking (and action) is essential, and closely tied into Point #1. Once your employees are empowered to do what’s best, they need to understand how your company defines “best.” And that definition cannot be based on a specific job description or checklist or daily to-do list; it needs to be based on the purpose of the organization. This way, the empowered actions taken by the employee (and the impetus to take empowered action in the first place) will be consonant with what the company is striving to do.

This is sounding pretty abstract, so let me make it concrete. Consider how Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s great healthcare organizations, defines its organizational purpose (in part) in the elegant behavioral imperative, “The Needs of the Patient Come First.” So an employee in Housekeeping, who is generally charged, of course, with making beds and cleaning up, is empowered to switch gears and assist a patient or a patient’s family in distress as need be—not, of course, by re-doing the surgery, but by getting them to someone who can help explain their treatment or answer their other concerns.

3. Review and revamp your hiring practices. Nothing on this list is more important than how you choose employees for customer-facing customer service work. It’s very challenging to provide great customer service when the employees charged with providing that service are poorly suited to the task. While much can be accomplished to fine tune the performance of most any employee, it’s a huge organizational advantage to start with employees who have a natural affinity for people and service. The way to accomplish this is through improving how you approach hiring (or “selection,” which is a better term for the process). (You’ll find more of my thoughts on employee selection [hiring] here.)

4. Improve your overall talent management. There’s much more to the HR side of great customer service than hiring. You also need to develop and nurture employees—talent, something that needs to be systematically done to develop and sustain a great customer-focused organization. If you don’t, no matter how great the employees you start out with are, their enthusiasm and growth will ultimately wither and die. (More from me on talent management here.)

5. Modernize your customer support response timetables. I have the honor to work with many great customer-focused organizations (as a customer service consultant), and elevated though most of the standards in such companies are, I will occasionally come across this particular issue as a blind spot. If you still have 1995-era response commitments, such as “We strive to answer all customer emails within 24 hours,” you’re not doing business in a way that is suitable for customer expectations in 2018. 24 hours, in internet time, is equivalent to 20 years; by the time that 21st or 22nd hour rolls around, customers are pretty sure they’re never going to hear from you.

6. Double down on customer service training.Perfectly-hired employees only bring great aptitude for customer service, but customer service training can turn that potential into reality, if done right. (Here are some of my thoughts on what it means to “do customer service training right.”)

7. Introduce a daily “customer service minute.” The greatest complement to a program of customer service training is a simple, homegrown ritual: a daily “customer service minute,” as I call it. It’s actually 5-10 minutes (but not as long as 15); during this time you’ll discuss one principle of customer service. Have a different employee lead it every day, so it doesn’t become burdensome to management and therefore eventually fall by the wayside.

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).