Book Summary – The Service Culture Handbook (A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service)

Every day, Domino’s Pizza delivers upward of one million pizzas, including about half a million orders that employees handle in person, not online. Domino’s staff must make sure the pizzas reach customers on time, hot and ready to eat. The uniformly high quality of Domino’s 1.5 million daily customer interactions has helped it become the world’s most successful pizza chain.

“Every customer interaction is an opportunity for a hero moment or a service failure.”

Rackspace, a cloud-based web hosting firm, serves more than 300,000 clients. Its employees, called “Rackers,” adhere to the firm’s Fanatical Support Promise. This  customer service program promises customers that no matter what  issue they encounter, Rackers will always work overtime to solve it. In his book Be Your Customer’s Hero, service strategist Adam Toporek explains that being a hero means always being available when a customer needs something and going out of your way to make your customer encounters personal and “memorably positive.”

The Value of a Customer-Focused Culture

In 2016, for the 12th year in a row, J.D. Power rated JetBlue Airways as North America’s best airline. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes says its unique culture gives the airline a competitive edge. JetBlue strives to engage its 18,000 crew members so that they take pride in the airline and set a personal, daily goal of providing superior customer service.

“A hero moment occurs any time an employee, a team or an entire company rises to the occasion to provide customers with outstanding service.”

Culture consultant Catherine Mattice defines a corporate culture as, “the way an organization’s members think, act and understand the world around them.” Creating the right corporate culture is never easy because of its broad scope and ephemeral nature. In fact, it’s “maddeningly difficult.”  If you’re deciding whether to undertake the challenge of reshaping your corporate culture to make it more customer-focused, you want to be able to answer five vital questions with a resounding “yes”:

  1. Can you give your employees the required guidance so they will understand exactly what you mean when you call for a customer-oriented culture? That way, your employees don’t have to figure out your customer service policy – perhaps incorrectly – for themselves.
  2. Can you align your corporate strategy, goals and metrics with your customer-focused culture?
  3. Can you align your business processes with your desired customer focus?
  4. Can you empower your employees to deliver quality service?
  5. Are your leaders ready to champion a customer-focused culture?

Learning from Customer Service Mistakes

Comcast once provided an example of how not to handle customer service. The 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index rated Comcast as America’s most inept Internet service provider.

“Alignment can support and reinforce an organization’s culture, but a lack of alignment can undermine any culture-building efforts.”

In 2014, for example, Comcast customer Ryan Block called to cancel his service. The representative spent 10 minutes trying to prevent his cancellation. Block began to tape the call. The rep harassed Block unpleasantly for eight minutes. Block uploaded his recording to the Internet, and the online audio became a viral sensation. A Comcast senior executive tried to blame the rep as a rogue outlier. Yet the employee was following the firm’s corporate culture and misguided policies. Comcast made it difficult for customers to cancel. They had to call the company, which routed all cancellation calls to “retention specialists” who received bonuses when they dissuaded customers from stopping the service.

“Periodically assess employee engagement…to evaluate existing levels of employee engagement and identify opportunities to make things even better.”

In 2015, Comcast announced plans to transform its corporate culture. In the future, the company said it would work to meet and surpass its customers’ expectations. The company came to understand the importance of a customer-focused culture.

“Customer Service Vision” 

Quality customer service depends on developing a customer service vision that expresses your corporate culture in practical terms. Your vision should explicitly define and clarify how employees should treat your customers. A clearly stated vision helps employees understand how customer service contributes to the company’s overall success, revenues and profit.

“Getting your employees obsessed with customer service is not easy. It is, however, one of the elements that separates the elite organizations from the rest.”

A customer service vision doesn’t have to adhere to any particular format. Rackspace’s customer service guarantee – its Fanatical Support Promise – does double duty as its customer service vision. At REI, an outdoor equipment and apparel retailer, the company’s mission statement – “We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship” – is also its customer service vision. Publix Super Markets tries to fulfill the slogan, “Where Shopping Is a Pleasure.” Safelite AutoGlass achieves impressive customer engagement by teaching employees to view the company from its customers’ perspective, to enable customers to engage easily with it and to make sure clients have a positive experience.

“Involving employees in the goal-setting process is…a best practice. This gives people a greater sense of ownership for the goal since they helped set it.”

Define your firm’s customer service vision in a clear, concise statement that is easy for your employees to understand and rally behind. Don’t make your customer service vision – or any customer service messages to your employees – needlessly complicated. One chain restaurant made that mistake and forced employees to deal with “a mission statement, an internal service slogan, a set of four service standards and a 17-step service procedure for serving every guest.”

“Culture organically develops over time through corporate strategy, the decisions of its leaders, the way employees interact with each other, and many other factors.”

Follow three steps to create your firm’s customer service vision:

  1. Ask all stakeholders for their input.
  2. Have a collaborative meeting to write out your customer service vision.
  3. Validate and refine your customer service vision in discussions with your most important stakeholders, excluding those who helped write it in the first place.

Engage Employees with Your Culture 

Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report showed that companies with highly engaged employees scored 10% better on customer satisfaction than did firms with disengaged employees. The members of engaged workforces are well informed about their company and can address customers’ concerns and answer their questions. That’s the core of excellent customer service. The best evidence of workforce engagement is that staff members believe in your customer service vision and folllow it in their interactions with customers.

“You can’t tell employees specifically what to do in every situation…an intentionally-guided culture acts as a compass that consistently points employees in the right direction.”

Question your employees to rate their level of engagement. Survey them periodically, not just annually. Take three steps to engage them in your customer service vision:

  1. Make sure your employees completely understand the vision.
  2. Develop a formal strategy with engaging action steps.
  3. Secure the commitment of your firm’s senior managers to lead and support employee engagement.

“Having a clear customer service vision is a common theme among companies whose employees are obsessed with delivering outstanding customer service.”

Such steps build your customer-focused culture and customer service orientation.  Proactively plan, define, encourage and sustain your customer-focused culture and its activities. Incorporate these guidelines into your customer service program:

  • Set the right customer service goals for your firm. Establish SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals.
  • To evaluate your firm’s customer service, monitor “customer retention, word-of-mouth referrals, ratings on external review sites, first-contact resolution” and “average response time (emails, chat, social media).”
  • When you evaluate job applicants, consider their culture fit.
  • Teach your employees to exemplify your corporate culture.
  • Use formal or informal training to show employees how to leverage your corporate culture to serve customers better.
  • Training should have three components: “objectives, instruction and reinforcement.”
  • Empower your workforce to serve customers. Make it logistically easy for employees to deliver top-quality customer service.
  • Coach employees about what their “empowerment” means.
  • Leaders should be  “culture champions” of customer service. As role models, they lead employees to emulate their approach. Randy Garutti, CEO of Shake Shack, a restaurant chain headquartered in New York, tells his staff to “put us out of business” by being excessively “generous with what you give the people who walk in this door.”

A Calendar of Customer Service Activities

Organize an agenda of customer service activities your company can undertake regularly to ensure that you cover all your bases in customer service:

  • Annually – Campaign to make sure your customer service vision reverberates throughout your firm. Encourage employees to participate in continual customer service training. Align your customer service vision with your strategy.
  • Quarterly – Schedule a companywide meeting each quarter to remind employees of the firm’s customer service vision. Single out and honor employees who deliver first-rate customer service.
  • Monthly – Analyse all customer service metrics. Meet one-on-one with each team member to discuss your firm’s customer service vision. Identify customer service problem areas, and work overtime to fix them.
  • Weekly – Monitor feedback from customers to determine where your firm can improve. Conduct weekly staff meetings to discuss customer service challenges. Schedule weekly customer service training sessions.
  • Daily – Provide an example of exemplary customer service for the employees you supervise. Secure their individual feedback to strengthen your firm’s customer service vision. Make sure employees have the resources they need to solve customer service problems quickly.