Sunday, December 12, 2010

Your Job: Customer Service

When service at a restaurant isn’t quite what we expect it to be, the general tendency is to blame the server. The wait staff is the restaurant’s front line and that is where we gain our perspective. However, if the kitchen is slow, the chef does not cook the food as instructed or management has not scheduled enough bus boys, the dining experience is going to be less than it otherwise could be. We express our discontent with the service through lowering the gratuity, focusing our consternation on the wait staff. Finally, we do not return to the establishment.

The restaurant is not unlike any other industry in this aspect. The customer service representative or field sales representative is the face the customer is going to see or the voice on the phone but the service and goods for which they are paying is affected by everyone at the company. Customer service is everyone’s responsibility. From the building engineer and maintenance crew to the CEO, the work each individual does has some affect on the customer’s perspective and feelings toward the company.

Customer service guru, Ken Blanchard asserts, “Customer service should not be a department, customer service is everyone's job.”

Yes, customer service is everyone’s job. Yes, we all serve customers of one sort or another. The customer we serve may be internal (IT services the needs of the company’s infrastructure and thus most of the employees are their customers) or the more traditional external customers and service partners who use the company’s products or services.

Ken Blanchard’s company conducted a study on customer service and customer loyalty, surveying nearly a thousand line managers, human resources and training executives:

“Blanchard research over the past five years places customer loyalty as the fourth most important management challenge. In the same studies, customer relationship skills were cited as the second most important employee development skill, ranking just behind managerial skills.

“Most participating organizations agree that customer loyalty is a powerful driver of organizational success and one that ties directly to the bottom line. Statistics show that it can cost six to seven times more to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. Expenses related to customer losses cause many companies to recognize the need to channel resources toward retention.”
The research showed four skills that were in the most need of improvement:
  1. Developing systems and processes that make it easy to do business with the organization

  2. Improving the skills of customer-facing employees to diagnose the customer issue

  3. Improving problem solving skills

  4. Empowering people to utilize their scope of authority
This is a start. The customer is going to make their decision about a company after taking the entire experience into account. A good customer service representative cannot make up for problems in production and errors in deliverables. Every member of the staff must understand their role in making the customer feel loyalty for the organization.

The Blanchard survey further noted, “The findings from the customer loyalty survey support earlier Blanchard research which documented that there is a direct connection between leadership, employee passion, and customer devotion.”

Ian Miller, editor of, sat down with Ken Blanchard for a lunch interview. During the interview a couple points were made about how true leaders put others before themselves.

“What needs to happen is for the pyramid to be flipped over, so that frontline people - the people who are closest to the customers - are at the top. Leaders become servant leaders and are responsive to employee's needs and allow them to accomplish the company’s goals and create Raving Fans.

“... I had one final question for Ken: “I understand you deliver a voicemail each morning to every one of your three hundred employees. If I asked you to send a voicemail to the readers of this article, what would it say?” Ken thought for a moment, then left me with this message: “You become an adult when you learn to serve others not yourself. Look at the job you do and think, who can I serve today?”
Every employee affects the customer’s experience. Every employee has responsibility for how loyal a customer is to the company. The leadership has the responsibility to help the employees service the customers’ needs well. Through proper leadership and employee actions, the customers will continue to feel that strong loyalty and return to do more business.

Additional Link (Blanchard White Paper): “The Leadership-Profit Chain” outlines the close relationship leadership skills have to an organization’s P&L: “The key to organizational vitality is creating an environment that allows employees to win and be passionate about what they do. By taking care of employees, leaders establish an environment in which the employees take care of the customers at a level that causes the customer to want to return year after year.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The “Good Boss”

We’ve all shared the “worst boss” stories. There seems to be an unending supply. What, however, makes for the best boss? Everyone has a boss but not everyone is impressed with the way the job is done.

The standard by which an employer is held varies depending on who is making the judgment. There are some common traits to all the better bosses. They also share some basic attitudes and abilities. Additionally, effective managers utilize solid leadership skills. Keeping this in mind, here is a short list of skills, strategies and attributes of “The Good Boss”.

1) Not a just leader but a coach. A manager wears two general hats. One is the leader’s but the other is the coach’s hat. The coach teaches, encourages and, when appropriate, corrects employees. Employee development, as is personal development, is incredibly important. A “Good Boss” uses the unique perspective to develop and encourage the employees. Additionally, while the “Good Boss” will definitely point out and help correct employee mistakes, he will certainly admit when he’s made them too.

2) Don’t fear the reaper. We’ve all heard of the boss who would look perfectly comfortable wearing a cloak and carrying a sickle. So overbearing and over-reactive, their employees feel one mistake on the job is tantamount to death. Mistakes should not be career suicide. A truly effective leader will utilize the occasional blunder to effectively develop better performance on the job. Although it isn’t a matter of a teacher in front of a bunch of kids in high school, the “Good Boss” encourages learning from mistakes rather than generating an atmosphere of anxiety.

3) Keep everyone involved. The most successful managers help everyone feel like an equal and involved member of the team. Treating employees fairly is significantly more than just compensation. The “Good Boss” encourages feedback, innovation and creativity from each member of the team. This engenders a feeling of involvement and genuine ownership. Eventually, a cohesive team develops with sights set on the business’s long-term goals.

4) Movin’ on up! Employees are looking to their superiors to help them navigate the choppy waters of advancement. More than money, team members are genuinely interested in improving and creating meaningful careers. The “Good Boss” recognizes these aspirations and helps the employee work toward their own career driven aspirations. The “Good Boss” helps the employee develop in the areas that affect their career objectives.

5) Huston we have a problem. Although the businesses operating out of sheer altruism are few and far between, the bottom line should not be the primary philosophical or practical focus. Effective leaders recognize the importance of a business mission. The “Good Boss” establishes a clear mission that serves to motivate employees and give general direction. The team works better when the underlying motivation is bigger than money – keep them from feeling the wake-up, go to work, push button A, push button B, clock out, go home, rinse repeat feeling.

6) Old dogs do learn new tricks. The “Good Boss” should recognize that much of what makes a leader effective is learned behavior. Few are born with everything it takes to be the “Good Boss”. Many of the “Best” bosses got to be the “Good Boss” through attending management classes and seminars and reading books on effective leadership. The “Good Boss” is interested in developing and honing management skills. Remember the “Good Boss” attracts top-flight employees. Certainly, we all have innate traits on which we can lean that make us each the “Good Boss” but it is our responsibility to continue to develop becoming even better.