In the first installment of this series, I highlighted three core drivers of successful customer initiatives aimed at improving the overall quality of your customers’ experience. Those three core drivers are: start with your employees; understand your customers – all of them; and blend technology with “high touch” experiences.
Today, let’s focus on that first driver of success:
1. START WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES AND THEIR EXPERIENCE:
As I’ve mentioned previously, you can’t expect your employees – especially those on the “front lines” whether on the phone, in-person, or on-line, to be energized, engaged and committed to creating those positive customer experiences, unless you have first fostered a culture that values people as your strongest asset.
Three “must dos” to engage and keep your employees committed are:
1. Ask, listen and learn from your employees. Often companies “talk down” to team members who are working with customers every day, forgetting that all of us are consumers and have many negative customer experience and, thankfully, a few “jems” that represent not only a positive customer experience, but ones that make you want to come back again, and again. With a recent client, we implemented quarterly “listening sessions” where employees shared their customer experiences as a consumer, not as a call center representative, but as an individual consumer during the past three months: the good, the bad and the really ugly. We discussed the qualities of those experiences: what made that experience positive or negative and how did you as a customer feel in the moment and how did it impact your buying behavior?
As you might expect, those qualities included poor (or very good) product knowledge, friendliness (demonstrated by the presence or lack of a smile, greeting and offer to help), asking questions and really listening to the customer (or not doing so) to best help them and their priorities, not the agenda of the company, etc., and the ability or empowerment to make decisions in the moment without always having to go to a supervisor or manager for decisions. The impacts are pretty clear: I’m coming back; I’m coming back and I’ll tell my friends; I might come back; I’m never coming back and I’m going to tell a LOT of my friends to never go there. Engaging employees, from their perspective as consumers first, builds buy-in, empathy, and commitment to ensure that your customers experience those positive versus negative customer experiences, every time with every interaction. You asked, you listened, and you learned. That sets the stage for coaching your team members around the skills they’ve already identified with their own experiences, but can now put in the context of their experiences with your customers.
2. Lead the way: Leadership, managers and supervisors, including members of HR and learning teams, marketing and other business partners need to be visible on the floor, in the store, in the call center, wherever you primary customer interactions happen. They need to “walk in the shoes” of your front line team members so they have credibility and experience those customer experiences that make your team members smile and those that really challenge their ability to turn around a negative situation. Finally, managers and supervisors need to do two things. First, be a good manager…make sure your managers and supervisors are going through training and refresher training that includes training and coaching skills. Your team members follow your lead and if you’re doing it wrong…they likely will do the same. Second, managers and supervisors need to be active participants in customer training whether it sales, service, collections, etc. and coach their team members both in training and on the floor or in the store on a regular basis. Catch your employees doing great things with your customers and recognize/reward them for those specific behaviors and also coach them on opportunities for improvement. The ROI on this investment in time is priceless and can, when implemented correctly, have a significant impact on customer satisfaction, new customer procurement, and customer retention.
Also, look across industries for best practices and the “worst case scenarios” and share, discuss and plan for how you can implement those best practices and avoid the pitfalls. I often use videos that highlight the big customer mistakes that very often happen in the airline and cellular phone industries (without naming names) and the leaders in food/beverage, particularly Starbucks. You can go somewhere else for coffee that is often less expensive, but Starbucks customers come back again, and again, not just for the coffee but for the entire experience. And it’s a consistent positive experience from one store to the next. They even know how to turn around the rare negative experience into a positive for the customer!
3. Finally, follow up and follow through. I mentioned holding quarterly listening sessions with your employees. Shake it up. Sometimes involve just one department such as sales, other times include cross functional teams that represent sales, service, marketing, collections, learning, etc. Companies often silo their learning efforts, when in fact, often the best learning occurs when all members of your organization are included. Finally, include customers, not just in focus groups, but as appropriate, include them in listening session with your employees. The interaction, the questions, the listening and the learning is powerful. You’ll see the “a-has” again and again.
Well, it’s Friday folks. Best wishes for a great weekend.
Until next time – stay connected.
The Connector – Ryan