The Four Rules of Customer Service

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, know I believe that great customer service, delivered consistently, doesn’t happen by chance.  Companies that consistently meet or exceed their customers’ expectations have taken the time to develop a service strategy that includes clearly outlined service expectations (based on well-understood customer expectations), training, measurement, reward and recognition tactics.

Below is an excerpt from my soon to be completed book ‘Customer Service from the Inside Out’ that outlines four rules to keep in mind when developing a customer service strategy for your company.

Rule Number 1:  Put the Customer First

You’ve seen the slogans.  Perhaps your company even has one.

  • We are number one in service.
  • Where the customer comes first.
  • Come for the price, stay for the service.

It’s not that service slogans are wrong; it’s just that very often the slogans are created as a marketing tool instead of an actual service promise.   A lot of companies focus on the product first instead of on the customer.  We go into business wanting (hoping?) to provide good service, but there is no concrete plan on how to deliver the implied promise.

Rule Number 2:  It’s the customer’s perception that matters

There is very often a huge disconnect between how often organizations believe they deliver good or great service and how often customers believe they receive it.

Some of that is simply because the people within those organizations are faced with the daunting and challenging task of hiring, training, scheduling, coaching, mentoring, ordering, reporting… the list goes on and on.  Supplies are late, weather is bad, someone calls in sick and yet, somehow, in spite of all the challenges, the business is open and customers are coming in the door.  We give ourselves a lot of credit for the challenges we overcome on a regular basis.

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  After all someone has to! Just don’t expect your customers to do so. They’ll pat you on the back, give you figurative high fives, maybe even the occasional real one, if and when their expectations are consistently met and even exceeded.

Rule Number 3:  Service teams provide the service they receive.

If you want your service team to provide great service, provide them with great service.  If you want them to value and respect their customers, value and respect them.  If you want your service team to acknowledge your customers, acknowledge your service team. Say good morning, good afternoon. Ask them about their day. Know their names!

Disgruntled service providers are usually disgruntled employees.  Don’t assume it’s their bad attitude.  Make sure you are not a contributing factor.

Rule Number 4:  Make This a Team Effort

Consistently delivering good to great service is not the responsibility of just one or two people.  It doesn’t matter if someone works front-of-house or back-of-house. It doesn’t matter if they answer phones at front reception or sit in a corner office.  Everyone plays a role in the overall customer service experience.

It takes a team to build a strong customer service strategy.  As the leader of a service team, if you want your team members to buy into the process, include them in it.   Identify key players on your team who can help you build your customer service strategy.  Who will talk to other team members to get ideas and input? Who has the trust of other team members? Who has great listening skills?  Those are the people you want to pull into this very important project.

Are there some other rules you can think of?  Please feel free to share them here.


Four Things Not to Say to Your Employees

Building an engaged, motivated team takes work. It means treating the people on your team with respect.  It means making them feel like valued, contributing members of a team.

The words we choose in conversations with the members of our team play a big part in how they feel about themselves, their manager and their role in the organization.

Effective managers and leaders avoid using the following phrases:

I can’t / I won’t

Effective leaders and managers focus on what they can do. They look for other options and ask for suggestions or alternative solutions.

You have to stay late today. 

Demanding that an employee stay late is disrespectful. Instead, say something like “I could really use your help in getting this report completed.  Are you able to stay an extra hour today to help me?”  You’ve asked instead of demanded and you’ve given them a time frame to work with.  When they do agree, don’t clock out at quitting time. This is a project you are supposed to be completing together.

You’re lucky to have a job.

Ouch!  The implication is that the employee is essentially unemployable.  Even in rough economic times when jobs are hard to come by, we need employees to help us keep the doors open.  More importantly, we want engaged, service oriented employees and diminishing their contribution is a sure way to kill engagement and motivation.

Because I’m the boss.

So?  A title does not guarantee infallibility.  Effective leaders and managers welcome suggestions, feedback and dissenting opinions.  Being surrounded by people who are afraid to question is not a sign of strength; it is a sign of uncertainty and fear.

What are some other things that should never be said to employees?

More Advice from the Ice

As some of you know, my husband Chad is a curler.  Yesterday as he was getting ready to head out to his Tuesday evening game, the talk revolved around some of the experiences he’s had playing with various teams.  As Chad shared some of his thoughts and insights around the game, two points jumped out at me as being very pertinent to the business world as well.

Play the Best Shot

A skip Chad used to play for would say things like “If you’re going to miss the shot, whatever you do, don’t be inside.”  The skip then placed the broom so that if the rock was thrown inside, the worst case scenario would be avoided.  The opportunity to make the best shot was taken away from the player.

Being aware of the risks is wise.  If the risk is too great, choosing another option is wise, but once a decision is made, don’t sabotage best results and settle for so-so results out of fear.

When you ask your team to take on a challenge, a new role or a new responsibility, train them, support them and then let them take their best shot.  Don’t sabotage their efforts or learning opportunities with too many adjustments, check-ins and dire warnings of what could all go wrong.

Assume your team will be successful.  If they miss, regroup, discuss options and move on.

Support your Team

In curling, every team member has the right to share their suggestions throughout the game.  Team members discuss take-outs vs. draws vs. hit and rolls.  When four and sometimes five people make up a team, plus perhaps a coach, there is very often disagreement on what the best shot is.  It’s the skip that makes the final call and at that point, discussion needs to stop.

Chad has curled on teams where the disagreement continues after the decision has been made.  Instead of getting in the hack and focusing their effort on making the called shot successful, the player focuses on how he’s been asked to make the wrong shot.  If it’s the skips turn to make the shot, the lead and/or second continue trying to make their case, instead of allowing the skip to focus on the shot.  Chad has also played on teams where once a decision is made, the focus turns to making the shot successful.  As the player gets in the hack, they hear words of encouragement from their team member instead of second, third and fourth guessing.

Successful, fully engaged teams understand that everyone on the team has a voice. They also understand that when a decision is made, everyone needs to pull together and work towards success.

On or off the ice, leaders need to believe their team members will be successful. Leaders need to ask for the best work possible from their team members and give them the tools and direction to achieve it.

On or off the ice, all team members need to share ideas and suggestions for success and then, when a decision has been made, work together for success.  They need to focus on the goal instead of continuing to focus on what could have been or in their mind, should have been.

What do you think?

What’s Behind the Mask?

The mask of invincibility says “I can do anything you throw at me”. The mask of invincibility refuses to acknowledge weakness or error.

Confidence on the other hand, recognizes knowledge, skills and talent. Confidence also recognizes and acknowledges uncertainty, mistakes and vulnerability.

All too often, leaders, especially new or emerging leaders, believe they need to appear invincible in order to inspire trust and confidence.

Four common errors are:

  1. Instead of asking for advice, they hunker down and plow through new learning or challenges on their own. Saying “I don’t know.  Can you help me understand that?” creates connections.  Honesty inspires inspire trust and confidence.  Pretending to know closes opportunities to connect with team members and brings into question honesty.
  2. Other leaders don’t like to share the missteps and gaffes they made on the journey to their present position.  Demonstrating success through trial and error, by getting back up again after failure, is powerful.  Saying “I understand. I once did the same thing” shows compassion and common ground.  That builds confidence and trust much more quickly than a mask of invincibility.
  3. Some leaders feel their position means they cannot let their team see the silly, perhaps slightly goofy side they show their friends and family. Some leaders, sadly, lose that silly, perhaps slightly goofy side, when the mantle of responsibility is dropped on their shoulders.  The ability to laugh, to have fun and take care of business creates connections, which in turn builds relationships, that lead to feelings of confidence and trust.
  4. And last but not least, some leaders feel they have to demonstrate a serious work ethic so that their team members know they also need to work hard.  I’m a firm believer in “practice what you preach” , but when leaders get so caught up doing all the important work they have to do and don’t take time to get to know the important people on the other side of the office door, they once again lose the opportunity to create the connections necessary to inspire feelings of trust and confidence.

Early on in my career, I had a manager who wore Mickey Mouse ties, told some really bad jokes and regularly left his office to walk through the building and talk to the people on his team.  This ability to show his human side did not take away from his ability to lead the team. In fact, it did the direct opposite.  It created a sense of “we’re in this together” and that is never a bad thing.

What are your thoughts on this?


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Sunshine, Rainbows and Unicorns aren’t All They’re Cracked up to Be

… or why whiners and complainers are worth listening to.


Broc Edwards, blogger at fool with a plan, recently included the following paragraph in one of his blogs.

People who truly care about the results they are creating in their jobs aren’t always happy. They’re frequently frustrated, irritated, and torqued off at the people and processes and policies between them and the outcomes they are trying to create. Engaged people take ownership and responsibility and that doesn’t always bring sunshine and rainbows and unicorns.

 It’s easy to brush off whiners and complainers as nothing but whiners and complainers but when we consider the above comment, perhaps they shouldn’t be brushed off so quickly.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every person on your team truly cared about their job and owned their role in the success of your business and their professional goals?  But chances are, you have some people on your team who don’t care, who are the walking zombies Broc refers to. They are warm bodies who fill up a time slot on your schedule.  They may not complain but it’s because they don’t care enough to complain.  They may walk in with smiles but if you asked them how to improve a process or customer service, they wouldn’t be able to tell you, because they don’t care.

On the other hand, the person who keeps coming to you with complaints may be someone who really cares and if you brush the complainer off as nothing but a whiner, they may stop caring; they may stop coming to you with information that could make your business better.

Some people are lousy communicators, which is really too bad, especially when the information they are trying to share is valuable.

The next time someone comes to you with a complaint, take the time to really listen. Ask questions, including suggestions on how they would address the problem. If they hadn’t thought that far, ask them to.  You just may help turn the whiner and complainer who cares into a contributing ally.


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