If you are still just discussing customer service, your boat is sinking. In today’s world no one wants to be just serviced. The tired examples of walking the customer to the aisle or asking the customer to be put on hold are as outdated as typewriters and adding machines. So what do customers demand now and how can you deliver it?
Customers in 2014 expect an authentic customer experience. In his book, The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine discusses that for thousands of years we had an economy that extracted commodities from the soil, plants or animals. The customer only required the commodes being available. With the industrial age the economy was based on customizing those commodities and making finished goods. The customer at that point was only concerned with the price or value of those goods. With the service economy customers expected customization of good and selected based on the differentiated features and benefits; what was in it for them.
Now fast forward to the experience economy. Consumers expect an authentic, total experience. Consider lists of organizations with high customer loyalty such as Nordstrom, Starbucks, Disney, Ritz Carlton, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, LL Bean, Zappos and a personal favorite, John Elway’s Steak House in Colorado. As you read this list, you most like felt a positive affinity for these companies and probably recalled a story of their legendary customer experience. The key element, according to Pine, is the authenticity present in every customer interaction.
We live in a state of 24/7 stimulus and response. Unlike the agrarian and early industrial days, we are never off. Our sensory receptors are more highly honed than ever. When this is coupled with instantaneous feedback tools, the inauthentic customer experience is not tolerated. With Yelp, Google reviews and other social media, all experiences are instantaneously communicated with no filters.
The authentic customer experience is more than posters and slogans. Each of the examples I listed above understand it is a deliberate and focused outcome. And that focus begins with people.
Dennis Snow, a former Disney University trainer, outlines four key steps to achieve an authentic customer experience.
Have a defined Service Culture. Identify the three things you want your customers to say about you. Disney wants its customers to say they had a magical experience, every detail was perfect and the guests were made to feel special. Ritz Carlton emphasizes that its staff are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Can you define your service culture?
Hire with your service culture as the first requirement. Every interview should contain carefully crafted behavioral questions that identify candidates that will embrace your service culture. Any candidate that would operate in a manner that violates this standard should never be hired. Set this standard for those positions that do not have direct customer contact as well. An internal staffer treating a customer contact employee poorly will erode your culture quickly. How do you screen candidates for your service culture?
Train your new hires on your culture. This training should be example based so that each new hire experiences how your culture operates. Create company legends illustrating your customer culture. Create and use videos that consistently communicate examples. Implement refresher training frequently to continue to uphold the standards. Nordstrom requires that all new hires spend three full days in training on the “Nordstrom Way” before they are allowed onto the sales floor. How does your orientation and training instill your service culture?
Hold your team accountable for your service culture. All feedback regarding service issues, both positive and negative are grounded in your culture. If you adopt the Disney approach of three key customer experiences, tie each feedback message to one of those items. All rewards systems are likewise keyed into your culture statement. Managers and supervisors should see each of their employees as a customer of their managerial service. Each and every encounter with an employee should be an example of how a customer is to be treated. How do your performance management, disciplinary procedures and compensation enforce your service culture?
The bottom line is it comes down to your people. Your customer experience is exclusively delivered through your employees. You cannot have a real, authentic customer experience unless your employees experience it themselves. Leaders, you are the example and it is up to you! Are your customers serviced?
Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at www.theHRGuy.biz