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How can leaders create conditions for all employees to deliver outstanding customer experience?

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In order for an organisation to deliver exceptional customer experience, customer focus must be at the centre of every action and every decision across the entire organisation.

23rd Aug 2022
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I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel - Maya Angelou

If I were to write purely about customer focus then that quote from Maya Angelou is potentially all I would need to say. The food I sell may be consumed, the product I offer may fade over time, the service I provide may need to be replicated, but what will never change is the customer perception of the transaction - how you made them feel. 

It is that which will drive recommendations, repeat custom and even how the customer perceives the product. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that the attitude of staff is one of the top four scoring differentiators for high-performing organisations on the customer satisfaction index.

But, and it is a big but, who is actually responsible for delivering the customer experience? Those of you reading this who are old enough to remember back to the 1990s may well recall the Brittas Empire, a comedy set in a leisure centre in which the hapless receptionist was required to smile no matter what chaos was going on in the background. It’s a lesson in how not to do things which we can perhaps all take forward into the present day.

How do you foster a culture of customer experience?

Quite simply, customer service is not the sole preserve of the customer-facing team; to deliver great customer experience requires a customer focus at the centre of every action and every decision. And you aren’t going to get that unless you have a culture which sets customer experience at its heart, aided by a leadership team which not only sees customer excellence as one of its prime goals but actively leads for customer excellence.

So how do leaders create the conditions which enable not just those closer to the customer, but everyone in the organisation to deliver an outstanding customer experience?

To answer that question we perhaps have to look no further than the five practices of extraordinary leaders as identified by The Leadership Challenge™, defined by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

The first of these is modelling the way: setting out the conditions which will enable the business to deliver its aims. Alongside this sits the idea of challenging the process: not being afraid to question and to re-envisage processes and strategies in a bid to stave off complacency and to continually improve.

But a model is only as good as those who take it forward, so the next practices look at inspiring a shared vision and encouraging the heart, helping your people to really engage with the idea of delivering great service. Even then, engagement isn’t enough unless you set out to create the conditions which will enable your people to act in order to deliver the vision.

How do you create leading customer service?

All of this has to come from the top, from the CEO and the leadership team not only believing in the importance of great customer service but also displaying the five practices in their every actions and decision. Modelling the way doesn’t simply require leaders to come up with some great strategies and then expect others to deliver.  To ingrain the expected behaviours throughout the organisation leaders have to not only set the standard for customer experience, they also have to align their personal behaviours to support it; talking about it and walking the talk.

For example, there is no point in coming up with some great statement which promotes the building of customer relationships if at the same time you target call centre staff to keep conversations to the barest minimum. And there is no point in promoting customer care unless you empower your people to investigate and swiftly resolve any queries or complaints.

This is where challenging and enabling come into their own. Leaders who challenge are constantly looking for opportunities for change in order to deliver great customer experiences. And leaders who are confident enough in their team’s abilities will actively look to provide the training and autonomy to support their employees in delivering excellence.

So leadership from the top is important and employee engagement is important but it will only achieve the desired aims if everyone in the organisation is brought into the customer engagement mix. It is therefore vitally important that the executive team works with leaders and individuals at all levels throughout the organisation to build engagement in customer outcomes.

Customer interaction is everyone’s job

This is one area where far too many organisations miss out on the chance to really build something special. In a way, it is relatively easy to promote positive customer interactions with frontline or customer-focused staff who may be working in call centres, in sales or in marketing. But what about those working in other functions such as IT or accounts; they may never meet or speak with the customer and yet their input is equally vital. 

For example, you may have asked the IT department to design a new website portal which enables online sales. If the design fails to take into account the customer experience, the website may be complex and confusing, with multiple levels of ordering and sign off and linked to an equally complex payment system.

Those who are new to leadership need ongoing coaching in building their own leadership strengths in order that they can deliver the strategy and values of the organisation.

You have probably experienced this sort of site; one which requires people to complete a full registration process even if they are using it for a one-off purchase, one which looks for address or telephone details to be manually input more than once, or which simply makes the finding and adding of additional purchases so difficult that you find yourself increasingly pushing any button simply to try and extricate yourself from the morass of complexity. 

On the other hand, design the site with the end-user in mind and a completely different story emerges. Here again, it is the culture of the organisation as promoted by the leadership which will define the outcome. When you inspire you paint a picture of customer service excellence that others want to aspire to and when you supplement this with recognising and rewarding those who deliver great experiences then your efforts at encouragement turn into active engagement in customer care.

One more step for new leaders

But the story doesn’t end there. There is one further step which businesses need to take if they are truly to give the customer a great feeling. When people are relatively new to leadership, when they are uncertain of their own abilities and direction, it can be all too easy for them to become immersed in their own team/department needs and metrics, and in doing so lose sight of the customer at the heart of the process.

Those who are new to leadership will therefore need ongoing coaching in building their own leadership strengths in order that they can deliver the strategy and values of the organisation. This coaching should also help them to resist the urge to focus solely on their own team rather than looking to work within a single unified organisation. Once you get a silo mentality, once team or department leaders focus on the competition for promotion rather than delivering the aims of the organisation, customer service becomes sidelined.

Through leadership, through employee engagement, through a focus on building a culture which sets the customer at its heart the people who come into contact with your organisation will not only remember the way in which you cared for their needs, you will also have created loyal customers and advocates for your business. People will never forget how you made them feel; what message do you want to convey?

 

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