When customer-centricity loses its lustre: 8 ways to avoid employee apathy

20th Nov 2015

Whenever a company embarks on a process to create a culture that delights customers and creates loyalty, we usually recognise four very distinct phases in the process:

  • First there is awareness, where people at all levels realise that change is important and imminent. Managers usually start reading up and enquiring about what to do next
  • Then there is the evangelical phase, with bands and balloons and a lot of “Rah! Rah!” It is usually during this phase that the company carries out lots and lots of activities, including a launch event and training for everybody. Many systems and processes are established, and there seems a new way to do everything.
  • This is followed by the frustration phase, where some of the enthusiasm wanes, many people return to old bad habits, and it just doesn’t seem to be coming together.
  • With a lot of hard work, (and a little bit of luck,) we will enter the performance phase, where big wins occur, and the company has achieved some real competitive advantage.

There are many reasons why companies get stuck in the third phase of frustration, not least of which is the perceived lack of commitment of the management team. However, what is also common is the fact that people at all levels of the company lose their energy and enthusiasm. It all becomes quite routine, and complacency, even negativity and cynicism, sets in quickly.

How can your business avoid these problems, and how can you continue to sustain the initial excitement of delighting customers after the launch events? Here are some ideas that range from the “Been-There-Done-That-Ho-Hum,” to the really weird things that I have seen done in some companies:

1. Customer service Olympics: Include an internal processes which may not impact directly on customers, but which affect the success of the business. Fastest person to calculate correct values, person that cared most about sharing his/her knowledge with someone else, or best turnaround time for a particular process. Judges sometimes find their job easy, but sometimes have to be like the guys who score the ice-skating or gymnastics.

2. Quiz: Many possible formats, but they could include standard questions and answers to a panel of contestants, and other formats like Telly-Fun-Quiz, The Weakest Link, Trivial Pursuit, Lirieke Raai, Noot Vir Noot, and any number of other formats. Of course, knowledge rather than skills are measured, and you can include not only questions about customer care, but also legal knowledge, technical issues, product knowledge, company structure and history, and so on. (Many studios are willing to hire out the sets, if you have the budget.)

3. In-basket and other simulations: Give each contestant or team, in a group of finalists, a set number of customer related things to do, letters to write, messages to return, questions and queries to answer, etc.

4. Best designed: Here people enter to design activities or things which create awareness of customer issues. This could include examples like “Best Slogan for Our Campaign,” “Best Designed Poster,” “Best Customer Service Quote,” “Best Lesson Learned From Another Company,”  “Best Designed Customer Website,” and so on. You can also have competitions for people who come up with ideas for recognition, for ways of adding value for customers, and so on.

5. The customer champions club/special project: As before, but with some enhancements for lessons learnt. The bottom line is that teams of people work on specific and large projects that will enhance the experiences of your customers, and improve business practices or profitability. Recognition depends on a number of criteria, but participants are rewarded appropriately and proportionately. Many participants may also require raining on a rational problem-solving and prevention approach.

6. Lottery and chance: The MD or an executive puts £500 in his pocket and walks around randomly, giving £50 to the first ten people who he hears answering the telephone properly, or similar. This type of approach can also enhance a suggestion scheme or similar employee involvement programme, where even if your idea is terrible, you still stand in line to win something.

7. Best customer care stories: This contest requires participants to briefly write a short story on the best, most inspirational, most “extra mile” customer care experience they have ever had, or heard of, and another category for the best customer care story of something that happened in your business. This not only creates awareness of what is needed to delight customers, (“the extra mile” stuff,) but also encourages people to do the customer delighting things that they can report on later.

8. Who collected most vouchers or points: Letting people individually decide whom they want to give some form of recognition to. The idea is to have pre-printed slips or vouchers, or some other form of badge or symbol that people and customers can give to somebody who has gone the extra mile. These can be collected and swapped for presents, and the winner is the person who has collected the most.

These are just some of the possibilities. If you get creative, you can probably come up with many more. But just bear in mind that the purpose of these is to help the process of enhancing your customer-focused culture.

Aki Kalliatakis is managing partner of The Leadership LaunchPad, a customer service consultancy that promotes business growth through service excellence.

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By EJohn Morris
21st Nov 2015 10:58


Thanks for sharing this and i hope it creates some debate around this topic which, in my opinion is one of the key problems with building a customer centric environment. I completely agree there is a huge chasm between the frustration stage and performance and even in the evangelism stage, which is usually management evangelism, there is a lot of cynicism with the employees and where any credibility can be lost. Whereas I'm not against some of the ideas you put forward it has to be stressed that you get what you measure and some of these ideas can drive some perverse behaviours. 

Customer experience, like quality has to be built into the fabric of the organisation and not bolted on at the end. Its about empowerment and a high quality work force that feel part and are part of the success of the company if we are to see any sustained performance improvements.

Great debate and look forward to any further comments

John Morris

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