Leading a Culture of Service

By: Christine McHugh

My experience in customer service started in middle school, working for my grandparents at their retail gift shop.  Subsequently, a stint as a restaurant hostess and then a receptionist at a hair salon led me to managing a chain of espresso carts in Seattle where I enjoyed making coffee and talking with customers.

When I began to look for another job that provided health insurance, Starbucks was suggested given their reputation as an employer and my background in coffee.  I was hired as a barista 26 years ago when we had just 36 stores.

As a new Starbucks partner (employee), I went through extensive training on product quality, preparation and, of course, customer service.  When I was promoted into management, I received additional training on what it meant to be a customer service leader.  We had mantras like “if you’re not helping a customer, help someone who is”.

Fast forward to present day – I‘m now responsible for customer service at one of the most admired companies in the world.  And while we are often noted for great service, we do not consistently make decisions that protect and enhance the connections our baristas make with customers.

I’ve come to realize that creating a culture of service and leading a culture of service requires a constant focus, organizationally and behaviorally. Organizationally, every decision needs to be scrutinized as to whether or not it elevates the customer experience.  This requires a tremendous amount of cross-functional effort and influencing but also prioritization to focus on what matters most.

Behaviorally, employees must have clear expectations about what service looks like, accountability to those expectations, and celebration when those expectations are achieved.  For an organization and/or leader to really instill a culture of service, four practices need to be in place:

  1. Hiring for a service mentality
  2. Training and setting expectations for service
  3. Creating an environment of service
  4. Growing your business by looking at ways to analyze and improve your service

These four things are not rocket science and they are probably on the priority lists of many organizations but instilling them in the culture is the real challenge.

Hiring for Service

Do you only hire people who can connect in a genuine way?  How do you assess that?  Do they look at things from the customer’s perspective? This should be the first filter in assessing talent, not experience, not availability, not references.  If you don’t feel that a prospective employee can connect with customers, has a desire to understand customers or has a true genuine desire to serve others, then don’t hire them.

Training and Setting Expectations

Does your training plan focus specifically on customer service?  This is so critical because initial training signals what’s important and what’s expected.  Ongoing training investments reinforce concepts and develop new skills.  As a leader, you also need to show that you care about customers by demonstrating how to connect with them and telling your customer stories often.  By modeling service, you are showing what’s expected.

Creating the Environment

People want to work in a fun supportive environment, with each other and with customers. How do you recognize and celebrate customer service behaviors?  Do your customers get involved in recognizing and celebrating your employees for great service? Conversely, when service does not meet expectations, is swift coaching and action taken?

Analyzing and Improving

You probably have a lot of data available to measure the customer experience such as surveys, sales reports and research. This is valuable information but should not be taken on its own.  Analyzing and improving service also requires talking with customers and observing interactions between employees and customers.   Being solely reliant on data and metrics is a limiting perspective of the customer’s experience.

Leading a culture of service means alignment across the organization that customers and their experiences are the imperative.  Having the supporting systems, tools and expectations reinforce that alignment helps everyone understand what matters most –customers.

_________________________________________________

Headshot_ChristineMcHughChristine McHugh is currently vice president, Customer Service and Operations Services.  Christine oversees the company customer service strategy including the programs and philosophies for our retail stores.  Her team is also responsible for operational planning and implementation of all other company programs and initiatives that are deployed to our to our retail stores in the U.S. and Canada.  Prior to her current role, she was on an 18-month assignment reporting to a member of the senior leadership team to develop and deploy the Starbucks 2014 Global Leadership Conference for 2,000 district managers from around the world.  Previously, she was the vice president, Global Business Optimization, where she was responsible for the company labor investment strategy, work and process improvement using Lean principles and functional store design and engineering.  Christine joined Starbucks in 1989 as a barista and has held a variety of roles during her tenure in the organization including operations, licensed business development, foodservice sales, office coffee, human resources and learning and development.   

Christine is a graduate of Antioch University where she majored in Leadership and Organizational Studies. 

Join the Center for Services Leadership at Compete Through Services Symposium on November 5th, 2015, to hear Christine McHugh, Starbucks speak on Customers at our Core – Leading a Culture of Service.

2 thoughts on “Leading a Culture of Service

  1. Wilhelm Taurel

    A concise explanation for developing a service culture in B2C! What I am missing is the commercial or business aspect in the service culture. Coming from the B2B industrial or technology services domain the business element which also requests to review the customer demand and even reframe it to better reach the customer business objectives is also a strong culture element. I am interested to see whether such an element is also valid for your B2C customer experience.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Leading a Culture of Service | CSL Newsletter |...

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