Category Archives: Service Culture

Bringing Brands to Life

This post was originally published in 2014.

By Nancy J. Sirianni

Sirianni_NancyBrands are created by companies, but it’s the end customer who ultimately determines what the brand means to them. So, how do customers come to truly understand a brand and what it stands for?

Service brands are experienced on a personal level, with employees engaging customers during one-to-one social encounters, but many firms fail to include employee-customer interactions in their brand strategies. Because human-delivered services are performances and can vary from employee to employee, firms can find it difficult to create coherent experiences that drive home their brand imagery in a consistent manner from customer to customer.

For several years, I was part of a research team at Arizona State University that explored what brand managers can do to overcome this challenge. Through a series of consumer behavior experiments and a large-scale critical incident study that included dozens of service industries, we tested how customer brand experiences can be made more consistent through the behavior of frontline service employees. That is, we examined how service firms can recruit and train employees to internalize brand imagery in order to authentically bring the brand to life with customers in what we call “branded service encounters.” Continue reading

Customer Success: The Next Evolution of Customer Service

By James “Alex” Alexander

Whether you are a traditional on-premise supplier or a cloud-based subscription business, “customer success” is where the big dogs play.

What is customer success?

“Customer success” is a term bantered about in boardrooms and breakrooms in different ways. It has been perceived as a business model, a company-wide priority, an organization, a profession, or a technology.[1]

Research for my recent study, “Customer Success: Managing the Customer Experience for Loyalty and Profit,” [2] confirmed this disparity—the definitions given regarding customer success and customer success management were as varied as Mexican chilies at Santa Fe’s Saturday farmers’ market.

Customer success is a strategy and a philosophy. It is a way of approaching how you interact with your customers and your marketplace. But an important understanding is that customer success is personal. Just as kids in a candy store might prefer different treats, each customer may value certain outcomes more highly than others at a given point in time, and hence, customer success varies from person to person. So I prefer a concrete, actionable definition.

Customer success is a customer state of mind in which a specific customer (let’s call her a key player) feels that she has achieved her desires (business outcomes and personal wins) while undergoing brilliant customer experiences. Here are definitions of the three requirements of customer success:

  • Business outcomes. The results that a key player hopes her organization will get from purchasing and using a supplier’s offerings such as increased revenue, lowered downtime or enhanced productivity.
  • Personal wins. The results that a key player hopes will happen directly to her from purchasing, using a supplier’s offerings or both. This could be job security, personal recognition or less job hassle.
  • Customer experience. The customer’s perception of a supplier’s performance, including activities that do not directly touch the customer but that affect the customer’s overall view of the supplier. Brilliant customer experience occurs when the seven things that customers want, expect and deserve are met.[3]

Figure 1: Brilliant Customer Experiences Enable Customer Success

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The Brilliant Customer Success Performance Chain

For those of you serious about delivering success, I recommend using the Brilliant Customer Success Performance Chain as a guide, as Figure 2 shows. It is a robust model applicable to almost all organizations for planning, building, implementing, monitoring, diagnosing, and enhancing customer success results. I will start our discussion on the far right side of the chain and work backward.

Figure 2: Brilliant Customer Success Performance Chain

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Business Results

This is your reward for doing customer success right. Selfishly, your desired outcome as the supplier is business results. Yes, there can be a multitude of preferable outcomes, but for most organizations, there are two vital business results that trump all others: new streams of profitable growth to fund the future of the business, and brand dominance based on a reputation superior to your rivals’.

Customer Impact

Customer loyalty drives business results. Loads of research over the last several years show that the loyalty of your customers is a prime driver of the business results discussed above and outlined in Figure 3. There is a direct relationship. Loyal customers buy more and more, again and again, rarely quibbling over price.[4]

 

Figure 3: Customer Impact Drives Supplier Business Results

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Emotionally, loyal customers tout your attributes far and wide and gladly provide testimonials to woo your prospects for you. Loyal customers are the crown jewels of your resources and should be guarded as a miser would a strongbox. If we embrace the eminent management consultant Peter Drucker’s declaration in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices that the purpose of a business is to get and grow customers, customer loyalty is the secret sauce of the recipe.[5]

Customer success drives customer loyalty. As discussed, to earn that loyalty, you must deliver customer success as each key player in the customer account defines it.

Brilliant customer experiences enable customer success. The promise of customer success requires brilliant customer experiences. Like the catalyst in a chemical reaction, a brilliant customer experience releases the full potential of a supplier-customer relationship. Customer experience is shaped at every touchpoint—every encounter or contact the customer has with your organization.

Touchpoint Management

Brilliant employee performances drive brilliant customer experiences. The more closely your people give the customer what they need, want, and expect at each step in the decision-making process, the more powerful the moment of truth, and the more likely the customer will invite you to participate in the next decision step. Figure 4 shows the progress from touchpoint management to business results.

Figure 4: Touchpoint Management Effects on Business Results

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Capable and loyal employees are required to deliver brilliant employee performances. Your frontline personnel must have the capabilities needed to interact with the customer the right way at the right time.

Figure 5 shows how performance systems provide the information and tools required to help your capable and loyal employees in their moments of truth.

Figure 5: How Performance Systems Affect Business Results

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Leadership drives the bus in creating a culture of success and in building and implementing a compelling blueprint to guide implementation, as shown in Figure 6. As we all know, if the big dogs don’t get off the porch, the pack doesn’t hunt.

Figure 6: How Leadership Can Build a Culture of Success

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Leading the Pack

Customer success is much more than the latest marketing mantra…it is a strategy, a philosophy, a way of doing business. It can make your customer more successful, your company more successful, and hopefully, you will be more successful. Act like the big dog you are and lead the customer success pack!

 

Note: This article was adapted from Alex’s new book Brilliant Customer Success: Managing the Customer Experience for Profitable Growth and Brand Dominance, due to be released in November 2016.

 

References

[1] “An Executive Primer to Customer Success Management.” April 2014. Thought Leadership Paper. Forrester.

[2] Alexander, James A., EdD. 2016. Customer Success: Managing the Customer Experience for Loyalty and Profit. Alexander Consulting and Service Strategies Corporation.

[3] Alexander, James A., EdD. January 26, 2015. “Brilliant CX: The 7 Things Your Customers Want, Expect, and Deserve.” LinkedIn Blog.

[4] Mehta, Nick. October 18, 2015. “The 5 Kinds of Customer Success.” Gainsight, Venturebeat.

[5] Drucker, Peter F., 1974. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York: Harper & Row.

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Join the Center for Services Leadership at Compete Through Services Symposium on October 27th, 2016, to hear James “Alex” Alexander, Alexander Consulting, speak on Customer Success Management: The Marvelous Opportunity to Grow Your Services Business.

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alexalexander

James “Alex” Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant services. Contact him at 239-671-0740, alex@alexanderstrategists.com or visit www.brilliantcustomersuccess.com for information and valuable resources to speed your journey to brilliant customer success.

alex-book

 

Check out my new book!

BRILLIANT CUSTOMER SUCCESS

MANAGING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE FOR PROFITABLE GROWTH AND BRAND DOMINANCE

by James “Alex” Alexander

 

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.

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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.

Capitalize on Annual Planning to Manage Customers as Assets

By: Jeanne BlissAnnual planning customer centered goals

Over the last ten years I’ve become convinced that annual planning is the Achilles’ heel of customer experience. It is at the root of what inhibits the most efficient investment on priority investments in customer driven growth. That is because annual planning usually starts with the silos, not the customer asset, and not the customer journey.

  • Without a one-company review of the customer asset and experience, your company continues to focus only on business outcomes. You stand still regarding customer asset growth without knowing exactly why.
  • Without common accountability targets, actions will continue to be planned tactically, based on the individual annual plans of the silos.

As a result, the customer experience becomes the defaulted outcome of every silo’s budget and projects they plan to spend that money.

Rarely is there a decision making lens in place to identify and drive investment in the most important customer experiences. Companies need an ongoing roadmap to define where they want to make progress in customer profitability, customer loyalty, and customer experience delivery.

Your annual planning customer-centered goals should include:
  • Know volume and value of lost customers and volume and value of new customers required to drive incremental growth.
  • Identify priority customer experiences driving customers out the door.
  • Move customers from one level of engagement to the next.

Join the Center for Services Leadership at Compete Through Services Symposium on November 5th, 2015, to hear me speak on how to Grow Your Business By Improving Customer’s Lives. You will also receive a complimentary copy of my new book CHIEF CUSTOMER OFFICER 2.0: HOW TO BUILD YOUR CUSTOMER-DRIVEN GROWTH ENGINE. See you there!

Republished with author’s permission from original post.

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twitterlinkedinJeanne Bliss is the Founder and President of CustomerBliss, and the Co-Founder of The Customer Experience Professionals Association. She is one of the foremost experts on customer-centric leadership and the role of the Chief Customer Officer. A consultant and thought leader, Jeanne Bliss guides C-Suite and Chief Customer Officer clients around the world toward earning the right to business growth and prosperity, by improving customers’ lives. Jeanne Bliss pioneered the role of the Chief Customer Officer, holding the first ever CCO role at Lands’ End, Microsoft, Coldwell Banker and Allstate Corporations. Reporting to each company’s CEO, she moved the customer to the strategic agenda, redirecting priorities to create transformational changes to each brands’ customer experience. She has driven achievement of 95 percent loyalty rates, improving customer experiences across 50,000-person organizations. Jeanne is a highly sought after speaker, keynoting high profile conferences and corporate events. She has spoken for speaking clients such as Intuit, Pella Windows, Staples, Activision, MetLife, Zappos, and AARP, and has appeared in major media outlets such as Fast Company, Forbes, MSNBC, The Associated Press and The Conference Board.

A Great Customer Experience Isn’t Something You Can Script

John_Abraham_headshot2By: John Abraham

Several years ago, I met a successful customer service director in a retail bank. She had led the charge to bring customer experience thinking into the bank’s branch operations and call centers, defining how the company’s brand promise should be reflected in customer interactions. In fact, they had developed a specific greeting that employees were supposed to use. Every time a customer entered a branch or called a call center, the bank employee greeted them with exactly the same phrase.

While there is a good reason to set standards for customer experience delivery, this example raises an important question about the best approach to take. When customer experience standards become too rigid and scripted, interactions that should feel personal can lose their authenticity — leaving customers with an awkward feeling at best.

Too much rigidity can also get in the way of basic customer needs being met. Research from McKinsey & Company has found that over 50 percent of customer interactions occur as part of a multi-event, multi-channel journey. When customer experience standards try too hard to script how an individual interaction should play out, they leave less flexibility for employees to deal with the nuances associated with each customer’s unique situation. You can’t predict every customer’s needs — and often, customers won’t distinguish between an employee who is not allowed to adapt their approach and one who is simply unwilling to help.

So how can companies deliver experiences that feel personal without adding harmful inconsistency?

Often, the most impactful strategy is to find small, systematic ways to demonstrate an understanding of each customer’s perspective. Accomplishing this starts with learning more about the underlying needs behind different customer interactions. Digging deeper into the customer’s perspective — often though a journey mapping process — can reveal the higher-order concerns customers bring to individual interactions. It’s also helpful to let employees follow up on relevant customer feedback, so they can learn to spot these concerns in the context of real conversations.

Armed with this knowledge and intuition, employees will be better able to anticipate common questions and sources of anxiety for customers. Being offered the right solution without having to ask can feel almost magical — and shows customers they’re dealing with someone who really understands them.

USAA offers an excellent example of this approach. The company is famous for its military-inspired employee training courses, but its insight into its servicemember customer base extends deeper than knowing the sound of an angry drill sergeant or the taste of an MRE. USAA is committed to learning about the professional and personal events that inspire even the simplest customer requests, so its employees always know how to respond. Wayne Peacock, USAA’s Head of Member Experience, said of this approach, “We’re serving our members from the time they’re teenagers and young adults all the way through the adult years and leaving a financial legacy, so we thought it would make a lot of sense to have them talk to us about what’s going on in their financial lives.”

Of course, even the most perceptive and well-informed employees need the flexibility to do something with their knowledge. This does not have to mean eliminating all customer service rules, or following Ritz-Carlton’s example in giving employees discretionary funds for creating customer delight. Rather, a good approach is to remove specific policies that your frontline knows are getting in the way.

Windstream Communications, a leading provider of voice and data networks, offers an example of this strategy. After noticing frequent miscommunication between customers and servicing technicians, the company decided to allow customers to contact technicians directly rather than going through a scheduler. Windstream found that this strategy helped individual technicians learn specific customers’ needs over time and use that understanding to provide more personalized service. And Windstream’s customers got a dedicated, familiar ally, rather than a sequence of different technicians.

Ultimately, moving away from the script can feel uncomfortable. It puts a heavier burden on front-line employees to know their work and their customers. But don’t underestimate the impact of investing in thoughtful policy changes and customer-oriented training. When you give your employees deeper insight into customer needs — and the freedom do something with that insight — they can move successfully beyond the script to deliver a personalized experience that is consistent with what your brand aspires to be.

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John Abraham leads the Medallia Institute, which develops educational programs in customer experience best practices. Prior to joining Medallia, John was GM of Net Promoter Programs at Satmetrix, a consultant with both Andersen Consulting and Booz Allen & Company, and a marketing executive in the software industry for more than 10 years.

Join the Center for Services Leadership at Compete Through Services Symposium on November 5th, 2015, to hear John Abraham, Medallia Institute, and Michael Morton, Best Western International, speak on Breaking Barriers Between Service Metrics and Customer Experiences.

Is Transparency Good for Business?

By Seigyoung Auh, Omar Merlo, and Andreas Eisingerich

In 2012, the global fast food chain McDonald’s launched a website in Canada called “Our Food. Your Questions”. The digital platform allowed consumers to ask the company absolutely anything about its food. As the website increased in popularity and customers asked some very tough questions, the company and its products were not always cast in a positive light. However, McDonald’s was seemingly happy to face both the good and the bad.

Even the toughest critics could vent or probe in the public forum. Immediately after the launch of this initiative, the Internet was awash with claims that McDonald’s had just committed an enormous marketing blunder. Surely shouldn’t a company always strive to present itself positively, minimize public scrutiny and criticism, and carefully filter customer-generated content on its digital platforms? The outcome of the initiative suggests otherwise. The yearly target for questions was exceeded by 400% in only 6 months. The company experienced 10 million interactions online with customer engagement exceeding 4 minutes per visit. Perceptions of the quality of the food, as well as brand attitude measures improved. Most importantly, customers were spending more on the brand, evidenced by an increase of 50% in monthly store visits.

Many companies, however, remain wary of transparency initiatives, as found in our research. This is primarily because the benefits of being transparent are still unclear and poorly documented. We aimed to shed light on this issue. Specifically, we investigated whether transparency has desirable outcomes or if success stories, such as that of McDonald’s, are merely isolated anomalies. The kind of transparency that we studied in our research pertains to activities carried out by businesses to ensure that the information it disseminates about its products and services is comprehensive, objective, accessible, and easily understood by customers. We called this type of transparency performance transparency and developed a transparency scale (a parsimonious 4 item scale) using data from the retailing and banking sectors.

What does being transparent entail?

Organizations may implement transparency through effective website design, analysis of customer data, and testing of customers’ understanding of technical language. They may also strive to provide information that is objective; in other words information, which does not either selectively exaggerate the positives or discount the negatives of a firm’s offering. In this sense, transparency refers to truth, honesty, frankness, and candor.

A growing number of online media facilitate the exchange of information and enable customers to share their reviews on purchase websites, blogs, social networking sites, and online communities. In light of this, providing customers with access to third party information (e.g., reviews by others) is a critical element of performance transparency.

Consider Adidas Boost running shoe, which on its website had customer Twitter feeds and feedback, sharing their experience with the Boost running shoe, giving each other advice, and even pointing out when the running shoes are most effective (dry and cold versus hot and humid). Offering access to reviews by others may also be integrated into a business’s brand community building efforts. Porsche, for example, engaged its GTS drivers community by actively encouraging them to share feedback, information, and the most exhilarating driving routes etc. with one another.

Does transparency pay off?

Our research suggests that transparency has tangible benefits for those organizations that implement it. The benefits mainly arise out of customer-related effects.

First, a company’s transparency efforts tend to act as a signal of goodwill, which can translate into reduced uncertainty and higher customer trust. Customer trust in turn may translate into lower price sensitivity and higher propensity to purchase, and is of course fundamental to the development of valued and lasting relationships. Our research, based on data collected from customers in the airline, hotel, and retail banking industries, confirms a strong link between transparency, reduced price sensitivity, and higher intention to purchase.

Second, when customers are unable to assess a business on a particular dimension (e.g., service quality, reliability, etc.), they may evaluate that dimension less favorably than if the information had been provided to them. For example, in our study we found that customers who read negative customer reviews about a company may feel more assured and confident in their decision-making process and may select that business over one that has no negative feedback. The presence of some negative information tends to make customers feel that the information they have is comprehensive, that any criticisms voiced by other customers has not been filtered, and that their expectations are clear. In other words, when customers see objective information, they tend to feel that they know the whole story and can make an informed decision. In contrast, absence of such information, or overly one-sided information, fails to remove customer uncertainty to the same degree.

Third, contrary to what one might expect, we found that businesses that might be most concerned about being transparent may be the ones that stand to gain the most by signaling efforts in creating quality for their customers. Specifically, we discovered that firms that are viewed as somewhat less capable by consumers benefited even more from being transparent than firms viewed as highly capable. Transparency may thus afford firms with a novel way to differentiate their product offerings and set themselves apart from competition, especially for firms that are perceived to be less competent in delivering high service performance.

Conclusions and Implications

Our research clearly suggests that customers will buy more and spend more when dealing with firms that are transparent. Therefore, companies should consider sharing information with customers that is balanced, objective, easy to access, and easily understood. We would also encourage businesses to rely on their customers as a valuable source of information to aid other potential customers, whether through third-party review sites, open feedback on the company website, or by facilitating customer complaints, etc. Importantly, businesses should not shy away from negative feedback, as it can reduce customer uncertainty and can be a valuable opportunity to establish trust. Managing negative feedback in a public manner can build confidence not only with the customer who voiced the concern, but also potentially with anyone else witnessing how the company handled the situation. Finally, the disclosure of both positive and negative reviews is indicative of a company that cares more about its customers than about its products or services.

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Seigyoung Auh is an Associate Professor of Global Marketing at Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU. Seigyoung’s research interests are in the areas of frontline employee’s customer orientation diversity, fit in climate and its impact on frontline employee attitude and performance, service innovation, service leadership, knowledge sharing/transfer in sales teams, sales team learning and conflict. His work has been published in a number of academic journals including Journal of Retailing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Journal of Service Research and others.  Seigyoung has worked as a marketing scientist before entering academia and has taught in Australia, Canada, and Korea, before joining Thunderbird.  Seigyoung has executive education experience with leading global firms such as Samsung Electronics Company and Hyundai Motors. He also served as the co-director for the CEO franchise program in Korea before joining Thunderbird.

Omar Merlo is Assistant Professor in Marketing at Imperial College Business School.  He was awarded his Ph.D. in marketing strategy from the University of Melbourne and his research is primarily in strategic marketing, services marketing, and customer relationship management. His research has appeared in numerous leading practitioners and academic journals, such as MIT Sloan Management Review, Journal of Service Research, European Journal of Marketing, Industrial Marketing Management, Journal of Business Research, Marketing Letters, and others. Dr Merlo consults and teaches for numerous organisations around the world both in the private and public sectors.

Andreas B. Eisingerich works as associate professor in marketing at Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London. He has published on customer-brand relationships, customer engagement, and service management in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Service Research, Journal of Business Research, Harvard Business Review, California Management Review, and MIT Sloan Management Review, among others, and currently services on the editorial review board of the Journal of Service Research.

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The article Service Firm Performance Transparency. How, When, and Why Does It Pay Off?, featured in the post, was co-authored by Yeyi Liu (University of Leeds, UK), Andreas B. Eisingerich (Imperial College London, UK), Seigyoung Auh (Thunderbird at ASU), Omar Merlo (Imperial College London, UK) and Hae Eun Helen Chun (Cornell University). It is available ahead of print at Journal of Service Research website. Journal of Service Research is the world’s leading service research journal that features articles by service experts from both academia and business world.

Note: All content within this website is the property of Center for Services Leadership. Any use of materials, except for social media sharing, without the prior written consent of Center for Services Leadership is strictly prohibited.

Being Your Customer’s Hero: Interview with Adam Toporek.

cts_toporek-adam_headshot_main_300Your new book, Be Your Customer’s Hero, is launching next week. Tell us, what inspired you to write this book?

My desire to write this book came from the old business axiom of “find a need and fill it.” However, the need I was filling was first and foremost my own. Be Your Customer’s Hero is the book I always wished I’d had during my years of owning and running retail service businesses.

I’d always wanted a single book I could hand to frontline employees that would give them a comprehensive set of tools and techniques for becoming great at customer service. A book that spoke to them in an easy-to-read conversational way about the realities they face day to day. Despite all the amazing books on customer service and customer experience on the market, that book didn’t exist. So I wrote it.

In your opinion, what prevents most frontline service professionals from delivering superior service?

External factors are a big part. Store policies, lack of empowerment, and ineffective systems are just a few of the challenges frontline service professionals face. Organizational leaders need to always be looking at the structural impediments which prevent frontline professionals from delivering great service.

Internal factors are just as important and often more difficult to overcome. Most of the time, these boil down to mentality – how frontline reps view customers, how they handle their own emotions, and how confident they are.

Competence and confidence are particularly important to delivering superior service. Oftentimes with frontline employees, it may be their first job or it may be their first time working in that specific environment. By using culture and training to instill a customer-centric mindset and bolster service skill sets, organizational leaders can give frontline workers both the confidence and competence they need.

You mentioned organizations’ policies as possible obstacles to delivering great customer service. What can organizations do to make policies more customer-friendly? Can you share a couple of examples to illustrate that?

The first step is to identify the touch points that create the biggest hassles from the customer’s perspective. Study your feedback and survey data. Ask your customers directly. Also, ask your teams what policies, in their opinion, create the biggest challenges for customers. Look at both customer-facing policies and internal policies. Evaluate why you have them and how you could make them more customer-friendly.

Two quick examples:
Southwest Airlines has a customer-facing policy of not upcharging for checked bags. Now, admittedly, those fees might be passed on another way, but the policy still makes customers feel that they are not being nickel and dimed.

An example of an internal policy that is not customer-friendly is needing approvals for comps or refunds. Many years ago in a retail service business of mine, we empowered all frontline reps to comp services without supervisor approval. This internal policy change gave the reps the ability to resolve most minor customer issues in real time at very little cost to the company.

You mentioned employee empowerment, can you elaborate on that? What do companies that get it right do differently?

Empowerment is incredibly important to not only delivering great experiences but to proactively resolving issues before they have the chance to escalate. Now, empowerment is not a panacea, but it is a powerful tool that many organizations do not utilize enough.

Companies need to begin with actual empowerment, loosening the reigns in strategically focused areas and granting more authority and responsibility to frontline employees so that they can facilitate experiences and resolve issues. Organizations need to balance the risk of empowerment with the rewards; it’s an idea we call “smart empowerment.”

Whenever you expand authority or responsibility, you generally increase the risk that those expanded powers can be used in a way that hurts the organization. However, the risks must be evaluated because they are different in every situation. By way of extreme example, authorizing each frontline employee to issue refunds up to $100 is not as risky to the organization as authorizing each frontline employee to make wire transfers from the company account. Empowerment will always have limits. When you compare the risks of an empowerment initiative with the potential rewards, both to the customer and to the team, you can make an informed decision about the types of employee empowerment that are right for your organization.

Additionally, organizations should understand the difference between actual empowerment, which gives authority or responsibility, and psychological empowerment, which means the employee feels empowered. The employees have to know that they can make decisions without fear of repercussions, and they need a customer-centric mindset to want to use the authority they’ve been given to improve the customer’s experience.

What can organizational leaders do to better prepare their customer-facing teams?

We talked about competence leading to confidence earlier, but that rarely happens automatically. The expectations placed on frontline reps are often unrealistic. We expect them to be put under great pressure, sometimes being yelled at or bullied, and to not only manage that stress but to behave exactly the way we expect them to. It’s not easy to do, and I’ll admit right now, equipping front-line employees with more than only the most basic “here’s where the paper clips are” type of training is somewhere I’ve missed the mark myself before.

Think about how they train astronauts; it’s amazing. Astronauts in training are consistently confronted with a variety of adverse scenarios that they must learn to deal with. That way, when facing a critical situation, they can manage their natural reactions and respond calmly by working through the problem.

Now obviously, space flight is an extreme analogy—we don’t have the luxury of training our staff for a few years—but the takeaway is the following principle: The more you drill in practice, the more you can depend on your reaction in the real world.

So, training is key. Bring in a consultant, work through a book, or create your own trainings. Invest in the education of your leaders as well. Send them to seminars or invest in programs like the W. P. Carey Certificate in Customer Experience that gives the opportunity to work on frontline skills like service recovery or top-level CX skills like service blueprinting.

Finally, what does it mean to be your customer’s hero?

To be the customer’s hero means one thing above all else: It means being there when the customer needs you and making your personal interaction with the customer as memorably positive as possible. It’s not about over-the-top acts; it’s about consistent execution.

In the end, great customer experiences, or Hero-ClassTM customer experiences as we like to call them, create competitive advantage and lead to a better bottom line. Deliver them consistently, and your organization will reap the rewards.

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Adam Toporek is the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That StickTM blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast. He is the owner of CTS Service Solutions, a consultancy specializing in high-energy customer service workshops that teach organizations and frontline teams how to deliver Hero-ClassTM customer service. Adam has an MBA from UNC Charlotte and the W.P. Carey Certificate in Customer Experience from the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University. Connect with him on Twitter.