Do you pay fanatical attention to what your customers want? At the companies known for the very best customer service, getting the best is not about training. It’s about living a story of delivering consistently and well what the customer is paying for.
If you want your company to deliver stellar customer service, it starts with the people you hire. The companies that are really devoted to great customer service, the ones you read about and hear about, like Zappos1 and The Ritz-Carlton,2 are in a position to look for everything they want in the people they hire.
Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the Temkin Group and author of the “Customer Experience Matters”3 blog, said that a “combination of the raw skills and the innate interaction skills” are important if you’re going to please customers, no matter how difficult the issue or the personality. But owners of smaller businesses generally want to have people who can handle six things at once, requiring different skill sets, he said in an interview.
That doesn’t mean you have to compromise.
“It’s always a balance between hiring for raw skills and hiring for expertise in the area you want to get,” Temkin said. “The good companies look for both.”
Then it’s up to you, the business owner, to “consistently communicate what the vision and brand stand for.” Start that on day one for each new hire, and your company will be in good position to be a customer-service exemplar.
The Time for Rethinking
The owner’s imprint is what Temkin calls that consistent communication from the owner of a small company to his employees. Temkin warns that as the company starts to grow, the owner needs to be aware that customer service may suffer unless he rethinks his role.
“When businesses are relatively small and the owners can oversee everything, then they can put their imprint on the entire service experience for customers,” he said. Once a company grows too big for the owner to handle everything, or even to be aware of all the issues and problems, “it requires some processes, it requires some rules, and it can’t just rely on the vision … and intuition of the owner.”
There may come a time when a business owner needs to stop doing everything and instead needs to just guide the company.
“As part of their stepping back, [owners need to] really rethink their role,” Temkin said. “[They need to] think about how they can influence the beliefs that their leadership group has, how they can communicate what’s important to the broader audience of employees as they grow.”
That is the foundation of a strong culture, and if you want stellar customer service, you must actively foster service-mindedness as an aspect of your culture in a growing company.
“You want to have the passion and clarity of a founder, but you also need to build processes and infrastructure that can support growth. You’ve got to figure out how to do both, but sometimes executives can’t do both,” Temkin said.
Storytelling Plays a Role
One way to transmit the passion and vision you feel for the company is through storytelling. Some larger companies, such as Costco Wholesale, use stories as a way to let new hires know about the values and best practices of more experienced team members. They actively look for stories about hero employees who solved customers’ problems by going above and beyond; then, they use those stories to inspire and teach others. Jim Sinegal, Costco’s co-founder and outgoing CEO, was quoted in an article in The Costco Connection4 magazine, saying, “What else have we got besides stories? That’s what really hits home with people; it’s what brings meaning to the work we do.”
Small-business owners can use stories as well, but in a different way, Temkin said. He said owners could tell stories about why they founded their companies, stories about interactions with customers, and stories about how they want to build their companies.
“These stories can certainly frame a lot of the elements of the culture,” Temkin said. But try to remember that your stories are not about holding onto the past. They’re about carrying the company forward.
Returning to the theme of the small company reaching a point where the owner can no longer be hands-on, Temkin said, “Part of the reason why the small-business owner needs to step aside is that things do need to change.”
“That’s why there’s always this balance between trying to maintain the essence of who you are and evolving into who you’re going to be.”
Ideally, when the company is still small enough that the owner knows every employee, she can communicate the vision informally with individuals and small groups. But when the company grows beyond that point, that’s when storytelling becomes more important.
As a company grows, its owner can use meaningful stories to convey the company’s values.
“Storytelling is something you can pass along,” Temkin said. “It’s not just the stories that I tell but the stories I tell that other people repeat.”
For more information, visit:
1. “Zappos Lessons: Building a Customer-Focused Culture”
2. The Ritz-Carlton: “Gold Standards”
3. “Customer Experience Matters” blog
4. “Costco: A Fish Story”