For most of my career I've been obsessed with delivering an exceptional service experience, creating advocates, and coaching others to do the same. And, after nearly two decades in customer facing and operational roles, I think I'm pretty good at it. Recently, I had an opportunity to sit in the "buyers" chair. My subpar experience helped crystallize some things in my mind, specifically the behavioral attributes required of your people to create a true customer-centric culture: empathy, impeccable listening skills, and an innate drive to treat others how you want to be treated.Think about it: At the heart of every customer-centric organization are its people. This is why many leading organizations, including Southwest Airlines, have adopted the mantra, "Hire for attitude. Train for skill." These companies understand the substantial impact employee behavior has on organizational performance. Fly Southwest Airlines one time and you'll witness firsthand the energy, drive, and enthusiasm their employees have. How can you ensure you're developing a strong, successful customer-centric workforce?
- Hire people with high EQ
No, that's not a typo. EQ, also known as emotional intelligence, is really about being self-aware and perceptive when it comes to the emotions of others. Just as some people have higher IQs, certain individuals have a heightened sense of other people's emotions and how to react to them. Individuals with high EQ exhibit many behaviors essential for building a strong service culture; they tend to be better at listening, following through on tasks, and staying positive in the face of stress. Top organizations know that high EQ is a good predictor of success; that is why some prioritize personality traits and behaviors over specific skills. High EQ employees also have a direct impact on the bottom line. Research has shown that high EQ employees at PepsiCo, L'Oreal, and MetLife routinely outperformed their colleagues and were less likely to leave the organization. At American Express approximately 90 percent of financial advisors trained in emotional intelligence skills achieved significant improvements in sales performance. Measuring EQ isn't always easy, but identifying the best candidates for your company's needs will absolutely pay off in the long run.
- Encourage employees to "walk a mile in customers' shoes."
How well do employees really understand the experiences and challenges your customers face each day? To be really effective at serving your customers, it's imperative that employees see the world from their perspective. Strive to create a company-wide culture of empathy, where employees honestly care about the customers' needs. Encourage staff to have regular discussions with customers either by face-to-face meetings or through quarterly or semiannual account reviews. These activities will undoubtedly uncover insight into your customer's job responsibilities and how you may be able to support them. Another idea is to implement a "customer for a day" program. This requires service personnel to spend time on-site with customers so they can see, firsthand, how their products and services are used, and look for ways to enhance the relationship. Last, but not least, empower frontline employees to make decisions so, when they perceive a problem, it can be addressed quickly. By creating the right environment, employees can effectively and efficiently respond to issues that have the potential to damage your company's reputation.
- Foster a culture of sharing and teamwork
Customer feedback is most impactful when it's used to affect operational change. For example, at some companies every employee is required to attend meetings where management shares customer feedback. Participation is strongly encouraged. The teams socialize about the feedback collected, and then works together to brainstorm process improvement ideas. With solutions in hand, the companies then close the feedback loop to share the actions taken. This collaborative format is extremely effective; it ensures that customer feedback is properly shared among key stakeholders, not lost in silos. Business leaders are then better equipped to make decisions that are in the best interest of their customers.
Yes, senior executive buy-in, systematic collection of customer feedback, measurement of customer loyalty metrics, and so on are major factors in creating a world-class, customer-centric organization. But, it's also about the people behind it -- an organized effort. Hire the right people and empower them so they can make a difference. Celebrate employees who emulate positive personality traits and coach others on how to effectively listen to the customer. Like many leading service organizations, you may find that your efforts result in enhanced business performance.
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About the Author: Evan Klein is the founder and president of Satrix Solutions