Today marks the start of Customer Service Week where thousands of companies will honor and award their employees in an effort to boost morale and celebrate those committed to delivering exceptional customer service. In an effort to encourage continuous improvement for companies' service organizations beyond October 11, I'm making the following recommendations.
1. Provide open lines of communication.
Listening to employees and responding and acting on that feedback is one of the most important principles for operating a successful customer service organization. Zappos, for instance, readily shares company information and customer feedback with its employees through many channels and in company meetings. Rob Siefker, director of Zappos' Customer Loyalty Team, said his team uses all sorts of ways to listen to employees, with the main one being surveys. He also makes sure employees have simple ways to communicate and places to deposit that communication. He conducts one-on-one meetings and takes people (team leaders, supervisors, etc.) to lunches on a regular basis to discuss what's going on at the company--both customer-facing and employee-facing--and finds ways to talk about issues and improve upon things. "We're good at listening to feedback from customers but we're also proactive in making sure we're hearing the voice of employees and taking in what they have to say. It goes back to what we can do to make the culture better."
2. Ensure they're contributing to the corporate vision
Letting your customer-facing employees know they're a part of something that's moving the company forward can lead to big returns. A few years ago Caesar's Palace started translating corporate initiatives into the contact center environment with the goal of contributing to the company's overall corporate vision. The contact center set a goal in 2003 of adding $6 million in incremental revenue to the company's bottom line. Because they were no longer viewed as a cost center, but as a strategic group that brings in revenue, the agents embarked on a strategic upsell initiative and exceeded $10.3 million in incremental revenue.
3. Put mechanisms in place to act on customer and employee feedback.
Delivering on the customer experience isn't possible without the voice of the customer (VOC). But next-generation VOC initiatives aren't effective without voice of the employee. Analyzing customer insights together with employee insights can help organizations drill down into specific incidents and provide a more complete picture of the factors that led to specific decision, behaviors, or paths to purchase. One effective way of collecting this feedback is through employees' goals. Daniel Debow, cofounder of Work.com, explains that through their goals, employees might be giving important feedback to the organization, outlining what they would like to learn more about or specialize in. Managers should use this insight to start a conversation with their employees, allowing them to gather more feedback.
4. Have fun when communicating with customers.
Injecting fun into the day-to-day work environment helps to elevate morale and keep employees feeling engaged. But so does having fun with customers. Telus, for example, encourages its social media agents to "highlight their own personalities" when interacting with customers, notes Liz SauvÃ©, a spokesman for the company. "It's Telus' goal to be friendly and different in our external communications," she said.
One instance when TELUS injected fun into an individual customer experience was when an agent encouraged a customer to hold a naming contest for a red panda that was sent to a customer for commenting on the annual report. This resulted in its own Twitter handle: @RowanRedPanda.
5. Empower them to make decisions that are in the best interest of the company.
Empowered employees can make dramatic transformations for companies in the form of greater efficiencies and enhanced revenue. I recently spoke with Annette Hernandez, manager, social customer service, American Airlines. She told me that the airline empowers customer service employees to make decisions on their own, such as making waivers and favors for customers. To help facilitate those decisions, employees have access to all systems that house customer data. "We empower them to look at entire picture and to make those decisions," she said.
Bonobos also empowers its customer service team, which it calls "Ninjas," to do what's necessary to "nudge someone towards being a promoter," explains John Rote, the company's vice president for product management and customer experience. "We've got standardized processes to make things easy, but ultimately all of our Ninjas are empowered to do what they need to do to solve problems, craft solutions, and take care of customers."
6. Hold employees accountable for customer-focused metrics.
Tying employee performance to customer-focused metrics like Net Promoter Score, can be challenging because the outcome of scores can be impacted by numerous factors across the organization. Jeanne Bliss, founder of Customer Bliss, recommends creating a bridge between the priority experiences and the development of operational processes that require metrics to be identified and tracked with passion. She also suggests communicating the importance of focusing on these experience metrics that impact the survey score first, building out the competency for cross-functional experience mapping to identify the few most powerful process metrics to track, and educating on the most appropriate time to add those metrics to compensation and high-level score cards.
Encouraging your customer-facing employees to deliver optimal customer experiences, offering continuous improvement, measuring for success, and rewarding those who deliver on those metrics must entail continued processes improvements and regular technology updates that go beyond the week of October 7.
Reminder: Please check back on Wednesday at 7 p.m. EDT when we announce the winners of our 2013 1to1 Media Customer Champions awards!