Keeping customers happy is essential for ongoing business success in any economy. However, cost and quality alone won't lead your customers to view you as a trusted partner and valued resource. Your frontline employees are the ones who deal one-on-one with customers, and that's where casual purchases can lead to long-term relationships.
But your employees can't do it by themselves. Managers and the HR department need to do everything they can to make sure employees are empowered and supported to always deliver excellent customer service.
More Empowerment to Them
What exactly is an empowered employee? It means that the employee has the latitude to help a customer without needing to consult a list of approved policies, get approval from a superior or fear for his or her job for making certain decisions.
True empowerment is rooted in the company's culture and acts to support its overarching values and mission. Therefore, you have to instill your business's values and mission from Day 1 and reinforce them with employees at every opportunity.
Posters and slogans are a start, but weaving your mission and vision into every communication and using them as a basis for all decisions will take you further. For example, your CEO's messages should be full of the words that make up your values and give examples of the mission in action. Yes, like all things critical to success in organizations, expectations must be set and demonstrated from the top.
Training and Support
Employees also need to understand what their role is in delivering an excellent customer experience. Moreover, they need to know exactly what that looks like for your company. Role-playing exercises are particularly useful to instill this kind of learning, as is observation and feedback. Have newer employees shadow highly skilled veterans to see how it's done, and then have the veterans observe the less experienced on their first couple of solo turns.
Training on customer service expectations should be extended throughout the organization to all employees, whether they actively work with clients or not. Otherwise, you run the risk of an employee sabotaging customer service efforts because he or she is using a different playbook or isn't clear about your company's ideals for customer service.
Also, scrutinize your policies, procedures and reward structures to ensure that nothing you do as a company competes with your customer service-centric mandates. For instance, are you rewarding employees for the number of transactions they can process in a shift? That might be a worthy incentive in a business where customers value speed (such as a fast-food restaurant) but it could work against a company where thoroughness and care (such as tax preparation services) take prominence.
Be sure to evaluate this quality in performance reviews. In particular, ensure managers and supervisors are being held accountable for how well they're instilling customer service principles in employees.
When hiring frontline employees, spend time learning what their customer service mindset is. Ask them to describe for you the customer service policies of their previous employers and how they implemented them in various scenarios.
In addition, ask them to walk you through how they would handle an unhappy customer if they had complete freedom to do whatever they wanted to rectify the situation. And then ask them how they'd handle the same situation based on your customer-service guidelines. The bottom line is to set the expectations around customer service as early as possible.
Clear Value, Clear Choice
The value of creating a customer-centric organization is clear. Excellent customer service can ensure that new clients become regulars and that regulars stay that way and spread the word about your company to their family and friends.
The way to create a customer-centric mindset, through empowered employees, is equally black and white. Either your employees are empowered and supported to be customer advocates or they aren't. Make sure yours are.