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Customer Service and Employee Recognition

Here’s a quote to pass around to your leadership team:

When bosses are in the habit of giving praise,
 employees get in the habit of being praiseworthy.”
Barbara Farfan

When an organization sets lofty customer service objectives, employees are often asked to do things in different ways – sometimes in ways that may be out of their comfort zones. And that’s good. Breakthroughs usually only occur when we are willing to move out our comfort zones.

I believe the single most powerful thing a leader can do when he or she observes an employee stepping up to achieve the organization’s objectives is to immediately thank the employee for their performance. The praise might be a simple verbal “thank-you,” a handwritten note, public praise, or whatever might be appropriate. The important thing is to provide the praise.

And, as Barbara Farfan says, “When bosses are in the habit of giving praise, employees get in the habit of being praiseworthy.”



A Great Book

I’d like to make a book recommendation; The Encore Effect – How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Anything You Do, by Mark Sanborn. The book has application in all areEncore Effect by you.as of life, but my interest is in its immediate applicability to those organizations desiring to create memorable, loyalty-generating customer experiences.

The book’s inside jacket reads (in part):

Every day, we are called to perform – at work at home, in our communities. But is it possible to make every performance outstanding, the kind that leaves people applauding for an encore?

I just love the idea of asking; was the way I handled that customer interaction worthy of an encore? Did my performance in that situation make the customer want more? An encore in business is repeat business – it’s customer loyalty and enthusiastic referrals.

The book is structured in three segments; Understanding the Encore Effect, Achieving the Encore Effect, and Sharing the Encore Effect. A few of the chapter titles include:

  • The Power of Encore Performances
  • From Routine to Remarkable – Make Them Want More
  • Passion: The Fuel for Remarkable Performance

An added benefit of The Encore Effect is that it’s a quick read. I read most of it on a flight from Dallas to Orlando and finished it this morning. And that includes time spent using my highlighter to mark ideas that really resonated with me (and there were a lot).

I’m confident that you’ll be pleased with this book. I know I was and I’m looking forward to the book’s encore.


Customer Service and the Importance of Role Models

One of my all-time favorite leadership quotes comes from Tom Peters:

“The problem isn’t that your people don’t know what you’re doing; the problem is that your people do know what you’re doing.”

Employees know what their leaders value simply by observing their actions. When a leader says something is important and yet his or her behaviors contradict their words, behaviors will trump the words. If, for example, a leader says treating people with respect is a company value while regularly and publicly chewing out employees, chewing out employees will quickly become an accepted part of the culture, regardless of what’s listed in the company’s statement of values.

If an organization’s leaders want employees to provide great customer service, leaders must demonstrate great customer service. If the organization’s leaders want employees to pay attention to detail, a leader picking up a stray piece of trash or straightening up a cluttered environment is infinitely more powerful than any memo or training program focused on the importance of attention to detail.

I always appreciate it when a client organization sends me stories and examples of “walk-the-talk” leadership behaviors. I recently received the following example from Springfield Clinic of Springfield, Illinois, appearing in one of their internal publications. While a healthcare organization certainly has the traditional management structure of CEO and department heads, physicians play a vital leadership role and can set the tone for the success or failure of any service initiative. I had the opportunity to meet the physician highlighted in this example and can tell you this certainly isn’t an isolated circumstance, Dr. Chris Wottowa is a person who models service excellence every day. The letter was written by Amy Niehaaus (pictured with Dr. Wottowa):

“While working the front reception desk, I looked up to greet an elderly patient who was being pushed in a wheelchair by Dr. Chris Wottowa. The patient was accompanied by the patient’s wife and a friend carrying a walker. After Dr. Wottowa left them at the counter to be checked in, the ladies told me they were struggling to push the wheelchair, carry the walker and their purses when this nice young man stopped and offered to help them. We later found out Dr. Wottowa was the “nice young man.”  He was on his way out of the building to go to a meeting and saw the ladies needed help. What a great example to all of us that it only takes a few moments of our time to make someone’s day and create a “WOW.”  I know it made my day a little better and I felt a feeling of pride knowing there are employees out there willing to go the extra mile to help our patients.”

My guess is that Dr. Wottowa would say, “It was no big deal, it was just the right thing to do.” But that’s the point; it was the right thing to do and he did it. And walk-the-talk leadership behaviors like this have a ripple effect with employees – “This really is part of the culture.”

When your employees observe your behaviors, what would they say that you truly value?

Cutting Costs – Get Your Team Involved!

If you’ve been reading this blog recently, you know I’m concerned about organizations sacrificing customer service as they cut costs during this economic downturn. My advice is to look at this as a time to solidify customer relationships as your competitors operate in panic mode.

Being a realist, however, I do know that managing costs is critical during tough economic times. So, I’d like to propose something I haven’t tried in this blog before; the sharing of best practices from readers.

Here is what I propose – Have a meeting (or series of meetings) with your direct reports with the following agenda item:

“What can our department (division, office, etc) do to cut costs without sacrificing customer service? If any proposal negatively impacts service, let’s dig deeper to get to those ideas that won’t compromise the customer experience.”

My guess is that your team will generate lots of ideas that will save money and not impact customer service at all. Our employees often see wasteful spending but usually aren’t asked to point out the waste. Let’s get them involved.

After your meeting, either email the cost-cutting ideas to me at Dennis@SnowAssociates.com, or respond via the comments section of this blog. I’ll collect the ideas generated and post the compellation. I’d encourage you to send along any ideas you find intriguing, even if you’re not sure you’ll implement them all. Another reader might benefit from something your group comes up with but, for whatever reason, doesn’t plan to use.

We’ll see what kind of reader response this idea generates. I’ll keep you informed.

Remember – This is about cutting costs without sacrificing customer service!



Customer Service and the Words, “I Can’t”

United_Airlines_Boeing_737Due to a mechanical problem on a United Airlines flight departing from Orlando last Sunday, I was informed, along with the rest of the passengers, that we would be delayed five hours (!?!). Because I would miss my connecting flight I went to United’s Red Carpet Room to make other arrangements. I’ll spare you the details, but the agent was unhelpful and quite arrogant. She kept saying, “I can’t” to everything I was politely asking her to do. All I got was, “I can’t.”

Concerned I would be a no-show for the speech I was to give the next morning I did what I always do in a panic situation. I called my wife Debbie and within about ten minutes the situation was resolved. Whew!

I had about an hour to kill and decided to hang out there in the Red Carpet Room. As I headed out for my flight an hour later, the same agent I’d been dealing with walked up to me and said, “Here are your boarding passes for your new flight. I was able to take care of it.” I let her know everything was already taken care of and she walked away in a huff.

It’s clear that the agent’s initial “I can’t” really meant “I won’t.” I know this because Debbie easily solved my problem and the agent eventually did too. My panic and frustration could’ve been avoided if the agent had even substituted “I can’t” with “I’ll try.”

In today’s day and age there is very little that organizations can’t do, and most customers know that. We know that when someone says they can’t they really mean they won’t. And even if an employee isn’t empowered to handle a customer’s problem, he or she can say, “While I’m not able to do what you’re asking, let me see if I can get someone who can.” At least the customer would know the employee is making an attempt. But saying “I can’t” is more often then not simply untrue. You can, but you won’t.

So, the next time you are tempted to say “I can’t” to a customer, please stop and ask yourself; “Is it really that I can’t do it, or is it that I won’t at least see what I can do?” Your customers will sure appreciate the difference.