If your job is at all connected to the world of customer service, you've probably heard of Captain Mike and the Good Ship Netflix. The star of a highly original chat support exchange posted on reddit last fall, Captain Mike is a Netflix customer service rep whose creative sense of humor made him not only a hilarious viral hit, but also a serious, widely-cited example of what great customer service looks like. 

Here's what I like about Captain Mike's story: it shows an engaged customer service employee who clearly feels both freedom and responsibility. He makes the conversation funny but is still obviously focused on solving the problem. And, on the flip side, we also see the customer's immediate, positive response. When Captain Mike asked if there are any other issues he could address, the customer replied, "I almost wish there were." The customer got right into the spirit of the conversation and clearly had a ball--how often can any of us say that about our own interactions with customer service? It's a refreshing example of a customer service encounter that's both helpful and human: something that, all too often, can seem like the elusive great white whale to customer service managers. 

So what does it take to make exchanges like this one the rule, not the exception? 

Become an 'admiral.' 

Sparking the motivation of would-be Captain Mikes--and then sustaining it--comes down to your leadership. Have you taken a turn at the helm of customer service? I've written about this before--I think it's absolutely essential for leaders to get in the trenches and actually listen to customers. It's good for you to hear what customers have to say--and it's an extremely helpful exercise in appreciation for your member services team and the important job they do. 

Motivation starts with appreciation.

It's important simply to recognize the foundational role that the customer service department plays within your business. As a major potential revenue center and a site of key learning for your company's other teams, customer service deserves to be publicly celebrated, all the more so because it faces unique, frontline challenges which other teams do not. Say thank you. Ask a team member to share a success story--or helpful lesson learned--at a company meeting. 

Don't forget to communicate.

Busy organizations can sometimes forget how important internal communication is--especially to groups like member services. Early on at Reputation.com, we were scaling very fast and we did not communicate as programmatically as we should have with our customer service team. That was a mistake--they really are the front lines and need to know the latest products, services, and new features as well as pricing and policy changes. Never forget that customer service is one of the teams that needs to be most informed at the company.

Treat representatives like customers.

Customer service can be a draining job--from dealing with the ire of dissatisfied customers to the receptiveness of internal teams to feedback. Try thinking of your customer service representatives as if they were your customers--and treating them similarly. This means making the transition from telling to asking. Ask what they care about and what their goals are. Ask what tools and support they need to do their jobs. Ask what's working and what could be done differently. And ask in such a way that respects their time, like short surveys or in-person conversations designed to yield just a few key insights. Then, make those changes happen to the extent feasible. 

Try tangible techniques.

Rewarding good work is a typical strategy for a reason: it works. Some ways, such as profit or equity sharing, have the added benefit of giving employees a real stake in the company's performance. You can try the customer service version of a SPIFF, in other words, a spot bonus or incentives for keeping customers happy or producing a good outcome. Reassigning teams to a new product, changing shift hours for employees who are interested, or physically switching up workstations in the office can also offer a revitalizing boost of energy to a team stuck in a rut. 

Some good things come to an end.

Never forget that customer service, like other jobs, can have a natural lifespan. Sometimes it works for employees to take on new challenges in other areas of the company (at Reputation.com, for instance, we've had member services people transition naturally to sales). But sometimes, people are simply ready to move on. This can be natural and good, not necessarily a symptom of something broken in your organization. Help and encourage them in their transition: supportive exchanges of skilled customer service reps between companies leave everyone feeling positive and productive. 

What are some interesting customer service techniques that work for you?