1. Management must make the measurement of service quality and feedback from the customer a basic part of everyone's work experience. This information must be available and understood by everyone, no matter what their level. The entire organization must become obsessed with what the customer wants.

    A printing firm has signs all over the shop saying, "Is it good enough? Ask the customer." This statement serves as a constant reminder to everyone that customers are the ultimate judge of whether the service is what it should be, and that all employees must be constantly surveying customers for what and how they want it. The firm regularly sends out questionnaires about the quality of their service and then posts these results for all to see.

    When you survey your customers on the quality of service, make sure that everyone, from the top down, knows of the results and receives recognition for the things that are going well. Behavioral research has shown that you get more of the behavior you reward. So don't make the mistake of mentioning only the area of poor performance; also mention and reward those who are doing well, and involve all employees in brainstorming ways to improve the things that are unsatisfactory.
  2. Be very clear about specifying the behavior that employees are expected to deliver, both with external customers and their coworkers.
  3. Explain why giving excellent customer service is important -- not only for the company, but for the world. What does your company do that makes life easier for everyone? What does your product or service add? Be sure to include this in the reasons for achieving customer service excellence.

    A good example of this principle at work is in the field of health care. People are often drawn into this profession because they enjoy helping and caring for people. Smart health care organizations show how their desired customer service behaviors enable employees to help and care for the patients and their families.

    Reward people for their good service behaviors. Cash awards are nice, yes, but there are many other ways to say, "job well done." Extra time off, for instance, or an article in the company newsletter, a trophy or plaque awarded at a special recognition dinner, tickets to special events tied to an employee's interests, or a simple written note are all ways to reward the kinds of behaviors you want to see more of.
  4. Create ways to communicate excellent examples of customer service both within and outside the company. Institute celebrations, recognition ceremonies, logos, and symbols of the customer service culture and its values. This is where you want the mugs, buttons, and banners. Have a customer service bulletin board to feature service incidents that were special. Seize every opportunity to publicize the times when employees do it right.

    A newsletter should be developed to boast of customer service successes so that the idea of service is constantly in front of everyone. One company, a major utility, devoted an entire issue of the company magazine to "24 Karat Customer Service." It featured examples of how individual employees defined customer service, stories of humorous or unusual customer service situations, an article on the importance of internal customer service, and other ideas designed to keep employees aware of the importance of their efforts in achieving quality customer service.

    A hospital not only touts their customer service "hero stories" in their newsletter, they also have a giant pep rally once a quarter for everyone to share their stories. Individual teams get together often to focus on what has gone right as well as wrong in their patient and other customer relations.

    Even if you are a very small business with only a few employees, post instances of superior customer service of your own and others that you read about. Talk about customer service and its importance every day.
  5. Indoctrinate and train everyone in the culture as soon as they are hired. Disney is famous for this. It puts all newcomers through a "traditions" course that details the company history with customer relations and how it is the backbone of Disney. Your orientation program is a key part of the ultimate success of your customer service efforts. Make sure that it contains more than an explanation of benefits and a tour of the facilities. It can be an important element in planting the customer service culture of the company so it can flourish and grow.
  6. Encourage a sense of responsibility for group performance. Help employees see how their performance affects others. Emphasize the importance of "internal customer service." Help everyone to see that if you don't serve each other well, you can never hope to serve your ultimate customer.

    Does accounts payable or shipping see that the timeliness of their service to other employees makes a big difference in how the customer is served? Does the cook realize how important it is to get the order exactly right in the kitchen so the waitstaff can please the restaurant customer? Even something as seemingly insignificant as returning from lunch break on time can affect the quality of the customer service you offer by determining whether you have enough coverage to serve employees promptly.

    Repeat again and again that customer service is the responsibility of everyone in the organization, not just the "customer service department."
  7. Establish policies that are "customer friendly" and that show concern for your customers. Eliminate all routine and rigid policies and guidelines. Knock yourself out to be a company that is easy to do business with. Never let your customer service representatives say, "Those are the rules I have to follow; there's nothing I can do about it." There is always a way to satisfy the customer. You must give your employees the power to do so.
  8. Remove any employees who do not show the behavior necessary to please customers. Too many companies allow frontline service representatives to remain on the job when they are not suited to a customer service position. If employees don't want to serve the customer in the best way possible, document their behaviors and use this information to help them change or to move them to areas away from customer interaction.

    In order for a culture of customer service excellence to grow and thrive, management must have a burning desire for it to be that way and the energy to ensure that this desire spreads throughout the organization and remains there permanently. You must become a totally customer-focused organization. Everyone, from the top down, must believe that they work for the customer.

This material was excerpted from Customer Service -- the Key to Your Competitive Edge, a common-sense guide to establishing a customer service program by Peggy Morrow. Morrow is a speaker, author, consultant, and president of Peggy Morrow & Associates, a training and development firm specializing in highly customized speeches, seminars, and workshops.

Copyright © 1995 by Peggy Morrow