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Turn Your Employees Into Customer Service Dynamos
by Paul Levesque

Businesses have been trying for decades to import good service practices and graft them into their own work settings. They use training programs or other means to try and "regimentalize" key service behaviors-an outside-in approach that seldom makes things any better, and often only makes things worse.

Truly customer-focused businesses deliver outstanding service from the inside out. The key is to get employees coming up with their own ideas for delighting customers, and then letting positive feedback from happy customers motivate the workers to continue implementing more of their own innovative service strategies. This is the Flashpoint Effect, where employee motivation and customer satisfaction fuel each other in a chain reaction of contagious enthusiasm.

Easier said than done, of course - unless the organization has an actual process in place to keep the chain reaction bubbling. Such a process does not have to be complicated. Follow these three guiding principles to help your employees generate their own ideas for improving the customer experience, and watch how quickly these service enhancements give your business a powerful competitive edge.

First Customer Focus Principle: Exceed the customer’s expectations every step of the way. Shoppers at Ireland’s Superquinn supermarkets experience the wow-factor at every turn. When they first arrive, they encounter a supervised play area for young children. In the aisles they encounter a multitude of signs encouraging them to report "goofs" (such as fruit that has over-ripened), in return for which they’re given free lottery cards. They discover bags of free vegetables they can bring home for their pets ("Make Your Hoppy Happy"). At checkout the store provides umbrellas to keep shoppers dry while they watch attendants transfer their grocery bags from cart to car.

Set up a brainstorming session in which your employees break a typical customer transaction down into its individual steps, and then challenge the group to focus on each step one at a time, and to uncover ways to add a wow-factor element of delight in each step. They’ll probably come up with more ideas than you can implement, but afterwards let them choose the best ones, and help them implement these ideas successfully.

Second Customer Focus Principle: Make the customer feel important.
It’s just common sense, right? Maybe - but it’s certainly not common practice. Ever see the sign that says In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash? Or the cartoon of the four little men rolling on the floor with laughter, over the caption You Want It When? Everywhere you look, you see businesses making it painfully obvious that they consider their customers unreasonable intruders, potential criminals, annoying interruptions of the "real work" the business is trying to get done.

In your employee brainstorming session, get the group thinking about ways to make customers feel welcome and appreciated in each step of the transaction. The ideas that emerge often cost nothing to implement (like smiling more, or addressing customers by name), and yet these are the little things that can make such a big difference from the customers’ point of view.

Third Customer Focus Principle: Tailor the experience to fit the customer.
Where one supermarket invests in metal barricades to prevent the theft of shopping carts, its customer-focused competitor chooses instead to invest in carts that are even more appealing. Mothers with infants can use carts outfitted with a baby seat. Shoppers with older children can use a cart designed like a toy car, so the kids can pretend they’re driving while the parent proceeds along the aisles. There are even self-powered sit-down carts for the elderly and the disabled.

Flashpoint businesses recognize they deal with different categories of customers, and each category can have unique expectations. These businesses abandon the one-size-fits-all mentality, and look for ways to provide something special for each major customer category.

Invite your brainstorming employees to list the major customer categories in your business, and to come up with ways to wow each category individually. These are often the kinds of “personal touch” ideas that deliver the biggest impact. Even customers from different categories will be impressed with the efforts your business is making to improve the overall customer experience.

Try applying these three principles in a brainstorming session with your own employees, and discover for yourself how creating a customer service culture from the inside out really can be as easy as one-two-three.

Customer-focus consultant Paul Levesque’s latest book is Customer Service From The Inside Out Made Easy (Entrepreneur Press, 2006).

Copyright Paul Levesque. All Rights Reserved.

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