How To Sustain (Or Sabotage) A Customer Service/Experience Initiative

Congrats on getting your customer experience (CX) or customer service improvement initiative off the ground. Nothing could be more essential in today’s world, a world where customer experience is giving traditional marketing a run for the money as the most effective way to win and retain customers. 

But starting off on the right footing isn’t enough. To preserve your precious new nugget of change, let’s go over what it takes to sustain customer experience improvement, and the missteps that can prevent you from making it stick

Let’s assume that you initially got everything right in your customer experience or customer service initiative: 

• You built a clear statement of purpose (like Mayo Clinic’s “The needs of the patient come first” or Safelite AutoGlass’s “We exist to make a difference and bring unexpected happiness to people’s everyday lives).  

• You spelled out your CX and customer service standards (including overarching principles like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s “Strive to serve even the unexpressed needs and wishes of our guests” and nuts and bolts service standards like “never let an unanswered phone get to the fourth ring”). 

• You put in place a comprehensive customer service training program (whether it’s a homegrown training program or one developed for you by my customer service consulting firm or one of our worthy competitors).

Kudos on the solid start. Now let’s look at why this overhaul might fail to take root.

1. You neglect to celebrate great customer service moments when they happen. I’m not talking about direct financial rewards (I’d rather assume instead that you pay everyone fairly to begin with); I’m talking about human celebrations of service well provided

Yes, these can be as simple as the posting of thank-you letters on the office bulletin board. But I’d suggest you systematize the celebration, along the lines of what has worked for years—decades—at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: Every Monday and Friday every Ritz-Carlton hotel and resort shares a “wow story” from one of its 100+ properties “so that every other property around the world hears something amazing that a hotel did for a guest,” as then-VP Lisa Holliday told me. “This inspires other Ladies and Gentlemen [Ritz-Carlton employees] to find ways to do something similarly memorable for their guests, to say to themselves, ‘You know what? That wasn’t that difficult. I could do that too.’” 

2. You don’t embed your customer service priorities into your hiring criteria. It’s absolutely essential to base your selection criteria for new employees in part on the personality traits that make them likely to be good at customer-facing work. Yet this is a change that many companies resist, continuing to hire solely for experience, degrees, and technical aptitude. (For more on customer-centric hiring, take a look at my Forbes article here.)

3. You fail to move customer service to the forefront of the onboarding experience for new employees. At many companies, the orientation procedure is drowned in competing priorities from the legal department, loss-prevention, and so on, all taking away from what should be the focus above all else: the seriousness with which your company takes its pro-customer mission, and how central that mission is to the work these new employees will be doing for you. 

4. You neglect to build and sustain a framework for pro-customer innovation.  A customer experience or customer service initiative exists in a moment of time. Part of what it takes for you to succeed as time moves on is innovation. As a model, consider emulating USAA, the insurance and financial services giant.

What has made USAA such a consistently customer-centric organization over its many years of existence isn’t just that they hire and inspire and train and re-train customer-focused employees (though that certainly helps). It’s also that they innovate—relentlessly innovate—in favor of their customers. From the first patent for remote check-deposit scanning to the new innovations that have powered contactless insurance claims, much of this innovation has been driven by the employees, who are both encouraged and rewarded for being on the lookout for innovation opportunities that will benefit USAA’s customers. (Here’s my article that offers an in-depth examination of employee-driven, customer-focused innovation at USAA.)

*****

A customer experience (CX) initiative or customer service overhaul is an essential endeavor in our current world of commerce. I hope with the tips I’ve shared, you can sustain and expand the fruits of your labor for years to come.

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