As a consumer, I rarely pay attention to your marketing pitch, but I certainly always remember a exceptionally positive total experience with your team, based on a memorable set of interactions from first contact to discussions with friends. Yet, as a business consultant, I often find minimal focus on improving employee engagement and assessing their customer-facing performance.
For example, I commonly see metrics to keep track of revenue per employee, overtime, and absenteeism, but I don’t often see measures of overall customer satisfaction with individual employees. I assure you that even one or two employees with bad attitudes or lack of customer attention can override the best efforts of everyone else.
These days, it’s critical and not that difficult, to upgrade your focus on delivering exceptional customer experiences from every team member, all the time. Here are my recommendations for training and managing your team to keep their delivery memorable for customers, as well as profitable for your business:
- Hire team members who enjoy customer interaction. I find that many managers are expected to hire new team members primarily on the basis of technical qualifications and years of experience, rather communication ability, attitude, or previous customer reviews Remember that everyone will interact with customers, due to billing or delivery issues.
- Provide training, tools, and required decision authority. No customer will give you positive marks if employees can’t resolve an issue, or just pass you to the next level. At any Ritz-Carlton, for example, employees are trained well, and authorized to spend up to $2,000 per guest, without pre-approval, to solve a guest issue or improve a guest's stay.
- Incent and reward employees who delight customers. Incentives should be a combination of metrics and recognition to highlight results. Studies show that peer recognition programs are often more effective than bonuses or cash rewards. If you provide recognition for the right behaviors consistently, the desired results will accrue.
- Make sure all have the opportunity to meet customers. Every employee needs to understand that great customer experiences make your business, and to feel they are contributing. In the old days, key employees were rotated through all roles as part of their training, to help them understand the business. That approach still is meaningful today.
- Communicate and be a role model for customer focus. Employees need to be regularly reminded of your business mission, brand positioning, and customer focus, and they need to see you acting these out in your day-to-day behavior. It’s called walking the talk. You need to treat your employees just as you expect them to treat customers.
- Build customer relationships to supplement surveys. Today I see too much dependence on surveys, and not enough real customer interaction by business leaders. Relationships get the body language to supplement numbers, and provide critical feelings not found in surveys. Relationships also build loyalty, get referrals, and drive more sales.
- Under-promise and over-deliver on customer requests. Customers always remember positive surprises, and they never forget negative ones. I’m still impressed when a package arrives a day earlier than promised, or I get a free promotion with my order. Pleasant surprises don’t have to be big – like how fast you return a phone call or email.
- Sponsor experiments to create memorable elements. Don’t let your customer interactions go stale. Customers enjoy fresh perks to give them something to talk about, and make your business stand out. Encourage employee innovation in service, just like you must always be looking for ways to improve your product offerings. For example, a few years ago, TD Bank wanted to thank their customers in a memorable way for being their customers. They did so by temporarily transforming their ATMs into "automatic thanking machines" that dispersed gifts, as well as money.
More and more, I see that companies with the most fiercely loyal customers and the best image in the marketplace provide the most memorable overall customer experience, not just the lowest price or the best quality product. That customer experience is the best competitive advantage you can have, and the best predictor of long-term success. Today is the time to start down that road.