Managers must set the tone

Last month I wrote about creating a service culture in your organization and what that looks like. It is essential to realize that a service culture has to begin at the very top, because that’s where people, both customers and employees, look when things begin to fall apart. Leaders must be strongly committed and willing to actively and publicly live this commitment to service. They are the key sponsors and without them, people will not believe the value is important.
A strong service culture has to include providing feedback – both positive and critical – as a way of supporting and creating success. To keep a culture alive and dynamic, conversation has to happen. This means encouraging people to be creative about ways to strengthen and improve the culture. Constant evaluation keeps things fresh.
Managers and supervisors are crucial to the culture’s success, because they are the people who see what’s happening on a daily basis. They are in a position to provide the specific feedback that is necessary to keep people recognized and challenged. The first step is to make sure these people are well trained in how to provide constructive feedback and how to coach people to become more successful.
There are other ways leaders can secure buy-in from employees:
* Involve employees in conversations about what service expectations should look like. Employees love being asked their opinions, so regular sessions can be fun and creative. Be sure to include internal and external expectations so everyone gets to participate.
* Decide together what values are important in the way people work together, support each other, and work through hard conversations. How people work together will show up in other places; customers will recognize and be drawn to do business where employees are happy and productive.
Provide training around topics like these:
* Dealing with difficult customers
* Sharpening communications skills (i.e., how to articulate your own positions and how to actively listen to other positions, how to elicit more information)
* How to think creatively so you can turn a potential “no” into a “yes” for a customer
* Time management skills to prioritize your work, so it is in sync with a service culture.
Give employees feedback on service delivery. Provide coaching on areas that need improvement. Use positive strokes to keep employees feeling good about delivering service. Positive strokes are also powerful ways to emphasize what people are doing right. Use phrases like thank you and I appreciate you. Be specific about what you’re recognizing. EXAMPLE: “Thank you for doing a great job on resolving Mr. Sizemore’s complaint.”
* Develop recognition/reward programs that really challenge people. Don’t recognize people who just show up to work! Recognize people who raise the bar to encourage others to follow suit. Make the recognition significant, so it demonstrates the commitment to the value. Recognize both internal and external service.
* Keep talking about service. Especially if turnover is high, it’s crucial to keep the conversation alive. Don’t assume people will just naturally pick up on your service culture. Articulate your service expectations from the beginning. Encourage people to share what they are learning about service, so that you can keep your approach fresh and stimulating.
* Be open to change. What worked last year might be old hat now, so what can you do differently that will delight your customers? Competition is much too stiff to assume that once you gain a customer the hard work is over. That’s just the beginning. Now the challenge is turning the customer into an advocate who will do word-of-mouth marketing for you.

Kathy Washatka is the former VP of Operations at WECU. She is the owner of The Washatka Group, a consulting and training company specializing in leadership development, planning, and customer service.

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