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Tips for Building A Strong Customer Service Team
By Ron Kaufman, UP! Your Service
Mar 31, 2015

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We love receiving great customer service. That’s no surprise. But did you know that great service can actually elicit a physical reaction? A recent American Express Service Study found that 63 percent of its 1,620 respondents said they felt an increased heart rate when they just thought about great service.  And for 53 percent of those studied, great service caused them to have the same cerebral response that results from feeling loved. The trick, of course, is developing a customer service team that has the skills to provide such an overwhelming reaction amongst your customers.

The truth is, in many of today’s industries and many of the world’s biggest companies, service can be downright disappointing. We spend hours on hold when we just need an answer to a simple question. Store clerks seem angry with us when we tell them a mistake was made. The list could go on and on.

If you want to combat this at your business, you have to make providing great service a point of pride for your employees. Service is taking action to create value for someone else—and when understanding becomes the driving force for your staff and your organization, everyone can win.

Read on for five tips on how you can strengthen your team by making it easier for them to provide great service:

Eradicate cumbersome policies and procedures. One time I was dining at a luxury resort in California. The waiter explained that there was a special menu that night, spotlighting several of the chef’s signature dishes. But my guests were vegetarians and had nothing to choose from on the menu, and I had been craving a particular salmon salad. So we asked to order from the regular menu. Obviously uncomfortable, the waiter whispered, “If you go back to your room and order room service, then you can order the salmon salad or anything else on the [room service] menu, but I can’t serve you those choices here tonight.”

In trying to spotlight the chef’s menu, the restaurant had created a major roadblock—the waiter wasn’t given permission to serve! Like this waiter, most frontline staff members are taught to follow policies and procedures and are hesitant to “break the rules.” Yet some rules should be broken, changed, or at least seriously bent from time to time.

Teach them to solicit customer feedback at various points of contact. Asking, “Is there anything we can do better for you the next time?” accomplishes two important objectives. First, you gather valuable ideas. Second, you get the customer thinking about doing repeat business…the next time.

Even if a customer doesn’t have a recommendation, trust that they’ll be glad your employee cared enough to ask. When an employee engages a customer in this way, it’s yet another way to say, “We value you. We want to provide you with the best possible service and we would be delighted to serve you again.”

When service drops, help them find ways to UP their service. At Deer Valley Ski Resort in Utah, the staff helps its patrons find items they’ve accidentally dropped from the ski lift and then gives them a coupon for a free hot chocolate. At a new Italian restaurant, the ovens broke down on opening night, so the restaurant served an elegant buffet of cold dishes and plenty of wine…all free!

Many years ago, I had a bad experience on an international airline. I wrote in to complain. They sent me back a very nice letter with an unexpected $100 voucher attached. Years later, I am still a frequent flyer.

These are great examples of businesses going the extra mile for their customers, and it’s important that you help your employees develop this kind of thinking. In your next staff meeting, review a few customer service recovery interactions, even those that went well. Then, have your staff brainstorm ways the recovery could have been improved.

Train them to tell customers what they will do. Of course, the first step when a mistake has been made, or even just when a customer perceives that a mistake was made, is to apologize. Once you’ve apologized, provide any useful information you can about what will happen next. Ask them if they have any questions and answer them to the best of your ability. If you don’t have an answer, let them know what steps you’re going to take to find it.

And finally, show you are sincere about your commitment to do well in the areas the customer values. At the very least, you can say, “I’m going to make sure everyone in the company hears your story. We don’t want this to happen again.” When you express the company’s desire to improve, you start on the path to rebuilding its credibility with the customer.

Emphasize service with new hires. Unfortunately, many company orientation programs are far from uplifting. There are usually basic introductions and inductions, but they don’t connect new employees to the company or the service culture in a welcoming and motivating way.

LUX* Maldives structures its orientation program around service. They don’t waste time boring new hires with policies and procedures. Instead, 60 percent of new hire orientation is about service and providing a quality guest experience. And orientation is just the beginning of a LUX* employee’s service education. In 2014-2015, LUX* provided an average of 75 service training hours to its employees. And of course, as employee training has improved, so have guest satisfaction scores. LUX* Resorts & Hotels has a Market Matrix Guest Satisfaction Percentage group average of 90.9 percent.

Developing service-minded, service-driven employees will be worth every ounce of energy you put into it. When you take steps to build a strong service team, everyone is fully engaged, encouraging each other, improving the customer experience, and making the company more successful.

Anytime you undertake a new initiative, you’ll be met with excitement at the beginning, and then slowly but surely as day-to-day obstacles pop up and old habits refuse to relinquish their grip, your team will begin to waver.

Your organization is going to get some sand in the gears, and when that happens, it’s your job to keep your people focused and enthusiastic. How do you do that? You find opportunities to educate. You recognize individual successes. You role model what needs to happen and then recognize when other people act as role models. You acknowledge service achievements.

Read on for six tips on how you can strengthen your team by keeping them motivated to provide uplifting service.

Give them the leeway to make in-the-moment decisions. Don’t overcomplicate service. Work with your employees to switch their focus from “What should I do?” to “Who am I serving and what do they value?” And then let them know you trust them to make the right decision so they feel empowered to act. If an employee feels a customer should get a discount, either because a mistake was made or because they’re a great and loyal customer, then let them. You can monitor this system by reviewing situations with your team to ensure that in-the-moment decisions lead to the result everyone wants: happy and loyal customers, confident staff, and a successful organization.

Have mistake meet-ups. Another big part of empowerment is demystifying the fear that comes along with making a mistake.

Have a meeting and say, “We want learning from mistakes to be part of our culture.” Have your leaders kick off the meeting by saying, “I’ll go first. Here’s the biggest mistake I made last week. Here’s what I learned from it. What can I learn from you?” When everyone shares in this manner, it makes everyone feel safer about trying new ideas and taking new actions.

Acknowledge achievements. Compliments are highly motivating and inspire employees to keep coming up with newer and better service ideas. That’s why you should a) actively solicit feedback from customers, and b) regularly share positive comments with employees. Don’t overthink it. A simple “thank you!” goes a long way.

LUX* Resorts & Hotels excels at acknowledging employee achievements. Through its STAR Program, each month one team member from each resort wins an award. Then, at a companywide gathering at the end of the year, the STARs are honored, and each hotel awards a STAR Team Member of the Year. It is all part of CEO Paul Jones’s firm belief in cultivating an attitude of gratitude.

In addition to this great program, LUX* Maldives implemented an Instant Recognition Program. When a team member goes above and beyond the call of duty, they have the opportunity to receive a STAR CARD, which can be redeemed at one of the resort’s team tuck shops or cafes. Both programs have been very well received by LUX* employees and have played a role in the hotel group’s ability to rocket to service success in recent years.

Educate and inspire them to serve each other. When most companies set out to fix their service issues, they start with customer-facing employees. That’s a common instinct, but also a big mistake. The fact is, frontline service people cannot give better service when they aren’t being well served internally by colleagues from other departments.

When I worked with Air Mauritius to kick off its service revolution, they started by addressing the communication problems in its dysfunctional culture, which manifested as bickering, finger-pointing, withholding information, etc.

First they had to realize that everyone on staff either directly serves the customer or serves those who serve the customer. Everyone had to embrace the service improvement mindset—engineering, ground staff, the technical crew, registration and sales, people at the counters, people at the gate area, people on the aircraft. That meant they had to serve each other as well as the customer.

Encourage them to develop their own signature service touch. Sometimes small service touches can have a big impact. Here’s a fundamental truth of service: Small changes can lead to big leaps in customer perception—and they don’t have to be costly at all.

For example, Air Mauritius had captains to start greeting passengers as they board the plane. This small gesture creates a huge impression of welcome and respect for passengers. It also asked captains to provide memorable information as they fly over certain areas—like descriptions of cities, landmarks, volcanoes, and so forth. This turned routine flights into uniquely guided tours. Passengers loved these changes.

Provide a weekly service thought. This is something that LUX* Maldives has done very successfully. At the resort, every Monday morning the Training and QA Teams share a “weekly service thought,” which highlights the importance of service or an idea around how to improve service. Not only does the weekly thought inspire employees, it also gets everyone on the same page and discussing the same service ideas.

The resort also sends out a daily quote. And they’ve become so popular that if the resort manager misses a day, he gets calls from his staff members asking when the daily quote is coming out. They value getting this daily motivation on how to be better and serve others better.

Sustaining focus and enthusiasm is just as important as any customer-facing service education you’ll dole out to your employees. The good news is that providing great service is addicting. Once your employees get a taste of what it feels like to improve the lives of others, they’ll want to keep doing it. Soon uplifting service to customers and colleagues will have taken hold in every level of your organization.

Ron Kaufman is a global consultant who specializes in building service cultures. He is the author of UP! Your Service and 14 other books. His firm, UP! Your

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