organizational culture

Keeping it Positive

Something that might sound familiar if you’ve frequented my blog is how strongly I believe that organizational culture affects the likelihood of delivering exceptional customer service.  In addition to their high correlation, I frequently discuss the roles of leadership, trust, empowerment, and my very favorite – empathy.  The reason empathy is my favorite is that I see it as the universal indicator of great customer service; those who have it or can learn it will execute customer service strategy with it and will succeed.

One very telling sign of a troubled customer service culture is when employees regularly say bad things about customers once an interaction is complete.  If when the customer leaves or the phone call is finished, employees say things like, “what a jerk,” or “how is that our fault?” or “she’s the one who signed the contract,” you have a classic case of this cultural dilemma within your organization and it is likely void of the empathy I speak of.  Being able to handle a crisis or fix a situation is one thing; but if handled disingenuously, because deep down they believe the customer is a jerk, no amount of disguise will help.

It’s dangerous to permit an environment where employees can unapologetically lack empathy or place blame on customers.  It’s also not rational or logical to think that frustrations can be eliminated because customer service isn’t necessarily easy.  My thoughts here are designed to be an awareness piece for managers who might think it’s just “venting” and may not be conscious of the potential toxicity of allowing it to go on.  Here are a couple of ways to combat it:

1 – Shape it through leadership and management.  This type of cultural belief has to be a constant guide where employees feel that doing right by customers is “who” the organization is.  I know that this is often said – but is it said with the intent to convey empathy and understanding?

2 – Never miss an opportunity to coach.  Don’t focus solely on formal trainings to teach behaviors; they are best learned through guidance, coaching, and mentorship.  Overhearing a situation you want shaped into something better is the best opportunity you have.  Being able to pause a situation and help your employee understand that it doesn’t make someone a “jerk” because they didn’t know the rules or requirements – but that it’s an opportunity to teach, can be very eye-opening to your front line employees who may otherwise develop hard to break habits of customer-bashing.

These are not paradigm shifting thoughts.  We all want/expect to see genuine service, empathy, understanding, and respect as our employees work with our customers; my point is that you may not have enough emphasis or the right execution strategy to shape the culture you want.  This is a reminder to take a look and help your people not only show but feel empathy so that they deliver the exceptional customer service you expect.

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Customer Service Culture

It’s no secret that happy employees lead to happy customers.  What does seem to elude us sometimes is developing an organizational culture where people have a reason to be happy.  We expect our customer facing employees to have a fairly high degree of cheerfulness, but do we expect the same from everyone else in the organization?  It should be something that is organically grown through thoughtful leadership and fostered at all levels so that it is genuine.  This is a friendly wake-up call that happiness at work is a product of example and culture and not something that can be extracted simply because it is in a job description.

Have you ever received service from someone who clearly didn’t enjoy their work?  It’s unpleasant for everyone involved – and it reflects very poorly on the organization!  With that in mind, here are some suggestions to make sure you are aware of and doing what you can to impact behavior.

  • Artifacts, values, & basic assumptions – Do your actions and words tell the same story?  Framed pictures with inspirational customer service quotes are only valuable if they go beyond décor.  If senior leadership shows annoyance or delay in handling service concerns, the rest of the organization will consider it written permission to do the same – then the pictures on the wall become ironic and not insightful.
  • Leadership – What behaviors are being learned from your highest levels of management?  Are they consistent among all positions and personalities, and is it all the time?   Do their actions correspond with the expectations of the people in your customer facing positions?  Sometimes even the best and brightest high level employees lack leadership ability and can send the wrong messages unknowingly.  Educating on leadership is generally time and money well spent because it’s not always an inherent quality among your talented people.
  • Sheep theory – At the most basic level, attitudes and behaviors can be a product of others around us.  There are undoubtedly some big personalities in your workforce that can be an influence for good or bad.  Senior and mid-level management personnel are responsible for demonstrating consistency and positivity in their mannerisms so that they can influence the desired attitude.  Once positivity outnumbers everything else, the tough personalities will find it difficult not to match the mood.  Once you get the majority going in the right direction, the stragglers will typically follow – just like sheep.

It seems normal that organizations go through difficulties when it comes to preaching their values and practicing their values – but they can be brought back around with mindfulness in these areas.  Have you ever been involved in a shift in corporate culture?  What were the greatest difficulties?