Many businesses and organizations assign their lowest-paid, least-trained people to the front lines facing customers. For example, just about every time I call the "customer care" line at the cable company because my internet connection is down, I get a person who knows nothing, apologizes for the problem, and then directs me to their website for further updates. Clearly the representative forgot that I am calling them because my internet service isn't functioning. And this is what I will remember as the de facto face of the cable company. And lest you think I am picking on the cable guy, replace them with doctor’s office, bank, or Department of Motor Vehicles.
If we are what we eat, then companies and organizations, by that same logic, are the behavior of their people. Negative impressions hang on like a bad cold. And that negativity spreads just as quickly as a virus, infecting potential customers who hear about others’ bad experiences that erode reputation.
How can you ensure that everyone at your organization delivers a consistent message backed up by positive experience?
Make Your Expectations Clear – Show It, Don’t Just Tell It
If the people inside an organization don’t understand what your mission, purpose and values are, how can they possibly convey that to your clients/customers or other stakeholders? The Ritz Carlton Hotels, known for their first-rate service, does this exceptionally well. Their motto, “Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Other Ladies and Gentleman,” is inculcated throughout the hotel, from the housekeepers who make the beds to the cooks who make the breakfast to the front desk agents who make your reservation. It’s all about making the guest feel special and going above and beyond to make their experience extraordinary.
At Ritz, there is a story that is told to illustrate what it means to be Ladies and Gentlemen, serving other ladies and gentlemen. A housekeeper was cleaning a room and saw on the nightstand a copy of the Stieg Larssen thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Armed with a daily stipend to satisfy every guest, the housekeeper went out, bought the other two books in the trilogy and left them on the nightstand with a note that read, “I saw you were reading this book. I liked it as well, and thought you’d enjoy the other two in the series.” That housekeeper and that $15 investment most likely created a customer for life. The story demonstrates how the company sends a clear a message, to both customers and staff, about what the value exchange is. As a customer, we will meet your unique needs and simply give you the very best possible. As an employee, your job is serving the customer, whatever it takes, and we expect you to do this consistently every day, and we will support you in doing it.
Reward and celebrate your team when they deliver great experiences. Just as you want your team to make your clients/customers feel special, you also have to make the people who carry out your mission every day feel important and valued. That doesn’t always have to be a monetary reward. Sometimes just acknowledging their work, congratulating them on a job well done and sharing their story can have a big impact. Having peers share their stories and successes with each other can be a powerful way to build a culture where the norm is striving for excellence. That Ritz Carlton housekeeper story has been told throughout the company many times.
Reinforce Great Behavior.
Delivering great products and experiences is an ongoing process. Leaders must continually remind themselves and their teams of their purpose and values and connect them to the value proposition of the enterprise. Ongoing professional development to enhance employee skills is essential.
There is an old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Do your employees and staff understand and live your company values? Are you communicating clearly inside as well as outside what your stakeholders can expect? Are you offering training to help your teams develop customer service and communications skills? If not, why not? A modest investment in customer and client service can put a halt to the careless treatment that chases customers away and irrevocably damages reputations.