When I mention that my recent book is a customer service satire, most people ask, “Oh, so stories about the retail and hospitality industries?” The canned response is, “Well, yes, that is two chapters in the book, but there are also blunders from a utility company, insurance broker, mail center and doctor’s office.” Unless one aspires to be Picasso or Mark Twain, most professions require interaction with consumers. The most successful companies intrinsically emphasize the important concept that customer service is everyone’s job.

 

There is a TV ad that promotes a company’s focus on service. The scenario involves a desperate woman calling a security company because she and her family have just been robbed and to inquire about a system for their home. After being on hold forever (which is relatable), she reaches someone, only to be told she was connected to the wrong department and she will be reconnected. It ends with her frustrated reaction and a voiceover discussing the service this particular company provides its clients: They recognize great service is paramount for success.

Multitudes of organizations say they are “customer-focused,” but are they? There are two telling training practices to look at that will help expose whether or not they are actually service-centric. The first flaw can be detected if an organization thinks onboarding revolves around the functionality of the position. A re-evaluation of the current orientation program is a solid first step. Does it include an in-depth section on the organization’s expectations, mission and goals? Does this important philosophical education of the customer service message take front stage during the orientation? Or, after review, does the program seem heavily weighted with policy and procedures, rules and regulations, and benefits? Analyzing the priorities of the onboarding agenda and striving for a directed message throughout the orientation will arm new hires with an important first step.

The second internal system flaw that will diminish hopes of maintaining a customer-centric culture comes when a company checks the “completed” box after the orientation program and then moves on. Trainers can only do so much here and are dependent on strong leadership support. Everyone in the organization must have an “all in” attitude that excellent customer service is everyone’s goal. An effective way to ensure this directive stays in the forefront is with regular and consistent messaging and ongoing training.

Here’s an example of how that works in an industry you don’t usually associate with customer service. When my book came out, a longtime friend, who runs a significant dermatology practice, could not wait to share what he had implemented. He realized that the office could not rest its laurels on just the stellar reputation of him and his associates as highly respected surgeons. There are too many great choices. He knew the key to a strong practice was to make sure all staff understood that patient service was their role in some form. He holds monthly staff meetings and has a thought-provoking dialogue to keep the message alive. He reminds the telephone operators that they are the first impression to the patient. He talks to the receptionists about being friendly, empathic and efficient with the paperwork flow. He discusses with his nurses the importance of relating to the patient’s condition, especially if they are dealing with a troubling dermatological issue. His approach is novel in his industry and terrific.

Every position in a company should have an orientation that highlights customer service goals and outlines the organization’s mission, customer service objectives and the employee’s part in accomplishing the goals. (Ensuring the mission supports a dialogue of this nature is a whole other story. If it does not, therein lies a larger issue.) Arming new hires with this service message sets the tone for the emphasis the organization places on customer service. Secondly, it cannot end there. The focus on customer service as the priority must be nurtured and frequently reinforced in a variety of fun and creative ways. It should be a never-ending quest, and you can never check the “completed” box.

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