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OPINIONS: Business Leaders on Great Customer Service

A strong culture of customer service

Ari Weinzweig, Co-Founding Partner and CEO of Zingerman’s Community of Business, contests:

We don’t think of customer service as a competitive advantage.

You create a better workplace when you’re service-oriented.

Our mission statement is to deliver a great experience.

Every day, our work is to support our staff to live it.

We’ve identified five areas that are critical in building and maintaining a strong culture of customer service.

  • We teach it – Providing great service can be taught and learned. It takes practice to improve, and some catch on more quickly than others. The training needs to connect the interests of the employee to the organization so both can benefit from service improvement.
  • We define it – Start by defining the behavior you want to see. What does great service look like to you? It’s different for each business, and it’s up to you to define. Are guests greeted as soon as they walk in the door? Do you greet them by name? How should staff handle complaints? These are tools that your staff can use to measure themselves against.
  • We live it – A service culture can’t thrive unless the leaders model exceptional service, not just to customers but to staff and to each other. We’ve found that the service our staff gives to our customers will never be better than the service that leaders give to our staff. If we want to raise the organization’s service level, we start by figuring out how we can raise the level of service we personally deliver.
  • We measure it – You need to know where you are and whether you’re on track toward where you want to be. We’ve started using an organization-wide service measure based on the NPS (Net Promoter Score) introduced in Fred Reichheld’s book, The Ultimate Question.
  • We reward it – Does your organization recognize the best service providers by giving them more work because they “do it better”? Rewards that recognize individual performance are important, but so are group rewards that inspire teams to work together. Being a great service provider becomes a prerequisite for advancement in the organization.

Doing any one of the five alone is better than doing nothing, but the incremental value of doing all five expands geometrically, with each one building on the others.

We treat everyone in the organization like a customer. We treat employees like customers. As the CEO, my primary customers are our managing partners; their primary customers are the managers in their business; the managers’ customers are the frontline crew.
Most leaders expect the frontline to live the mission. But if the top leaders aren’t doing it, chances are the customer-facing people aren’t either. If you want a great organization, leaders need to serve their people. But if you don’t make it easy for your employees to focus on customers, they’ll be doing a sub-optimal job. In a happier workplace, service spills over into the culture in the way we treat each other.

Creating Compelling Client Experiences

Getting Crystal Clear

Before starting on this journey, we needed clarity on the strategy. This included developing standards for consultants on the selling experience (“Five Moments of Truth”) along with coaching standards for store managers and field leadership teams. Swarovski partnered with Root Learning to create several Learning Map® modules on the vision, strategy, client experience, and coaching model, designed to inspire while bringing this transformation to life.

We also invested in technology with development of eLearning designed to read as a fashion magazine to amplify our brand and further engage our staff. Detailed product knowledge, delivered in an engaging and on-brand manner, is elevating our consultants’ confidence in selling and their pride in the brand. Our Swarovski Style Magazine begins with our rich 115-year history, which plays a vital role in linking our consultants to our company’s heritage and consumer’s in-store experience. Swarovski represents innovation, style, and success. The “magic of crystal” and “poetry of precision” are embedded with every one of our 21,000 employees worldwide.

Another important point was educating employees – now referred to as “consultants”– on “wrapping” the selling process into an all-encompassing activity that made consumers – now “clients” – feel that they are being treated to a luxurious experience. Consultants accomplish this through creative storytelling, romancing the product through their choice of brand language, and the use of engaging body language.

Creating the Focus

The vision, strategy, and skill training was first introduced to all managers at Swarovski’s annual meetings. Subsequent annual meetings have kept the vision and strategy in the forefront through workshops that consistently reinforce our strategy, tactics, and progress.

This transformation has taken place not only between our consultants and clients, but also with our field leaders who coach district managers, store managers, and their sales teams. This was critical, as our sales teams ultimately create the brand experience in stores. Field leadership set high expectations, inspire teams about what’s possible, and hold them accountable for results and the overall representation of the brand.

In the past, district managers focused on operations during store visits, ”checking off” things like visual merchandising, inventory position, expense spends, and a seemingly endless list of other tasks. This checklist mentality has been replaced by a true engagement experience where our leaders model the behavior that consultants should emulate with a focus on the total client experience. With this approach, managers and consultants are treated to the same Swarovski culture of luxury internally as we expect them to deliver with their clients.

All education and skill development is focused on behaviors that will enhance every experience. Basics retail KPIs such as conversion rate, units per transaction, and average dollar sale aren’t forgotten, but rather are woven into conversations with storytelling and “romancing the product” to create a compelling brand experience that drives business results. The focus is always on creating customers for life who will return based on the experience they had, not simply on the product they purchased.

Making Loyalty Easy

The way we see it, our clients are not entering a store – they’re entering the world of Swarovski. It’s not about selling a product – it’s about being a dream maker, inspiring potential, and creating experiences that will be remembered for years to come. It’s not a necklace – it’s a luxurious pendant that represents the end of the cold winter and the promise of spring. It’s not a crystal collectible – it’s a Surgeonfish, full of the dynamic colors of nature, designed by a world-renowned artist.

As a result of this new focus, we’ve seen a higher level of confidence in our consultants as they transfer the new skills into behaviors with clients. Also, eLearning greatly increased our consultants’ comfort with technology, as many Swarovski consultants had not been as computer-savvy as their retail counterparts in other companies.

We are transforming our brand – from our frontline consultants to our senior-level management teams – into a client engagement-focused organization that concentrates on inspirational experiences and storytelling to communicate our brand message every day. By indulging both our staff and clients in an experiential environment of luxury with shared messages and common meanings, we are creating loyal customers and retaining employees who are the true brand ambassadors of Swarovski.

For Better or Worse: 10 Ways Your Managers Can Make or Break Your Customer Experience

Phil Hamburg, Executive Managing Director, at Root Inc.  in his article, For Better or Worse: 10 Ways Your Managers Can Make or Break Your Customer Experience, contests that most of us view frontline employees as the final frontier in the customer experience – greeting people, processing transactions, answering calls, and interacting with customers in the field. But, they’re not in it alone.
MAKE THINGS HAPPENManagers play a huge role too. They’re the ones responsible for arming the frontline team with the information, skills, and behaviors that will amplify your brand – for better or worse – in today’s crowded marketplace.
So, it’s really, really important for leaders to empower their managers, readying them with the knowledge and expertise they need to lead their teams (and ultimately the business) to success.
  • Lead by example. Managers might not be the ones to directly interact with customers on a regular basis, but they’re role models and need to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. Their teams will respect them more for knowing the business in and out and will soon be replicating the very behaviors they see their managers embody.
  • Empower their teams. The front line needs to have the freedom to be authentic and unscripted while interacting with customers. Customers don’t want to hear a rehearsed monologue. So managers need to make sure their teams know the drill, but are confident and comfortable in letting their unique personalities shine through.
  • Share and translate the metrics. Managers and front line employees need to know the numbers that make up your business. However, just sharing numbers with the front line is meaningless if they don’t understand the impact that they have on the business and how they influence the scores. Sharing and translating the metrics helps keep the front line engaged with the big picture – so they can always be improving.
  • Make time to connect. Managers are the catalyst (or chokehold) of the customer experience, so leaders need to invest in and engage with managers in real and authentic ways. It’s not just about the content shared but how it is shared. Figure out what mix works for your organization and do more of it. Then, managers need to connect with their teams in the same way.
  • Practice delegating. Managers are promoted because they’re great performers. But some have a hard time transitioning from being an individual contributor to leading a team. Leaders need to assist them through this shift, helping them understand the power of delegation and other coaching skills that characterize the best managers. It’s these managers that end up with the most engaged employees, which makes for more satisfied customers. A win all around!
  • Be okay with not knowing. Because managers often feel they need to have all the answers, they do a lot of talking instead of listening, or feel uncomfortable simply being truthful about what they don’t know. But, the best managers realize that vulnerability is a strength – one that makes them more human – and that listening and accepting new ideas can be the best answer of all.
  • Know the customer. Managers must always ask: Who is our customer? What do they want? What do they not want? Managers need to deeply know and understand the customer and translate this insight to their teams. The front line that exhibits empathy and can put themselves in the shoes of their customer will be the ones to meet and exceed customer expectations.
  • Live and breathe the brand. Managers need to know your brand as well, or better, than they know your customers. Then, in turn, this knowledge needs to be shared and ingrained in the hearts and minds of the front line. A true understanding of the brand and why it’s special will help everyone deliver a unique and meaningful customer experience that conveys the personality and mission of your organization.
  • Know what’s missing. When managers understand what the front line is not doing that customers are still asking for, they’ll be able to identify new opportunities and work on bridging the gaps.
  • Connect personal goals to business goals. Customer is king, of course. But, we cannot forget that our customer experience will never exceed our employee experience. Managers need to view things through the eyes of their teams. What motivates them? What are their individual goals? By connecting the front line to the greater goals of the business and to their personal abilities and growth paths, they’ll feel more excited, passionate and invested.

With these 10 things in mind, your managers will be poised to really double-down on the experience they and their teams are delivering to customers. Working together, leaders, managers and the front line can bring about massive positive changes that will be revealed in repeat business and a growing bottom line!

Root’s solutions enable organizations to deploy strategies successfully, create broad transformation or culture change, execute large-scale skill building, develop more effective leaders and managers, and find the bright spots in your business. Root does this by bridging the communication, process, skill, or functional gaps keeping your business from achieving expected results. Just ask the 800+ organizations worldwide they’ve helped accelerate strategic outcomes.

About Karly A.

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