Customer experience, or “CX” in industry parlance, is the real-world outgrowth of UX, User Experience. While this seems ironic, if not absolutely bass-ackward, the big players in the consumer space figured that if online user experiences were so important, maybe offline user experiences might matter, too.
For decades big business has been paying lip service to customer service. (United Airlines, anyone?) Companies legendary for their customer service, like Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines and Ritz Carlton, were in short supply. That’s why these superstars turn up again and again whenever customer loyalty and customer service are discussed.
Now research has quantified the benefits of improving customer service. In their book Outside In, Kerry Bodine and Harley Manning of Forrester Research document the dawning understanding on the part of Fortune 500 companies that there really is a competitive advantage and when you deliver superior customer service.
This is why, when I enter Wells Fargo Bank today, I feel like I’m entering the set of a musical entitled The Happiest Bank in the World. I am greeted with smiles and hellos, walking through a veritable gauntlet of friendly, well-groomed folks. Even the security guy brought my dog some water on our last visit. When I visit the branch, which is increasingly seldom, I look for my business banking specialist Gustavo so I can say hello. It’s a little bewildering, how happy they all are–after all, it’s a bank–but it has done wonders for my perception of the Wells Fargo brand.
I co-founded one of the country’s first day spas, Preston Wynne, and operated it for thirty years. I recently hung up my spa spurs, but what got me up in the morning for those 360 months was the opportunity and challenge of creating customer delight.
For every minute of that company’s existence, it has been about delivering memorable and satisfying “CX.” (Not even I can resist the allure of this bite size acronym.)
Our mission statement was short and sweet: “Do everything in our power to enable our guests to feel absolutely wonderful, whether they’re calling us on the phone or visiting us for the day.”
Easier said than done, we know. Even with 50 employees, infusing that idea into everyone’s behavior every minute of every day was a work in progress. It is something akin to a spiritual practice–the work is never actually done. We fail in new ways constantly, learn from that, and refine our approach, including customer service protocols, over and over.
Great CX begins with great people. Our strategy was to hire people with personality attributes that not only enabled them to create a superior CX but literally compelled them to do it, as described in the customer service best-seller Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan, where we were profiled along with service legends like Thai airlines.
The most important characteristics:
- positive outlook (glass half full)
- sense of humor
- good self esteem
How do you figure out if the person who’s applying for a job with your company possesses these traits?
- Interview the holy heck out of them (and ask the right sort of questions)
- Expose them to lots of different people in your organization and get their take
- Have them do a paid audition for a few days
- Check references. Good people have fans who are willing to sing their praises.
- “Hire slow and fire fast,” recognizing that if it’s not a honeymoon to begin with, it never, ever gets better.
One shortcut to finding the right customer care specialists is to use a social-style categories, such as DISC or Myers-Briggs. We made use of a system that classifies people as either relationship-driven or results-driven. (Guess who gives better customer service?) Then those subsets are broken down as risk-takers (who don’t really care what others think of them) and those who are risk averse (who fear rejection.)
The best social style for customer care is the Amiable style (relationship driven/risk averse.) Next best is Expressive (relationship driven/risk-taking) though they’re better salespeople and tend to make more mistakes when using systems or following protocols. Someone who’s halfway between the two is ideal. Too much fear of rejection can turn an employee into a puddle when facing an angry customer.
Next blog: Three ingredients of world class CX
Most companies today recognize the need to articulate their core values. Core values provide the compass that guides the business. While business strategies should constantly be evolving, core values, like true North, don’t change. In stormy times of stress and change (hello!) Core Values provide a secure anchor. They can remind us of who we are when we are considering compromising our principles. They can help us focus on what’s truly important. They can help us make decisions and set priorities. They can be used as a touchstone when coaching an employee and a measuring stick when hiring a new team member.
But where do Core Values come from? Jim Collins is one of the world’s experts on the importance of core values in organizations, having researched them extensively for his books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last.” He writes “… you cannot “set” organizational values, you can only discover them. Nor can you “install” new core values into people. Core values are not something people “buy in” to. People must be predisposed to holding them. Executives often ask me, “How do we get people to share our core values?” You don’t. Instead, the task is to find people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values. You must attract and then retain these people and let those who aren’t predisposed to sharing your core values go elsewhere. I’ve never encountered an organization, even a global organization composed of people from widely diverse cultures, that could not identify a set of shared values. The key is to start with the individual and proceed to the organization…”
Who should create your core values? Management teams or owners usually initiate the process of clarifying and identifying values, but as Collins points out, this can’t be a top-down activity. If Core Values are simply handed out to the team, they are often ignored or even ridiculed as more silly management-speak, or worse. (As the cynical Dilbert proclaims, “values are a type of emotional illusion common to children, idiots and non-engineers.”) Identifying Core Values is a process of discovery, and for that process to be relevant and resonant in the lives of your team members, it needs to involve as many of them as possible. Agreeing upon your most cherished Core Values is a ritual that, when properly facilitated, can bring all an organization’s members closer together. Articulating core values is not simply an exercise in word-smithing. Word-smithing is important, but it actually comes last.
How do you identify core values? We like to compare the process of identifying and articulating an organization’s values to diamond mining:
- We collect a lot of ore, filled with rough diamonds
- Together, we sift through the ore and carefully select the best gems
- We polish and cut the best gems
- We proudly set and “wear” our gems
How many Core Values are enough? Good management is a lot like parenting, according to business “growth guru” Verne Harnish of Gazelles (gazelles.com). He says, “have a handful of rules and repeat yourself a lot.” That “handful of rules” are your Core Values. Three to five concepts is more than enough for people to remember.
What if I don’t like the Values my team comes up with? It’s extremely rare to have the Core Values process deliver Values that are different from yours. Why? The people in your company ultimately reflect and agree with your true Core Values—that’s why they’re there. One important reason to work with a facilitator in this exercise is to ensure healthy balance in the Values. For example, when you talk about Core Values with your team, especially teams from hospitality and helping professions, expect the conversation to get fairly animated. Teams that deliver intensive customer service are highly interdependent. Positive interpersonal relationships are crucial to their happiness. Their values tend to focus on interpersonal relationships with one another.
The facilitator ensures that all stakeholders are strongly supported by at least one of the Core Values: employees, customers, and ownership all have slightly different needs and agendas. The “kumbaya” values of your team may not acknowledge the necessity of making money, for example. An easy way to describe this is to think about the “three relationships” each team member experiences in the organization:
- Relationships with co-workers
- Relationships with customers
- Relationship with the business
Rather than establish these limitations at the beginning, we try to encourage a very unstructured discovery of personal values as they relate to work. Too many rules early in the process can restrict the free flow of conversation and ideas. Instead ask
- What’s important to you at work?
- Why do you work here?
- What’s usually happening when you’re having fun at work?
- What do you like most about your coworkers?
- What do you like most/least about the organization?
- What behavior do you think expresses a true professional?
If you’d like help articulating and capturing your company’s core values, we’d be happy to help. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject: Core Values! And we’ll figure out if it’s something you can do yourself or if you might need to have your process facilitated by an expert. Either way, prepare to see your team in a whole new light. And prepare to keep that light burning bright for a long time!