If you want to improve customer service to the point that it becomes a competitive advantage, you have to hire great employees. Not the best-looking employees, not the most athletic employees, not even necessarily the most technically adept employees. But the employees who are, by their intrinsic personal traits, best suited to working with customers.
A staff hired or acquired, in other words, whose personality traits are in line my semi-famous WETCO criteria, which I’ll briefly recap here. To remember these in the future, just visualize a big, wet, fragrant [!] dog at PETCO.
• Warmth – simple human kindness
• Empathy – the ability to sense what another person is feeling
• Teamwork – the bias against “I can do it all myself” and toward “Let’s work make this happen together.”
• Conscientiousness – detail orientation; ability to use a follow-up system.
• Optimism – the ability to bounce back and not internalize challenges working with customers.
However, proper hiring isn’t enough. The best-selected staff in the world won’t do you much good until those staff members contribute their elective efforts. I’m a smart person. You’re clearly a smart person. And many people you hire will be smart people. Here’s the problem: Smart employees, I’m sorry to let you know, can possess a knack for doing just enough work – or what looks like work – to avoid getting into disciplinary trouble or causing other obvious unpleasantness.
Presumably, this isn’t what you were hoping for when you hired them. You didn’t mean to end up with a waiter (or front desk agent, or government agency employee, or… ) with a cultivated knack for avoiding the glances of guests who want his attention. (In today’s world, between ignored glances, that guest may be live-blogging the nightmare of her service experience at your restaurant.) You meant to hire the waiter with the knack for picking up on and responding to the subtle eye movements of your diners. Believe me — this employee can start his career as exactly the same person, and how he ultimately performs depends on the direction received from you, his leader.
How do you get what you want out of employees? You start by making sure they know what you want from them.
This is not the big duh that it sounds like. In fact, it’s the key, or one of the keys, to unlocking the elective, optional efforts that your employees can either give you or keep to themselves. If employees think what you want is only what’s written in their job description, you’re hosed. Hosed. If they understand what you really want – success with customers and sustainable success for your business – it’s a whole different ball game. Most people, all things being equal, would rather please a leader than thwart one.
Here’s a quick example from, in this case, the world of healthcare customer service:
The Mayo Clinic is an extraordinary institution that has transformed what would be the middle of nowhere (Rochester, Minnesota) into a Mecca of healing known worldwide. And a lot of what makes them extraordinary is their customer (patient) service.
Everyone who works at The Mayo Clinic knows, from orientation onward, a single, central sentence that originated with the clinic’s founding leaders. The sentence? “The needs of the patient comes first.”
Whether you’re a surgeon or an orderly, you understand what this means, and what its implications for your work are. For a surgeon, the implications are profound (and rather obvious, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering a surgeon with other priorities): As a surgeon working at Mayo, you are obligated to confer with colleagues in “competing” disciplines to get the best care for this patient, rather than acting like a lone wolf intent only on outfitting your next speedboat.
For orderlies, the implications are similarly profound. “The needs of the patient comes first” means that if a patient is distressed, or a loved one is confused, about something in the treatment scenario, or for any other reason, it’s o.k. to drop your job duties (changing sheets, cleaning up…) and attend to that patient or loved one.
Isn’t that true customer service?
Micah Solomon, author of “High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service: Inspire Timeless Loyalty in the Demanding New World of Social Commerce“, is a top keynote speaker, thought leader, and hands-on consultant on the customer experience, customer service, 21st-century marketing, company culture, leadership, innovation, and social (and antisocial!) media. Micah is a successful entrepreneur and business leader himself in a variety of fields: from building industry-leading brands in manufacturing and entertainment to investing in technology behind Apple’s Siri.