Why the Huddle Is Your Most Important Meeting

Ugh, not another meeting.

It seems like our calendars are full of them. A 2014 study from Fuze found that more than half of us spend at least 13 hours per week in meetings. 

Most of these meetings seem pretty pointless. That same Fuze study revealed 92 percent of us work on other tasks during meetings, which suggests that whatever we're meeting about isn't too amazing.

There's one meeting that's different: the huddle.

Alternatively known as a stand-up, pre-shift, line-up, or tailgate, the huddle is a short meeting designed to get everyone on the same page, discuss any pressing issues, and quickly get people back to work.

I reached out to a number of customer service leaders to see how they use the huddle to prepare their teams for success.

Why Huddle?

Patrick Maguire is a a hospitality consultant and author of the Server Not Servant blog. He suggests huddles (often called pre-meal or pre-shift meetings in restaurants) are a great way to develop a healthy service culture.

"Effective and consistent internal communications are critical in building and nurturing a culture of trust and mutual respect within every business. Pre-meal meetings in restaurants ensure that your team is prepared, confident, and aware of as much information as possible to maximize hospitality and meaningful engagement with guests."

Jeremy Hyde, Customer Service Manager at UCare, used huddles to help his team handle rapid growth. He continues to use them to keep the team up to date.

"Initially we implemented them because we on-boarded 185,000 new members and wanted to make sure we identified issues and trends and could disseminate information quickly. We've continued them as an ongoing way to share information in place of longer and less frequent team meetings."

The Ritz-Carlton uses huddles to help staff get into a customer service mind-set before the start of their shift. Here's an excerpt from a blog post detailing their process:

"Employees benefit from an activity that will provide a transition from the mindset they 'brought in the door' to the mindset your organization would like them to bring to customers and patients. The Daily Line-Up gives employees the opportunity to shift gears to a work mentality before they ever meet a customer or patient."


How to Huddle

Huddles should be short, focused meetings. Most teams have no more than three topics:

  • Reinforce the service culture
  • Share critical updates
  • Identify any issues

Many customer service leaders use the Customer Service Tip of the Week to provide ongoing service reminders to their team. Others use the time to reinforce some aspect of the customer service vision.

Maguire outlines a number of topics that restaurant managers can draw upon. "Hospitality tips, menu and drink specials, professional and amateur reviews, social media activity, upcoming events, staff questions, and neighborhood news, are all great content for pre-meal meetings."

Keep in mind that the huddle should be a discussion, not just announcements from the boss. Encourage participation from everyone and even consider asking others to help lead the discussion on various topics.

Alex Wyatt, Vice President of Customer Care at Gardner Dixie Sales Inc. tries to limit huddles to three to five employees plus the supervisor.

"We like to utilize small group huddles for updates or Q&A's when call volume allows. We tend to get better participation and questions as a small group."


How Often and How Long

Huddles should be short.

The consensus among customer service leaders I asked was no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Employees typically remain standing during a huddle to encourage a short and focused session.

Some leaders advocate daily huddles while others prefer to meet less frequently. Nate Brown, Director of Customer Experience at UL EHS Sustainability, suggests that customer service leaders consider what works best for their teams.

"I will be the odd man out here and say daily huddles are excessive in my opinion. At least in our environment it became a waste of time. I've moved to two huddles a week (Monday and Wednesday) which has been a very good fit for us. A good checkpoint would be immediately after the huddle to think about if it makes any actual difference to your day or not."

Maguire reminds managers hosting pre-shift meetings to give their team a little bit of extra time to get ready for the day. "Leave at least 10 minutes between the end of the meeting and the start of service for final station checks, bathroom/smoke breaks, etc."



The customer-focused companies I examined in The Service Culture Handbook relentlessly discussed customer service with their employees. The huddle is a great way to foster this discussion.

Here are a few questions for you. You can add your response to the comments or drop me a line.

  • Do you use a huddle with your team?
  • What do you typically discuss in your huddle?
  • How do you keep your huddles fresh?

What is a Good Survey Response Rate?

It's the most common question I get about surveys.

Customer service leaders are understandably concerned about getting a lot of voice of customer feedback. So my clients want to know, "What is a good response rate for our customer service survey?" 

The answer may surprise you—there's no standard number. 

There are situations where an 80 percent response rate might be bad while a 5 percent response rate might be phenomenal in other circumstances.

In fact, I'm not overly concerned with the percentage of people who respond. My advice to clients is to use a different set of criteria for judging their survey responses.

Here's how to evaluate your own survey response rate the same way I do.

Three Response Rate Criteria

There are three criteria that you can use to determine if you're getting a good response to a customer service survey:

  • Usefulness
  • Representation
  • Reliability

Usefulness is the most important consideration.

Any response rate that provides useful customer feedback is good. That's not to say you can't do even better than your current rate, but the whole purpose of a customer service survey should be to yield useful data.

For example, let's say you implement a contact opt-in feature that allows you to follow-up with customers who leave negative feedback. That survey could become tremendously useful if it allows you to contact angry customers, fix problems, and reduce churn.

Representation is another important way to gauge your response rate.

You want your survey to represent all of the customers you are trying to get feedback from. Imagine you implement a new self-help feature on your website. A representative survey in this case would ask for feedback from customers who successfully used self-help as well as customers who weren't successful and had to try another channel.

Sometimes you need to augment your survey with other data sources to make it more representative. The authors of The Effortless Experience discuss the self-help scenario in their book and suggest having live agents ask customers if they first tried using self-help.

This question can help identify people who didn't realize self-help was available and therefore wouldn't complete a survey on its effectiveness. It could also capture feedback from people who tried self-help, were unsuccessful, and didn't notice a survey invitation because their priority was contacting a live agent to solve the problem.

My final criterion is reliability.

This means the survey can be relied upon to provide consistently accurate results. Here's a summary of considerations from a recent post on five characteristics of a powerful survey.

  1. Purpose. Have a clear reason for offering your survey.
  2. Format. Choose a format (CSAT, NPS, etc.) that matches your purpose.
  3. Questions. Avoid misleading questions.

Many surveys have problems in one or more of these areas. For instance, a 2016 study by Interaction Metrics discovered that 92 percent of surveys offered by the largest U.S. retailers asked leading questions that nudged customers to give a more positive answer.

For example, Ace Hardware had this question on its survey:

How satisfied were you with the speed of your checkout?

The problem with a question like this is it assumes the customer was satisfied. This assumptive wording makes a positive answer more likely.

A more neutral question might ask, "How would you rate the speed of your checkout?"



A survey response rate is good if it generates useful data, is representative of the customer base you want feedback from, and is reliable.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't strive to continuously improve your survey. Here are some resources to help you:

You'll need a Lynda.com or LinkedIn Premium subscription to view the full training video. You can get a 30-day Lynda.com trial here.

A Simple Way to Double Your B2C Survey Responses

Everyone wants a better survey response rate. The Center For Client Retention (TCFCR) recently shared some data about business-to-consumer (B2C) surveys that revealed an easy way to improve results.

TCFCR helps businesses conduct customer satisfaction research. The company's client focus is primarily Fortune 500 companies in business-to-business (B2B) and B2C segments.

There's a big need for these type of services given that a recent study from Interaction Metrics found 68 percent of surveys offered by America's largest retailers were "total garbage."

I provide similar services to small and mid-sized businesses, so I was curious to see what TCFCR's survey data might reveal.

One quick look and I immediately saw a way for businesses to double the response rate on their B2C surveys.

The Response Rate Secret

TCFCR pulled aggregate data from thousands of surveys across all of their clients for a 12-month period. The company compared response rates for "in the moment" surveys versus follow-up surveys sent via email. 

Here are the results:

Follow-up surveys had more than twice the average response rate!

An in the moment survey is offered at the time of service. It could be a link in an email response from a customer service rep, an after-call transfer to an automated survey, or a link in a chat dialog box.

A follow-up email survey is sent after the customer service interaction is complete.

TCFCR also found that sending a reminder email after the initial survey invitation typically generated an additional 5-point increase in response rates!

Some companies do follow-up surveys via telephone instead of email. TCFCR's data shows that those surveys get an average response rate of 12-15 percent, which is on par with in the moment surveys.

One thing to keep in mind is that this data is for B2C surveys only. TCFCR found that B2B surveys typically get a response rate that's half of what you'd expect from a B2C.


Increase Response Rates Even More

There are a few more things you can do to stack the deck in your favor.

One is to keep your surveys short. A 2011 study from SurveyMonkey found that survey completion rates drop 5-20 percent once a survey takes 7+ minutes to complete. The same study discovered that's usually around 10 questions.

Most surveys will gather adequate data with just three short questions.

Another way to improve response rates is through rules-based offering. A lot of customer service software platforms, such as Zendesk, have a built-in survey feature that allows you to adjust which customers receive a survey and when.

For instance, you might only send a follow-up survey once a support ticket is closed rather than after every single interaction. Or if you offer a subscription-based service, you might survey all customers when they reach the six month mark in their annual subscription, regardless of whether they've contacted your company for support.

You can learn more about response rates and other survey-related topics here.

How to Harness the Power of Peer Recognition 

Employee recognition can be a minefield.

One key distinction is to decide between rewarding or recognizing good performance. Rewards are a pre-determined "if-then" proposition. If you achieve X result, you get Y as a prize. 

There's a volume of data that proves rewards often unexpectedly lead to poor performance. Check out Daniel Pink's excellent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, for an easy-to-read overview of some of the many studies that show rewards don't work in a customer service context.

Recognition can be healthy if done right. It's unexpected and delivered after the performance occurs to let employees know their performance is valued and appreciated. 

So where to start?

The Pitfalls of Recognition

Formal recognition programs are fraught with pitfalls that can demoralize employees. Take the venerable employee of the month program as an example:

  • How do you make the selection process seem transparent and fair?
  • Can you allow repeat winners without prompting feelings of favoritism?
  • What is the impact on morale of not winning?

Even informal recognition can backfire. 

A manager I know once bought his employees donuts to recognize the team for some extra effort. It was so well received that he bought donuts a week later, which quickly started a weekly tradition. 

Soon, the weekly donuts were expected rather than a treat. A few people even grumbled about not getting their favorite kind.

Remember: recognition is unexpected. The donuts no longer recognized good performance once the team expected to receive them.

While researching customer-focused companies for The Service Culture Handbook, I noticed several companies were putting a twist on traditional recognition.

They were using peer recognition to drive culture.


The Power of Peer Recognition

According to a 2014 employee engagement study by the employee feedback company TINYpulse, peer recognition is the top reason why employees go the extra mile at work.

Shawn Anchor, bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review detailing a study on JetBlue that he co-authored. This study found that "for every 10% increase in people reporting being recognized, JetBlue saw a 3% increase in retention and a 2% increase in engagement."

Coincidentally, I profiled JetBlue in The Service Culture Handbook for their employee engagement best practices.

There are a couple of easy explanations for why peer recognition is so powerful.

One is Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his now famous ranking of basic human needs in 1943. They are, in order:

  1. Physiological 
  2. Safety
  3. Love and belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualization

I've written about this hierarchy before, as a way to explain why employees provide better service (priority #5, self-actualization) when they feel like they're part of a team (priority #3, love and belonging). Peer recognition is powerful because it reinforces a sense of love and belonging.

There's one more explanation: we take our social cues from others.

Experiments by Solomon Asch and other psychologists demonstrate that we humans instinctively try to conform to the groups we're a part of. Conformity is often thought of as a negative trait, but it doesn't have to be.

Imagine a team of employees conforming to a group norm that values outstanding customer service! Peer recognition helps promote this positive conformity.


Practical Examples

I reached out to the Inside Customer Service LinkedIn group for some practical examples of peer recognition programs.

Two members shared excellent examples:

Jeremy Hyde, Customer Service Manager at UCare, wrote: "We have a 'hats off' program where people can fill out a brief form on our intranet. Then something is delivered to the Supervisor with the details on who nominated them and why with a little 'hat' pin. A lot of people put the pins on their lanyards or tack them up on their cube walls. After you collect 10 you can redeem them for a gift card."

Jenny Dempsey, former Customer Service Manager at Phone.com, wrote: "At Phone.com, I developed the Smiles peer recognition program. Anyone could write a note of gratitude for a coworker and drop it in the Smile box. At each CSR meeting, we would draw a few entries from the box and read them aloud. The people they were writing about would receive gift cards. The team loved it!"

Both examples are simple, practical, and don't require a lot of input from management. They're also easy to implement.

But wait! You don't even need a formal program. As a customer service leader, you can lead by example. 

Recognize your employees for a job well done by thanking them one-on-one, writing a short handwritten note or email, or praising them in a team meeting. At the same time, encourage employees to pay the compliment forward!

Even a simple "Thank you!" from a colleague can be a powerful form of recognition.

Does Your Company Have Too Many Missions and Visions?

The vice president shared a draft of her company's new values project.

She had been working with two other executives to create them. They had come up with nine after several brainstorming sessions.

On paper, they looked good. These were solid, reasonable values that were all straight out of the corporate values catalog. Nothing controversial. 

There were two problems. 

The first issue was the company already had a lot of cultural artifacts. A cultural artifact is something that helps people understand your organization's culture, like a mission, vision, or set of values. 

This company already had a lot:

  • Mission statement
  • Service promise
  • Service motto
  • Brand tagline

Now, they were planning to introduce a new set of values on top of everything else. Which led to the second problem.

Some of those nine values weren't accurate. Communication was number three on the list. "Oh, we suck at communication!" said the vice president.

Perhaps you face a similar mess. Here's how you can untangle it.

Focus vs. Confusion

Companies' cultural artifacts frequently feel empty because organizations often have too many or the existing ones are inauthentic.

In the rush to create another tagline, motto, or corporate vision, nobody takes the time to decide what one statement is the most important or ensure all the artifacts are in alignment.

If everything is important, then nothing is important.

In The Service Culture Handbook, I related the story of a restaurant chain I worked with that had too many cultural artifacts.

It had a mission statement, a brand promise, a set of four service promises, and a list of 17 service standards that waitstaff were expected to follow with every guest.

Employees weren't quite sure which was most important. 

This was especially challenging since some of these cultural artifacts didn't clearly support each other. For instance, the mission statement described a desire to create amazing experiences while the service standards emphasized up-selling and efficiency.

At an executive retreat, I posed the question to the CEO, his executive team, and the general managers of each individual restaurant: which cultural artifact is most important?

There initially wasn't a consensus, but it led to a good discussion. The group finally agreed that the mission statement should be the primary guide for the employees. 

Next, they decided to rethink their existing cultural artifacts. Some were eliminated while others were simplified and aligned with the mission. The 17 service standards were slimmed down to 10. 

The restaurant chain's leadership team then communicated the revised artifacts to employees with a renewed emphasis on the mission.

Not surprisingly, service quality improved once employees had a consistent understanding of what outstanding service should be.


Where a Customer Service Vision Fits In

In customer-focused companies, the most important cultural artifact is a customer service vision.

A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that guides all employees' actions when it comes to serving customers.

What if your company already has some pretty important artifacts?

When my clients face this challenge, I usually suggest two options. Option one is to make one of your existing artifacts do double-duty as the customer service vision.

In many companies, the organization's mission, vision, or values is also the customer service vision. There's no need to add yet another statement to the mix!

For example, take a look at REI's mission statement:

At REI, we inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.

This is why the company exists (hence, the mission), but it also paints a clear picture of what type of service employees should strive to provide. Go visit an REI location today and you'll almost certainly find enthusiastic retail associates who will try to help you enjoy the outdoors!

In some cases, none of my clients' existing cultural artifacts are particularly inspiring. (They decide this, not me.) That's when I suggest a second option: replace one of your existing artifacts with the new vision.

I recently helped a client do this and it was amazing how much the new vision energized employees.


Take the Three Question Test

Here's an easy way to tell if a cultural artifact is actually relevant.

Select one of your cultural artifacts (mission, vision, values, motto, tagline, etc.). Talk to a random sample of employees and ask them three questions about that artifact:

  1. What is it?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How does it guide the work that you do?

You can tell the artifact has virtually no meaning if employees aren't aware of it or can't give consistent or clear answers to those questions.

In customer-focused companies, every employee can give a consistent answer to the three questions when asked about the customer service vision.

You can learn more about customer service visions and how to create one here.