Customer service initiatives won't go anywhere unless your company's top brass gets fully behind it.
That can be a tall order for many customer service leaders. Executives don't always feel they have the time or see the value of fully committing company resources.
I asked Teresa Allen, a veteran customer service trainer and keynote speaker, to share her perspective on getting executive buy-in.
Allen is the author of Common Sense Service and the owner of Common Sense Solutions, a national customer service training and consulting firm. She currently ranks #1 on the Global Gurus list of the top customer service experts in the world. She's also one of ICMI's Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter.
Q: What do customer-focused companies do differently than other organizations?
"The common thread is a fearless leader who considers customer service part of the company mission and culture.
"Providing great customer service gives you permission to sell to your customers. It's marketing, not an expense, but senior leaders need to believe that. It's got to be a top-down approach.
Q: Why are these fearless leaders so scarce?
"I generally see two different types of organizations.
"In one type of organization, the top executive is out there every day talking to customers, soliciting feedback, and leading the charge for exceptional customer service. They have often risen from the sales side of the business and have seen the link of service to sales revenue and profits.
"In another organization type, executives are not keyed into the value of a customer service culture. They look at it as an expense item instead of a revenue generator. In some cases, this is because customer service has never been their world. They may have come from a finance or legal background and thus have never been directly exposed to the customer side of the business. In this environment, building a service culture can be a real challenge, because a customer service initiative will never be fully successful unless top leadership of the organization are supporting it and driving it.
"Developing a customer service culture can't be a revolution. It has to be an evolutionary process. Executive buy-in combined with hiring of service minded individuals is key. Training should be designed to support the company’s service objectives across all departments and positions until gradually everybody in the company is on board."
Q: What are some ways that customer leaders can encourage more executive buy-in?
"Customer service leaders in organizations are often not able to prove outcomes, particularly as that relates to the bottom line. If I invest in improving customer service, can I show that it's driving sales and profits?
"Net promoter and customer effort scores are nice metrics, but a good NPS score doesn't prove value to many executives. I can almost hear the Jerry Maguire refrain, 'Show me the money!'”
"Customer service surveys can be helpful if executives use them to drive results. Whenever I get contracted to do a customer service program, I always ask my client to forward any available customer service survey data. It's okay if they send me the numbers, but what I really want is the comments. I want to look for what I call red lights, yellow lights, and green lights. The red lights indicate pain points that can lead to serious loss of business, the yellow lights are comments illustrating areas to be cautious about, and the green lights are compliments and kudos on exceptional service that serve to strengthen customer relationships.
"Organizations should market to their strengths and train to weaknesses. Companies can evaluate those green lights and find a way to use them as a marketing business building tool. The red lights should be incorporated into the next customer service training program so the problems get solved.
"I ask the leaders I work with, 'How are you sharing this data?' Sadly, I often hear that it is only held by the marketing department. Survey data is valuable far beyond marketing. It should be shared with employees so improvements can be made as well as to recognize team members who are growing the success of the organization through exceptional customer service."
Q: Assuming you can get an executive to sign-off on investing in customer service, what are some ways to keep him or her involved?
"Whenever I deliver customer service training or keynotes, I always ask someone from the executive team to introduce the program and tell everyone why it’s important to the organization.
"It would be great if the CEO or President did this, but that's not always possible since they're often very busy people. But some executive should be there, such as the vice president of human resources or the vice president of sales or marketing.
"Customer service can't be perceived as the training ‘flavor of the month.’ With regular executive emphasis and follow through, customer service will be viewed as an integral success strategy and will be more likely to be taken seriously by the organization as a whole.
"When an executive makes a real commitment to being customer-focused, it provides a mandate for the company to do things differently. For example, managers must take the time to hire the right people who can help the company deliver outstanding service.
"A customer focus can also help guide future investments. One executive frustration is the constantly evolving digital service technology that can come at a high cost. While many organizations are investing in these high-tech bells and whistles, recent studies show human interactions can actually be equally if not more important. The more complex an issue, the faster a customer wants to connect with a human who helps to solve it. [Side note: You can see data backing this up here.]
"The human touch is big! This means that training representatives in face-to-face and telephone customer service and communication skills is still critical. You can help steer more investment into the right service initiatives if you can show executives this is what customers really want and combine that with solid ROI data."