Andrew Uber, managing director of Culture Insurance Services, hosted a customer service meetup last month at the company's office just outside of San Diego, California.
It was an informal gathering of Customer Service Tip of the Week subscribers. The idea was to meet in person, share some ideas and best practices, and learn something new.
Uber gave a presentation about how Culture Insurance Services uses its unique culture to differentiate itself in a crowded market. The company is a broker that sells business insurance policies ranging from health insurance to corporate liability.
One thing that struck me is how closely Culture Insurance Services follows the steps outlined in The Service Culture Handbook. Here's a summary of what I learned.
Codify the Culture
Culture is a shared way of acting and believing. Organizations with intentional service cultures take the time to clearly define how people should work to serve customers.
I call this a customer service vision, which is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that gets everyone on the same page. The vision can take many different forms in a company, including its mission, vision, or values.
At Culture Insurance Services, a set of eight values serve as the company's customer service vision.
Uber shared that the values were created by examining two things.
The first was the company's aspirational culture. This is how people think and act when the company is at its best, and the aspiration is to work this way more consistently.
The second source of inspiration was the values of well-known and admired customer-focused companies. For example, Uber told us that "Love Others" was inspired by the love theme that Southwest Airlines is famous for.
There's a word of caution here.
It's fine to draw inspiration from other organizations when defining your own culture, so long as the elements you adopt ring true for your company or team. Trying to copy another company's culture doesn't work because every organization has its own unique essence.
The bottom line is your customer service vision will only truly work if it's authentic. Culture Insurance Services seems to have done a nice job doing that.
Take Action: You can create your own customer service vision with this step-by-step guide.
Stories are a powerful way to communicate your customer service vision to employees. This can help them understand the culture through specific, concrete examples.
One of Culture Insurance Services' clients was a tree trimming service that found itself losing a lot of key employees. Many of the employees took customers with them when they left, costing the company a 20 percent drop in revenue.
Following the core value of "reject passivity," Culture Insurance Services helped its client diagnose the root cause of high turnover. The analysis revealed that only 40 percent of employees were participating in the company's health benefits. The company offered a great plan, but the company only covered 50 percent of the premium. The employee's contribution was more than many employees felt they could afford.
The solution was to find another option that still offered good coverage, but was more affordable. The company covered 75 percent of the new plan, which dramatically lowered employees' costs. When the new plan rolled out, 27 percent of employees who were previously uninsured enrolled in health insurance coverage and the client stopped losing key people.
This story is an instructive example that can help other Culture Insurance employees understand what it means to "reject passivity" when working with a client. Stories like this can make vague-sounding values seem specific and actionable.
Take Action: Collect stories and examples of your customer service vision in action. They don't have to be over-the-top hero moments where an employee runs into a metaphorically burning building and saves a bag full of puppies. Everyday actions actually work better because they are things that can be implemented immediately.
An engaged employee is someone who understands the customer service vision and is committed to helping achieve it.
Measuring employee engagement isn't relegated to an annual survey. You can evaluate whether an employee understands the vision and is committed to helping achieve it through regular communication.
At Culture Insurance Services, leaders consistently engage employees around the eight core values. They're shared with new hires, discussed in company meetings, and even posted on the company website.
Uber explained how the values play an important role in giving employees feedback. One-on-one coaching sessions revolve around how well employees' actions align with the values. Recognition is given when an employee does something that's consistent with the values (i.e. they're engaged), while constructive feedback and encouragement is shared when an employee does not follow the values (i.e. they're disengaged).
Take Action: Use your customer service vision as the basis for one-on-one employee feedback. It becomes a built-in employee engagement barometer.
One of the hallmarks of customer-focused organizations is the unique culture is codified through a simple statement or set of values, it's explained through stories and examples, and employees use the culture to guide their daily actions.
You can work through the process with your own organization or team by downloading this toolkit.