Transforming a Customer Service Culture in Manufacturing

The post-sale experience is a giant opportunity for many manufacturers.

Let's say you buy a refrigerator. Buying an appliance like that is a big investment that should last a long time, but there are many reasons you might need support.

  • Registering the refrigerator for warranty support.
  • The water filter needs to be changed every six months.
  • A few years down the road, you might need a new part or a repair.

A manufacturer that can provide exceptional after-sale support in all of these areas can add plenty of additional revenue:

  • Customers will remain loyal and provide positive word-of-mouth.
  • The brand will earn recurring revenue from parts.
  • The brand can earn additional revenue from extended warranties and service plans.

I recently partnered with Ashok Kartham, CEO of Mize, to facilitate a webinar on how to transform a customer service culture into one that consistently delivers these results.

About Mize

Mize enables durable goods manufacturers to better serve customers throughout the customer journey. The goal is a seamless customer experience through various critical moments. For example:

  • Warranty registration
  • Ordering parts
  • Scheduling service
  • Handling returns
  • Managing service plans

Mize serves a wide range of industries including appliances, automotive, and heavy equipment.


The Webinar

Kartham kicked things off by sharing some of the benefits manufacturers can achieve by offering a seamless customer experience. He cited several examples where companies leveraged Mize's suite of products to stay better connected to customers and drive greater loyalty and revenue.

Next, I shared three steps that brands can take to develop a customer-focused culture:

  1. Create a customer service vision.
  2. Engage employees with the vision.
  3. Align the business around the vision.

We wrapped-up the webinar with an extensive Q&A, tackling questions on a wide-range of topics such as gaining executive buy-in and leveraging technology to enhance a service culture.

Mize generously offered an Amazon Kindle copy of my book, The Service Culture Handbook, to all webinar participants. The book provides step-by-step guidance for implementing a customer-focused culture.

You can watch the full webinar here.



Here are a few resources to help you transform the customer service culture in your organization:

Webinar Re-cap: Five More Obstacles to Outstanding Customer Service

On Tuesday, I hosted a webinar called Five More Obstacles to Outstanding Customer Service.

The title was a riff on a session I facilitated at ICMI’s recent Contact Center Exposition & Conference called Tackling Five Hidden Causes of Poor Customer Service (see a conference re-cap here). 

The webinar revealed five additional obstacles that I’ve uncovered through my research. Below are links to additional information on each obstacle. You can also watch the webinar here

Obstacle #1: Too Much Feedback

We often think that employees don’t get enough feedback on their performance. A few studies suggest that employees might be getting too much!

Even worse, all that feedback is hurting their performance. The short version of the story is excessive feedback gives people too much to think about.


Obstacle #2: Fight or Flight

“Don’t take it personally,” might be the worst advice you can give to a customer service employee.

The advice is well-meaning. We don’t want employees to get into an argument with a customer or do their best to just get away.

Unfortunately, taking it personally is an instinctive reaction called the Fight or Flight response. We’re hard wired to do exactly what we shouldn’t do when we’re faced with an angry or upset customer.


Obstacle #3: Caffeine

Most of us have a caffeine habit. 

One or two cups of coffee in the morning (or energy drink, soda, etc.) followed by a pick-me-up in the afternoon. 

You probably already know that caffeine can be addictive. Studies show that the problem might be worse than you think. That daily caffeine habit might be the root cause of a lot of poor customer service!


Obstacle #4: Empowerment

Employee empowerment is often viewed as a panacea for a lot of problems.

The truth is not many employees are being empowered. A recent study from ICMI found that 86 percent of contact centers don’t fully empower their employees.

Real empowerment is scary. It turns out there’s a whole host of things customer service leaders worry about when it comes to employee empowerment. We ran a poll in our webinar and discovered the number one concern: consistency.


Obstacle #5: Learned Helplessness

Employees may eventually stop trying when they aren’t fully empowered.

This is a condition psychologists called learned helplessness. It happens when a person believes that any effort to change things is futile. The result is they stop trying.

Engaging employees in problem solving can help. Customer service employees love to help their customers, but they often perceive obstacles in their way. Help your employees take ownership of tough situations and you’ll see motivation soar.


More Obstacles

Customer service isn't easy.

These are just a few of the many obstacles customer service employees face on a daily basis. You can read about ten more ways that customer service is hard in my book, Service Failure.

10 Ways to Make Customer Service Easy

Customer service leaders have one real job. They should make it easy for their employees to serve customers.

That can be a tall order. 

Customer service employees have to navigate a jungle of obstacles. Angry customers, defective products, and corporate silos are just a few reasons why customer service is hard.

A good customer service leader takes a figurative machete to those obstacles and clears a path through the brush for their team.

If you’re a customer service leader, here are ten things you can do.

#1 Define Outstanding Service

Don’t assume everyone agrees on what outstanding customer service looks like. Work with your team to create a shared definition. This definition, called a Customer Service Vision, acts as a compass to point everyone in the same direction. (You can use this handy worksheet to help you.)


#2 Measure Progress

Everyone says customer service is important to the business, but it’s not really important until its measured. You can engage your team by setting SMART goals around key metrics. Good goals should make it easy for employees to understand what's important, and what's not.


#3 Act on Customer Feedback

Here’s a dirty secret: 95 percent of companies collect customer satisfaction data, but only 10 percent actually use that data to improve service. This is a potential gold mine of data to help you fix problems that irk your customers and frustrate your employees.


#4 Enlist Your Employees

There’s a good chance that your employees know the biggest obstacles to serving customers. They probably have some pretty good ideas for solving these problems, too. Unfortunately, many employees don't share this information. The simple solution? Ask them. They’ll be happy to share.


#5 Hire for Fit

Customer service gets a lot easier when you love your job. Pay special attention to hiring for culture fit. Figure out what's in your organization's unique secret sauce and then design your hiring process to find people who will love being there. Your goal is to find people who will love to do what you are asking them to do.


#6 Train Better

There’s a lot of crappy training going on. Some managers don’t have the time. Other managers just don’t know how. Avoid letting employees get lost on the learning curve and you’ll make their jobs much easier and more enjoyable.


#7 Encourage Quiet Time

Many customer service jobs require constant multitasking. Unfortunately, this causes a problem called Directed Attention Fatigue or DAF. The symptoms are identical to ADD, which isn’t great for customer service. The only solution is rest, which is why many companies are creating quiet rooms to help their employees recover.


#8 Fix Broken Products

It’s hard to serve with a smile when your product stinks. A recent analysis on the CX Journey blog showed the number one difference between engaged and disengaged baseball fans was success on the field (i.e. product). Work with other departments to put out a better product and service gets a lot easier.


#9 Fix Broken Systems

In his book, Strategic Customer Service, John Goodman estimates that as much as 60 percent of service failures are attributed to broken systems. It could be an unmonitored email box or chronically missed delivery appointments. A failure to fix these problems is like tying your hands behind your back and then trying to win an arm wrestling contest.


#10 Empower Employees

There’s a huge lack of empowerment in customer service. A recent report by ICMI revealed that 86 percent of contact centers don’t empower their employees to provide outstanding service. One reason managers don’t empower employees is it’s easy in theory, but difficult in practice. The good news is you can use this handy guide to help you.

ICMI Research: Most Contact Centers Are Hindering Their Agents

ICMI’s Senior Analyst, Justin Robbins, shared this startling statistic on a recent webinar:

74% of contact centers admit they prevent their agents from providing the best service possible

This stat is scary, but not surprising. Here’s a typical scenario:

You call a customer service number. The first step is navigating their frustrating Interactive Voice Response system that’s designed to deter you from speaking with a live agent. You finally get past that gatekeeper only to be put on hold.

You’re frustrated by the time you finally get to talk to a real person.

This system puts contact center agents at a disadvantage when it comes to making you happy. ICMI’s research suggests agents face a number of additional challenges once they get you on the phone:

  • Agents aren’t empowered
  • They don’t have access to the right tools and information
  • Their contact center isn’t listening to your feedback

Lack of Empowerment

Robbins shared a statistic about empowerment that was really eye-opening:

86% of contact centers don’t empower agents

Empowerment means having the resources and authority to take care of the problem right then and there. This can be the difference between first contact resolution and a problem that takes 16 contacts to resolve.


Lack of Tools

Contact center agents can’t be empowered if they don’t have the tools they need to serve their customers. ICMI discovered this is another major problem:

20% of agents don’t have access to real-time customer information

This includes essential data like contact history and customer account information. It's why the airline customer service agent might tell you your lost suitcase had arrived at the airport even when it really hadn't. These agents are flying blind.


Lack of Feedback

It seems like we get asked to take a survey nearly every day. That’s why this next statistic was really surprising:

47% of contact centers don’t have a customer satisfaction program

This means nearly half of contact centers aren’t actively trying to find and fix the problems that frustrate us as customers. Even those contact centers that do have a formal customer satisfaction program don’t always do it well


The Webinar

You can learn more about ICMI’s research and gain insight into overcoming these challenges by viewing the webinar on demand:

2015 ICMI Contact Center Research Findings: Own the Moments


  • Justin Robbins, Senior Analyst, ICMI
  • Nate Brown, Manager of Customer Support, Underwriter’s Laboratories
  • Ann Ruckstuhl, SVP & Chief Marketing Officer, LiveOps
  • Erica Strother, Community Specialist, ICMI

5 Signs Your Customer Service Survey is Missing the Point

Note: This post originally appeared on the Salesforce blog. Check out my latest post on the Salesforce blog, "Why Role Playing Doesn't Work for Customer Service Training."

Customers are getting tired of surveys. A 2010 study by Vovici revealed that Americans are inundated with over 7 billion survey requests per year. That’s nearly 23 survey requests for every American. (Ironically, I encountered a pop-up survey request when I went to the US Census Bureau website to track down that statistic.)

Many companies survey their customers, but that doesn’t mean they are doing it right. Here are five signs that a customer service survey program is missing the point.


1) Your survey has no purpose

Perhaps someone in customer service decided a survey was a good idea so they wrote a few questions. Then marketing added a few more questions. Sales chimed in with a few questions of their own. Operations got in the act too. The end result is a 100-question survey with no clear purpose.

Thinking of questions to ask your customers is the wrong place to start. Instead, think about what you specifically want to know and then design your survey to achieve that clear purpose. 

Keep in mind that you may have multiple audiences. For instance, a business-to-business software company might have a transaction survey for users contacting technical support and a relationship survey for executives who make buying decisions.


2) Your survey is tiresome

The second sign of a pointless survey is it needlessly annoys customers.

For example, the dealership where I get my car serviced routinely sends me a 36 question survey after I get an oil change. That’s obnoxious.

Focus on what you really want to know and limit your questions to as few as possible. You can always use text boxes to capture additional information.

My car dealership could cut their survey from 36 questions down to 3 and still get an amazing amount of useful data:

  1. How satisfied were you with your recent service?
  2. (Comment box): Is there anything we can do better?
  3. Would you like one of our service advisors to follow-up with you?

Correlating satisfaction levels with individual comments could tell the dealership what they’re doing well and what can be improved. And, asking customers if they’d like to be contacted allows service advisors to try to fix any problems that customers are venting about.


3) You’re focused on the score, not the feedback

The third sign a survey is missing the point is focusing on the score and not the feedback. 

The service department at my local dealership provides a great example. All of their post-transaction follow-up focuses on cajoling me into giving them a good score on their survey. My actual feedback is irrelevant.

  1. A sign by the cash register reminds customers they’ll be getting a survey.
  2. Someone from the dealership calls the next day with a reminder about the survey.
  3. The service advisor sends an email reminder a day later.

 Each point of contact encourages customers to provide a top box score on the survey. At no time are customers asked about the quality of service they’ve received.

Surveys should be designed to give you feedback that you can use to improve service. Focusing on a score versus the feedback itself defeats that purpose.


4) You only look at aggregate data

The fourth sign of a pointless survey is the data isn’t analyzed. Only total scores are viewed.

Knowing what percentage of your customers are satisfied is a relatively useless statistic. There’s not much you can do with that.

It necessary to dig a little to make customer service survey data truly useful. For example, let’s say you have a 75 percent customer satisfaction rating. It takes a little bit of analysis to reveal actionable information:

  • Is service quality consistent amongst all employees?
  • What factors make it more likely for a customer to be satisfied?
  • What factors make it more likely for a customer to be dissatisfied?


5) You Don’t Take Any Action

The last sign of a pointless survey is the company doesn’t do anything with the data it collects.

Chip Bell, author of 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service, shared this startling statistic with me:

 95 percent of companies survey their customers but only 10 percent actually use the feedback to take action. 

It’s a waste of your customers’ time to ask them for feedback and then do nothing with it. It’s also a waste of your time too.

Smart companies use surveys as part of their continuous improvement cycle. They analyze their survey data to look for trends and pinpoint problems. This analysis leads to solutions that are implemented to improve service. Creating survey’s that generate actionable results is the key to creating a company that is constantly evolving and improving.


Want to know more?

Here are links to recordings of two of my recent webinars on making the most of customer service surveys:

Why You Should Stop Trying to Improve Your Survey Scores

The score shouldn't be the goal.

The score shouldn't be the goal.

There’s a lot of pressure these days to improve customer service survey scores. 

Executives review the scores on a regular basis. Business units are compared to one another. Employees are held accountable for their scores. Rewards are given for outstanding results. Low scores bring about consequences.

If this is your company’s focus, you’re wasting your time.

Getting fixated on a number can bring about all sorts of unwelcome behaviors. I recently overheard a coffee shop barista pleading with a customer to give them a great score. “We are sooooooooo graded on this!”

Never mind that the barista’s groveling turned an otherwise pleasant interaction into an awkward moment for the customer and everyone else in the store.

Sometimes, enterprising store managers take it upon themselves to have their employees nudge customers in the right direction. I recently received a survey invitation while shopping at Sports Authority. The cashier stamped the expected answer on the invitation.


Gee, thanks.

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. Auto dealerships are notorious for this type of obnoxious behavior where they relentlessly pester customers to give them a great survey score. All the while, any actual feedback is ignored.

What if you don’t engage in manipulative tactics? 

Focusing on the score is still missing the point. The score, by itself, doesn’t tell you anything. It certainly doesn’t help you do anything differently.

A score is nothing but an average. It’s an aggregate representation of many individual experiences. Focusing on the score might even hide service failures so long as the average looks good.

Think of it this way: your 85 percent satisfaction score won’t help the individual customer who is currently receiving poor service. 


What you should focus on instead

Companies that truly care about customer service focus on continuous improvement.

The customer service survey can be a valuable tool in this quest. Used correctly, it provides valuable insight into what your customers want you to do better. This insight should lead to action that will improve service.

Better service, not better a better score, is the obsession.

Making sense of survey data can be tough. Companies can have a hard time culling insights from reams of data and turning those insights into action. That’s why I’m hosting a webinar on Wednesday, March 5 from 10-11am (Pacific) called How to Analyze and Act on Customer Service Survey Data.

The goal is to show you how to quickly use this data to continuously improve service. I hope you can attend.

Developing Effective Customer Satisfaction Surveys

Is your survey effective?

Is your survey effective?

This post is a short re-cap of the Designing Effective Customer Satisfaction Surveys webinar.

It was designed to be an overview of the basics. There are also links to additional resources at the bottom of this post so you can take a deeper dive into the subject.

You can view the webinar here.

The webinar focused on three key points:

  • Impactful survey design
  • Fast survey creation
  • Response rate strategies

This was a very interactive webinar and a lot of participants contributed some terrific ideas. One of my favorites was our brief discussion on why we don’t complete surveys ourselves. You can learn a lot about why your customers won’t do something if you examine why you yourself won’t do it.

The webinar runtime is approximately 48 minutes and is definitely worth viewing. 


Don’t Miss Part 2!

Surveying your customers is just the first step. Next, you must use that data to take action! I’m hosting a follow-up webinar on Wednesday, March 5 at 10am PST. It's called How to Analyze and Act on Customer Satisfaction Data.

You can use the form below to register.

Three Roadblocks to Effective Customer Satisfaction Surveys

How would you rate your customer service survey?

How would you rate your customer service survey?

Customer service surveys are everywhere. 

A 2010 study by Vovici revealed that Americans are inundated with over 7 billion survey requests per year. That’s nearly 23 survey requests for every American. 

The intent of these surveys is to capture Voice of the Customer (VOC) information that can be used to improve service. Unfortunately, that intent is rarely realized. Some surveys are poorly designed. Others have low response rates.The worst problem is not doing anything with the data collected. 

This is a common theme among the small and medium sized business I work with. Most have some sort of survey program in place but there’s a nagging feeling that it's not very useful.

Perhaps your company is considering a customer service survey. Or, you have one already but now you’d like to make the most of it. Here are three common roadblocks you’ll need to avoid:


#1 Inertia

Many customer service professionals believe that a robust VOC program is important but they just don’t know how to get started. Inertia sets in. Do any of these excuses sound familiar? 

  • I don’t have time right now.
  • It’s too expensive.
  • Our customers are tired of surveys.
  • It’s just a number that senior management wants to see.
  • Surveys don’t really apply to us.

Nothing changes without action. Companies who delay implementing a VOC program could be missing out on a gold mine of information. Even worse, they might continue to run an ineffective program that wastes everyone’s time, including their customers'.


#2 Poor design

Customer service surveys are often little more than a pile of questions that reveal little or no insight. The surveys become longer and longer as each stakeholder thinks of things they’d like to ask. A simple transaction survey soon becomes 100 questions long. 

The net result is the survey annoys the customer while the company is left with piles of data they don’t know how to use.


#3 Low response rates

Poorly designed and executed survey programs often yield low response rates. It can be disheartening to go through the trouble of creating a survey and then have hardly anyone respond. Continuing the program can be difficult to justify if customers aren’t responding.



I’m offering a complimentary webinar to help you avoid these roadblocks.

Designing Effective Customer Satisfaction Surveys

  • Date: Thursday, February 13
  • Time: 10 am - 11 am (PST)

You’ll learn: 

  • Simple ways to quickly create surveys on a tight budget
  • Proven techniques for writing impactful survey questions
  • Three secrets to improving your response rates

This is the first of a two-part webinar series that covers the basics of customer service surveys. The second webinar, called How to Analyze and Act on Customer Satisfaction Data, will be held on March 5.

Five New Ways to Quickly Improve Customer Service

There aren't any shortcuts in customer service. Or are there?

There aren't any shortcuts in customer service. Or are there?

There’s no magic pixie dust that improves customer service quickly and easily. Or is there?

Well... It turns out there are a few shortcuts.

I recently hosted a webinar to share some of my latest customer service research. It focused on five ways companies could quickly take their customer service to the next level with minimal expense or effort.

This is a follow-up post with links to additional information and resources. 

Webinar Link

You may want to start by watching the 47 minute webinar. (Secret tip - you can even jump ahead and fast-forward.) You can access a recording by clicking on the link below:

Webinar: Five New Ways to Quickly Improve Customer Service


#1: Outstanding customer service must be defined

If you asked your employees to describe outstanding customer service, would you get a consistent answer? 

The answer is "Yes" at companies with a customer-focused culture. They have a shared definition of outstanding customer service that acts as a compass to keep everyone pointed in the same direction.

Helpful links:

#2: Get customers to learn your name

Customers’ perceptions of service quality improve when they know you and like you. Helping them get to know you by name is a good way to ensure they look at you as an individual and not just “that customer service person.” 

Here are a few tips:

  • Introduce yourself to customers
  • Call your customers by name so they feel more comfortable doing the same
  • Follow-up with customers to remind them who you are

Helpful link:

#3 Make a great first impression, or recover fast & powerfully

First impressions play an important role in framing a customer’s perceptions of service quality. 

  • Good first impressions are neutral and are unlikely to be remembered.
  • Great first impressions create a lasting positive perception.
  • Poor first impressions can linger unless there's a fast and powerful recovery

Helpful links:

#4 Customers inflate wait times by an average of 36 percent

We all know that customers hate to wait. They often perceive the wait time is even longer than it really is. Smart companies identify factors that influence wait time perceptions and help customers feel like the wait is actually shorter!

Helpful link:

#5 Chronic multitasking is frying our brains!

I took a poll during the webinar to see what else people were working on in addition to tuning in to me. The average participant admitted to engaging in 5 or more activities while attending the webinar! 

It’s natural to want to multitask in our busy lives. Unfortunately, a growing body of research suggests this is unproductive and even unhealthy. 

Helpful link: