By Chris Eversole
February 14, 2023

Be a light in the customer service world

Take these four steps to help build a more service-oriented corporate culture.

What in the world has happened to customer service? Hardly a day goes by that I don’t feel disrespected or ignored in a store or on a call to “customer service.” I’m old-fashioned, and I grew up in very small towns, where I often knew the owner of a business.

Rather than stew endlessly about customer service, I’ve searched for ways to cope with what I encounter. I’ve looked at how I can reframe my sense of entitlement.

My journey has included being empathetic with the staff at fast food restaurants, realizing that their business is understaffed and their wages are low. I try to exchange greeting with them: being sincere, not just muttering a “how are you” or “I’m fine” exchange. I’m working on engaging them in a conversation and complimenting them on their work ethic.

A turning point came on a day when a clerk abruptly told me that she couldn’t process my returned internet equipment at her store and said I needed to take it to UPS. As I reflected on my frustration, I wondered, “Why didn’t she treat me like I’d like to be treated?”

I then had an aha moment. “She probably hasn’t been treated all that well growing up,” I thought. Compassion trumped anger.

Creating a Culture of Service

I feel good when I walk into a store and someone sincerely greets me and tells me where to find what I’m looking for. When I consistently get the same treatment at a store, I conclude that there’s a good corporate culture.

As a business owner or manager, consider how strong your customer service is. Good businesses provide good customer service. Great businesses exude it.

You can learn a lot from The Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain that operates 89 hotels in 29 countries. Its slogan is: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

Employees are truly empowered, notes Anna Wan in a blog from Harvard’s Technology and Operations Management program. No bureaucracy in resolving complaints. Every employee can spend $2,000 per incident to satisfy a customer. I’m not saying every store needs such a rich level of empowerment, but any business can set a limit that’s reasonable for what it does.

Ritz-Carlton is committed to what is called alignment among its staff. “Employees have a daily 15-minute ‘lineup’ meeting during which daily plans, special events, special guests, and ‘wow’ moments are shared with the entire staff,” Wan writes. “The ‘lineups’ are opportunities to consistently communicate the Ritz-Carlton values to all the company’s 35,000 employees.”

Starting every shift by discussing key customer service principles is an excellent way to set the tone for the day. Why don’t you try having employees take turns running a short meeting? This ritual can continuously reinforce your organization’s sense of service. Employees can share tips with each other, and the rotating facilitators can develop leadership skills.

For Ritz-Carlton, the payoff of its service-oriented culture goes beyond customer satisfaction. The hotelier’s annual employee turnover rate is incredibly low when compared to other luxury hotel operators: 18% versus 158%.

Below are some other considerations for creating a service-oriented corporate culture:

  • Rethink your hiring: Various experts suggest giving more weight to personality traits than experience when hiring. If you seek out service-minded people, you have a better chance of building and maintaining a strong customer service culture.
  • Involve senior leaders in onboarding: When creating a customer service culture, having the CEO or senior leadership directly involved in training is essential. There’s no better way to stress that your organization takes customer service seriously—to reinforce that senior leadership is directly interested in front-line employees’ ability to perform and succeed—than to have executives present.
  • Manage by walking around: When managers hide in their offices, they miss numerous chances to show teamwork and help problem-solve. This goes back to the hiring tip above: Make sure that your managers are the type of people who will move about and interact often, looking for opportunities to help.
  • Learn from mistakes: Involve a broad group when you debrief on a customer-service mistake. Rather than placing blame, identify what led to the problem and find ways to prevent it in the future. A genuine desire to learn from past mistakes is essential to building a customer service culture.

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About Chris Eversole

Chris Eversole is a licensed drug and alcohol counselor candidate at Addiction Wellness & Counseling Center in Edmond. He holds a master’s degree in addictions counseling from the University of Central Oklahoma. He’s passionate about helping people become healthier in their relationships, their work and their lifestyle. Chris and his wife, Linda, have four children between them and four grandchildren, along with three small white dogs. Chris enjoys playing basketball with his buddies at Healthy Living OKC.