Looking at Customer Service through a Behavioral Lens

May 10, 2018 / LIVE & WORK JOYFULLY

Looking at Customer Service through a Behavioral Lens

May 10, 2018

Nancy Grable Leadership Consultant

Nancy retired about 10 years ago from a major international airline. She had led customer focused organizations in the US and U.K. for nearly 30 years. Now she consults with executives in oil & gas and insurance industries. She travels, volunteers her time with local non-profits and visits family as much as possible. She often attributes her commitment to good customer service to her first supervisor who knew that high performing organizations are made through feedback, coaching and recognition.

We’ve all had good experiences with customer service…in a restaurant, on an airplane, with product delivery. We’ve also had poor experiences. We return to the businesses that provide good service and avoid those that don’t. This human tendency makes customer service a critical part of a company’s value proposition.

What defines good customer service?

How much of it is attitude? How much is knowledge based? How much is behavioral? For purposes of this article I’ll suggest that attitude and knowledge are foundational but that companies are judged by what customers see and hear from service representatives. That’s behavior.

Surely, customer service has an attitude component

This can be described as desire on the part of employees to make customers happy, to understand their needs and to delight in filling those needs. Some employees join companies with a pretty well-developed service attitude. We look for those people during the hiring and onboarding processes. Some employees need to develop this customer service attitude. That can be a challenge for company leadership but it’s possible.

And there’s a basic product knowledge expectation

Whether it’s the ingredients in a newly launched coffee, the components in a financial instrument or the standards for integrating a new software product into an enterprise computer system, good customer service demands that employees are familiar and conversant with product details and are able to troubleshoot and problem solve.

But, what the customer sees and hears is behavior

Earlier I defined behavior as what employees do and say. Attitude and knowledge are pillars that stand behind behavior, but it is behavior that customers experience. An effective customer service behavior at an airport during a delay might be to update passengers in the boarding area every 10 minutes with truthful and useful information and to provide assistance to those with particular needs. This behavior will depend on a service attitude and a willingness to seek out knowledge about the cause of the delay.

Consistent customer service behaviors don’t just happen

Senior leadership has to define the key customer behaviors for every employee and level in the company. That means deciding what three or four or five behaviors are critical for front line employees to do every day in every interaction. If these behaviors are critical at the front line, what must first level supervisors do all the time to reinforce these behaviors? And for first level supervisors to behave the way we want them to, what must mid-level managers do to reinforce those behaviors? And so, it goes up the line to the CEO. The famous Aldi supermarket founder Karl Albrecht was fond of saying: “If you aren’t serving the customer, you’d better be serving someone who is.” This very process of calling out critical behaviors and determining how to coach to and reinforce those behaviors drives company culture. A healthy culture will include support, feedback, coaching, measurement and celebration. What gets measured gets repeated. What gets celebrated becomes habitual. It becomes part of the company’s DNA. It becomes part of customers’ stories about their experiences.

One more thing about shaping culture (and bike riding)

Just as an individual has to work on developing a good habit so does an organization have to work on developing a strong customer service oriented culture. Feedback is really important (both positive and constructive). Measurement is critical because it tracks improvement and provides opportunities for recalculation and recognition. There’s nothing like a simple line graph that shows a company how it’s progressing. Real life doesn’t go up in a straight line and customer service successes don’t either. I like to think of the way we teach children to ride bikes. We cheer them on when they begin.  We pick them up and hug them when they fall. We coach them and put them right back on their bikes. More feedback and more coaching happens. The result is that they become bike riders. We are shaping their bike riding performance in the same way we can shape customer service behavior and culture.

Nancy Grable Leadership Consultant

Nancy retired about 10 years ago from a major international airline. She had led customer focused organizations in the US and U.K. for nearly 30 years. Now she consults with executives in oil & gas and insurance industries. She travels, volunteers her time with local non-profits and visits family as much as possible. She often attributes her commitment to good customer service to her first supervisor who knew that high performing organizations are made through feedback, coaching and recognition.

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