I have often been struck by a disconnect between the customer service policy of some companies and the customer service agents who fail to follow through with it. Why does this happen? What does it take to have the end result line up with brand service standards?
My opinion is that customer service stars are born, not made. Even so, service needs reinforcement every step of the way to truly succeed.
These are my ideas of the growth of a service star, please feel free to add your own:
Birth: Some of the defining characteristics of great service are innate. A happy demeanor and friendly personality are the foundation of customer service. Hiring managers should look for these qualities above all others for guest-facing personnel.
Childhood: Behaviors learned during childhood shape us for the rest of our lives. Kindness, compassion, and common courtesy are key components of outstanding service. Look for people who are active listeners, and respond with compassion.
Good etiquette is essential as well; eye contact, manner of address, and the “magic words” please and thank you, are simple but effective when interacting with guests.
Teens: This is when kids are deciding who they want to be, and developing the characteristics to achieve those goals. Leadership, organization, and problem-solving are among the most important to the guest experience.
Young Adulthood: While you can’t do anything about behaviors learned before, all is not lost if you encounter the young adult who still has lots to learn. This is where your staff training program comes into play. It is not enough to explain to new hires that your policy is excellent customer service. They need to be shown, through shadowing your best employee, role-playing exercises, or being shadowed (and critiqued) themselves, the best way to interact with your guests.
All Grown Up: Now it’s time to let them fly, and see how well they do. But even an outstanding service person needs the proper tools to succeed. Here, you must first empower them to handle a situation on their own. Give them the power to provide a discount or a freebie to smooth over a bad situation or surprise a guest.
Sustain this growth with recognition. An outstanding service agent will receive compliments from guests, so acknowledge these and share them with relevant staff. Don’t take them for granted, while bonuses and pay raises are obvious rewards, smaller perks have their place. A weekly contest to win a small gift card, a comped lunch, or go home an hour or two early can do wonders for staff morale and retention. Never underestimate the power of upward mobility. If you have a star, give them every leadership and experience opportunity you can.
In conclusion, when I notice a service disconnect, I wonder if hiring managers were looking more at a resume and less at the person. I get the feeling that training and monitoring is not in place to weed out the bad apples. I believe that keeping these principles in mind throughout the hiring process, and instilling habitual retention tactics will shorten any gap between standards and reality.