Culture, Customer Service and Effective Leadership

Harvard Business Review recently posted an experience by René Carayol, a visiting Professor at Cass Business School, where he talked about his experience of visiting the Beverley Wilshire hotel in LA.

While checking in, the receptionist said “welcome back to the Beverley Wilshire Hotel”; he was astounded, as the last time he stayed there was June 1988. This in his view, highlighted the fact that culture plays an important role in creating a customer-first mentality, and that happy, engaged and empowered employees go above and beyond to satisfy the customer.

In expanding further from my last post, Developing an Effective Team; I want to discuss further how leadership based on creating a culture committed to customer service builds tremendous competitive advantage, to any business, department or team.

Over 30 years ago, Virgin Atlantic flew their maiden flight from Gatwick to Newark Airport. They had one 747, while their competitors had on average 300 planes. Now every single one of those airlines have gone bankrupt, and in Richard Branson’s view it is because “they did not have customer service; they had might. Customer service is everything in the end.

Carmine Gallo, a contributor to Forbes.com, interviewed Richard after the launch of Virgin America, and with Robert Cush, the CEO of Virgin America they emphasised that a commitment to customer service starts at the top and that a superior customer experience is the key ingredient to success in a competitive global economy regardless of the type of business you are in.”

Here are some pointers as you aspire to grow and develop your business, department, or team:

  1. Be visible: Managers and supervisors need to make the time to meet with staff and to listen to their concerns.
  2. Create an environment where it is acceptable to give and receive feedback from staff and customers – constantly asking for their opinions.
  3. Express a passionate commitment to serving the customer and doing things right. This is closely aligned with the culture you want to create in your department, team or business.
  4. Empower your employees to make every experience great for the customer – encourage them to use their initiative and creativity to solve problems.
  5. Find creative ways to reward and incentivise your staff and show them that it is okay to have fun – In 2009, Oprah paid for her staff and their family to go on an all expenses paid 10 day cruise around the Mediterranean. Admittedly, we can’t all do that but be creative.
  6. Recruit people with a positive outlook on life and develop their competence to deliver the job to a high standard. As Robert Cush says “it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.”

Suggestions to create a culture of commitment to customer service:

  1. Educate yourself about customer service and look at organisations and individuals who get it right
  2. Imagine yourself a year from today, what kind of culture and level of customer service would you like to have created?
  3. How would your team be performing their duties?
  4. Reaffirm the values and purpose of the organisation – do this regularly.
  5. Be clear about your strengths and the different strengths of members of the team – lead from behind when necessary.
  6. Recruit good people and empower them with responsibility and authority
  7. Provide your employees with the training and tools to provide excellent customer service.

As Richard Branson says, “everything in the end comes down to customer service, your staff, how they feel and whether they are happy to be there and proud of the company they are working for. “

We are after all people dealing with people.

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