Customer service Engagement Training & Development

What’s Reflected in Your Brand Mirror?

To hold on to your customers amid strong competition, it’s important to provide a positive customer experience. But where do you begin?

You start from the inside out with the employee experience because the way employees feel is the way customers will feel – and if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers. 

Picture the relationship between the two as a mirror. If employees are frustrated by company policy or internal politics, their attitudes can be reflected in their dealings with customers. Who wants to be served by employees who feel hassled or ready to disengage? It takes only one or two such encounters before a customer goes elsewhere. And who knows how many other customers will hear of their experience?

What do you see when looking into your company’s employee-customer brand mirror?

  • a shiny reflection of positive experiences with your internal and external brand?
  • a blurred image that needs polishing to be more employee- and customer-focused? or
  • a cracked image opening up opportunities for your competitors?

Three keys to creating a positive and polished brand reflection:

  • Proactively pay attention and listen to employees to better understand their experience in your workplace; e.g., employee surveys, management by wandering around, engagement discussions, exit interviews, etc. Do your employees have the tools, resources, and information they need to effectively serve customers?
  • Based on what you learn from listening to them, involve employees in improving business operations to better care for customers and each other.
  • If your organization is in transition or stressed with limited resources, positively acknowledge those who rally the energy and enthusiasm to serve customers and co-workers despite the situation.

If you need a reminder :

“There is no way to deliver a great customer experience with miserable employees.”  Steve Cannon

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”  Stephen R. Covey

[Image credit: Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash]

Customer service Marketing

What I Learned About Marketing Before I Knew What It Was

This is the story (more of a tribute, actually) about my beloved father.

He was a tailor by trade who ran a small alterations and dry cleaning business. I used to visit his shop to watch him work on a treadle sewing machine surrounded by rainbows of thread neatly stacked on shelves. Sometimes I would also accompany him while he picked up and delivered his customers’ dry cleaning.

I learned a lot from my father amid the colored spools of thread and smells of dry cleaning solvent. I especially loved how customers loved him. Whenever customers came into the store, my father would warmly greet them, inquire about their family, and then get into the specifics of their clothing alteration needs. He took as much care with customers as he did with their clothes. And they kept coming back, while referring new customers to him.

My father was not only a craftsman when it came to sewing, he was a master of relationship marketing.

He had no formal business training; it was just an intuitive way of how he did business. I was blessed to be his daughter and learn from him.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, and thanks for a wonderful legacy.

[Image courtesy of Pixabay.]

Customer service Engagement

Internal vs. External Customers: Who Comes First?

In many organizations there are employees who not only serve customers, they ARE customers.

These “internal” customers are employees who rely on the information and resources provided by fellow employees who work in support functions such purchasing, HR, accounting, IT/information, etc. The level of quality service and support that “internal” customers receive from them impacts their ability to effectively serve a firm’s “external” customers.

Players on the same team?
Consider this statement from a colleague in a customer-contact position who described the response her department received when requesting assistance from support employees in the organization’s parent company: “Sometimes we’re mildly ignored, and other times we’re barely tolerated or just dismissed.” Imagine the frustration she and her team experienced trying to do their jobs.

When internal customers have their business service needs taken care of by co-workers — getting prompt responses to questions and requested support — they can then take care of the company’s external customers. Conversely, when these employees get poor service that impedes their ability to effectively do their jobs, they make take out their frustrations on other employees as well as customers — all contributing to a less than satisfactory work environment.

So which customers come first?
The answer to this question is easy.

“Paradoxically, to achieve an emotionally connecting customer experience, employees come first, ahead of the customer.”  Tom Peters

It’s not that one group is more important than the other; both are critical to an organization’s success. The overarching reality is that the quality of the employee experience (that of all employees in supporting and/or internal customer roles) ultimately impacts the quality of the customer experience.

To paraphrase my often-cited quote: “If employees don’t feel valued, neither will customers – internal and external.”

[Feather/egg image by congerdesign from Pixabay. Chick image by Azkia A. Mardhiah from Pixabay]


Customer service Training & Development

3 Simple Ways to Engage Employees in a Better Customer Experience

Need to have your employees better understand and improve the customer experience?

Here are three simple approaches designed to do just that. Each one can be applied to engage employees in sharing their experiences and building on their ideas to take care of customers.

1. Consider the customer perspective 

“Smart people walk in the shoes of their customers. But wise people remove their own shoes first.”

Because empathy is critical to improving the customer experience, it’s valuable for employees to consider and discuss their own experience as consumers. You can engage them in discussing one or more of the following questions, such as:

  • Thinking about a recent experience you had as a customer, how would you describe the quality of that experience? What stood out for you that made it that way? … Based on that experience, would you recommend that company to a friend? Why or why not?
  • As a consumer, how can you tell whether a company is customer-centric?
  • How do you see who you are and what you offer through the customer’s eyes?
  • [Based on the responses to these questions:] What does this say about how we serve our customers? … How can we do better?

2. Consider employee impact 

Use notable quotes from the business press that will work well as discussion-starters to elicit employee reactions and ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “The easiest way to turn a service into an experience is to provide poor service – thus creating an memorable encounter of the unpleasant kind.” B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy
  • “Customers care about the degree to which you respect and value their business … If you provide customers with clues that you don’t value their business, then all the customer satisfaction in the world won’t help you.” David C. Lineweber
  • “If you respect the customer as a human being, and truly honor their right to be treated fairly and honestly, everything else is much easier.” Doug Smith
  • “Brands are built from within … [they] have very little to do with promises made through advertising. They’re all about promises met by employees.” Ian Buckingham

3. Consider combining both of the above approaches

Depending on how much time you have for discussion, you can start with the empathetic perspective and close with an applicable quote that supports delivering a positive customer experience. Or you can start with a quote and segue to discussing the customer’s perspective. As for selecting quotes, you can even invite employees to share a favorite or create their own.

Helpful tips

When you engage employees in these special discussions — whether as part of orientation, customer service training, staff meetings or retreats — you can elicit their understanding and ideas to better serve customers as well as co-workers who are “internal customers.”

Regardless of which of setting or approach(es) you use, it’s essential to conduct such discussions in a positive, non-threatening, and respectful setting. Your objective is twofold: 

  1. to encourage employees to comfortably share stories and actionable ideas that enable them to better serve customers, and
  2. avoid getting mired in a spiraling critique of complaints.

The key is to not dwell on negative barriers but focus on ways to overcome them.

And don’t forget the food (e.g., appropriate amounts of caffeine, water, sugar, healthy snacks, etc.) that can fuel the thinking and ideation process.


Customer service Engagement

A Client-Inspired Wish

One of the most amazing clients I’ve had the privilege and joy of collaborating with for 25 years recently retired. I wish there were more managers like her because it would mean more engaged and productive workplaces. Let me tell you why.

Peg helped grow a successful university distance education department, having started at a time when distance education was in its infancy. She navigated the changing technology that transitioned from broadcasting live classes via satellite to online delivery of courses. [Because she isn’t comfortable with attention, I only use her first name in this post.]

To inspire others, here’s a sample of what made Peg an impressive manager.

Management approach
All jobs come with some degree of stress from conflicting goals, operational and budget issues, internal politics, etc. Acknowledging this, Peg approached her work as an ongoing challenge: “I simply focus on what needs to be done and how to make it happen. Not just to push ahead, but with concern for how it will affect customers, employees, and everyone involved.”

I saw this play out in everyday situations and in crisis. The latter was a case of “lost in space” when a satellite failed a few days before the start of a semester. Peg rallied her team to find workable options for students and client companies with minimal service disruption.

Customer-focus was another part of Peg’s success. Besides responsive customer service, she believed in client outreach and appreciation as key to building long-term relationships with students and their employers. “Our programs may be by distance, but not our relationships,” Peg was fond of saying.

Internal marketing 
Peg also focused on building relationships with employees and internal partners by:

  • investing in team members by encouraging their professional development
  • engaging employees in staff retreats for strategic planning, transition planning, and marketing planning
  • communicating and collaborating with faculty and staff to maximize program development
  • keeping employees, faculty, and administrators informed and “in the loop”
  • being accessible to and respectful of those she worked with.

Her sense of humor allowed staff to comfortably let off steam in a busy, sometimes stressful environment — another key attribute to creating an effective team and supportive office culture with minimal turnover.

I know my wish for more managers like Peg is not realistic, but I can wish for people to learn from her success.



Customer service Engagement

You Can Forget the Customer Experience

Not that it doesn’t matter, because it does. But you can forget the customer experience IF you neglect to take care of the employee experience.

Here are several favorite quotes that capture the essence of the employee-customer experience connection.

“Paradoxically, to achieve an emotionally connecting customer experience, employees come first, ahead of the customer.”  Tom Peters

“When you improve your employees’ lives, they work harder and ultimately improve your customers’ lives.”  Jeanne Bliss

“The only reason your business is successful is because every interaction between employees and customers is positive. This only happens when employees are treated super well.”  Ann Rhoades

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”  Stephen R. Covey

“We can’t expect to win in the marketplace until we’re winning in the workplace … That means employee engagement is job one.”  Douglas Conant

“There is no way to deliver a great Customer Experience with miserable employees.”  Steve Cannon

As McKinsey & Company’s Sylvie Bardaune, Sebastien Lacroix, and Nicolas Maechler write in their article, When the Customer Experience Starts at Home:

“The closer a company can align its commitment to customer-centricity with the interests of its employees, the closer it will get to achieving its customer-strategy goals.” 



Customer service Marketing

How Careful are You with Your Brand?

Your brand is conveyed in everything you do to communicate and deliver your product/service offerings; i.e., what and how people think about your brand is based on the experiences they have with your business.

This story illustrates how a business manager formed her impression of a company’s brand when seeking a new payroll processing firm.

“I created a short list of companies and decided to do a bit of research before contacting any of them. My research was to simply visit each applicable website.

Turns out one of them had so many typos I immediately deleted them from the shortlist. Perhaps I should have contacted someone to tell them about the numerous errors, but I suspected they probably wouldn’t care. After all, if they cared there wouldn’t have been any typos, especially on their home page.

My thought process was this: if their website is so grammatically messed up, what will they do with our payroll?”

Organizations in all sectors — B2B, B2C, and nonprofits — need to be vigilant with their brands. In a study of mobile customers, 55% agreed with the statement “A frustrating experience on a website hurts my opinion of the brand overall.” That’s just one segment of customers, and it’s just one channel of brand communication.

Details, details, details …

While a brand is an intangible concept, its impact on the company’s bottom line is tangible. A spectrum of even minor product problems, customer service missteps, and communication errors can impact people’s perceptions of a company’s brand and its ultimate ability to attract or lose customers.

“The most successful people know that you either pay attention to the details now or you will absolutely pay the consequences later.” — Steve Keating, The Wisdom of Brown M&M’s

Can you afford to be careless with your brand?





Customer service Marketing Training & Development

What Do You Notice About These Three Customer Service Stories?

In honor of National Customer Service Week (observed the first week in October), here are three amazing stories told by customers — all marketing professionals — who experienced and analyzed them. They represent different situations that share a common theme.

Customer experience #1:

“I walked into an Eckerd Drug Store to buy a sympathy card. Before the clerk even rang up the purchase, he took a silk rose from a display at the counter, presented it to me, and said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss. I hope this will cheer you up a little.'” Toby Bloomberg

Toby’s takeaway: “There were no dramatic gestures, no casts of thousands, no high cost involved. Simply an elegant approach to ‘service’ between two people. And when you get right down to basics, isn’t that what “legendary service” is all about — people who go the extra mile to connect to the customer?”

Customer experience #2:

“It was a Saturday around noon at the Hyatt Woodfield hotel in Chicago for an American Marketing Association chapter leadership meeting. Just as our people were sitting down to lunch, the first alarm went off. We were quickly hustled outside by the staff and stayed outdoors for the better part of an hour due to a water emergency.

“A couple of weddings were scheduled to take place at the hotel later that day. One of the brides arrived that morning and, not finding a closet hook high enough to hold her wedding gown off the floor, she hung it on a fire system water sprinkler. The weight eventually broke the sprinkler head, spewing rusty water all over the gown in her room and other rooms on the floor that were linked on that sprinkler water line. The water also leaked through to rooms below the bride’s floor. The hotel could have easily blamed the bride for her misfortune and the inconvenience caused to everyone else in the hotel. But instead they summoned a limousine, took the bride and her mother across to the Nordstrom’s at Woodfield Mall to buy a new dress.” Chris Bonney

Chris’s takeaway: “I don’t know if the hotel was insured for this kind of thing or not. But they knew that it was cheaper for the bride to get a new dress so that her wedding could proceed and worry about the details later. They recovered the situation without embarrassing the bride and her family.”

Customer experience #3:

“My husband and I were traveling to Boston to attend a conference for his work when I had a medical emergency on the plane. Upon landing at the airport, I was immediately taken off the plane in a special ambulance gurney and transported to the hospital. While filling out our medical forms in the ER, my husband and I suddenly looked at each other to ask, “What happened to our luggage?!” since we left the plane in such a hurry.

“While I was in surgery, my husband took a taxi to the conference hotel and explained our situation. The Marriott Copley Hotel front desk clerk called the airport to find and hold our luggage. The hotel also arranged for a staff member to drive my husband back to the airport to collect the luggage, drop him off at the hospital to be with me after surgery, and place our luggage in the hotel room for when my husband returned.” This is my customer service story.

Here’s my takeaway: “In our situation, we were guests who arrived at the hotel with a problem that had nothing to do with the hotel itself. Yet the front desk staff showed their compassion and concern by going the extra step take care of us.”

What these stories share

My colleagues and I had different customer experiences with a common theme: demonstrations of exemplary service by employees who were empathetic and responsive to their customers — all in situations where the service provider did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, front line employees went “above and beyond” to do everything right.

What’s equally impressive is that these experiences took place more than 25 years ago. Extraordinary customer service — good and bad — leaves a lasting impression.

Customer service Engagement Training & Development

A Manager’s Guide on How to Cope When Team Efforts are Taken For Granted

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague who manages an internal service department for a medium-sized organization. She’s a supportive manager whose team takes pride in providing quality service to internal clients. However, she finds it a challenge to keep her employees at the top of their game when some internal clients are unappreciative of their efforts. Part of her dilemma is rooted in an organizational culture where administrative support is taken for granted.

She and her team acknowledge the situation and focus on how to work effectively within – and despite – the culture. She also encourages employees to rise to the challenge of working with unappreciative clients. Yet there are still occasions when team members find it hard to muster enthusiasm to serve such clients.

You can’t fake it and other important tips
How does she continue to motivate her team? She knows she can’t fake her own engagement, so she starts by staying positive. She also focuses on how she can best support her team and internal clients with the following actions:

  • Keep the “big picture” front and center by reminding employees how they support the department’s mission and contribute to the organization’s mission in the process.
  • Engage employees in sharing what works to keep them motivated, such as providing peer support and finding the humor in their experiences and ways to safely blow off steam. This is done regularly in staff meetings and when difficult situations arise.
  • Share and reinforce client service success stories with the manager’s boss as well as with the team itself.
  • Acknowledge those clients who are appreciative of staff efforts, while also diplomatically standing up for employees dealing with difficult clients.
  • Maintain a positive culture within the department that values both clients AND team members.
  • Continue to acknowledge and recognize employee efforts with little gifts, food, and ongoing professional development.

Just as importantly, she models and reinforces what Chip Bell describes in his new book, Kaleidoscope:

“We are what we serve to others. It is our signature that sums us up each time a customer is on the receiving end of our efforts. And your customers remember how you served long after they have forgotten what you served! How can you deliver service in a fashion that says, ‘This is me, and it is my very best gift to you?'”

Customer service Engagement Marketing

Are You Guilty of Treating Your Customers Like Chopped Liver?

The phrase “What am I, chopped liver?” is uttered when a person is made to feel that he or she is not special. It’s exactly how some customers feel as a result of neglect by companies.

I’m seeing this scenario play out in a membership-based company that’s constantly offering special discount pricing to acquire new customers while ignoring their current ones. Those in the latter group are questioning their customer loyalty given management’s attention on attracting new business while little investment is made to improve member services and facilities. Some customers are paying fees higher than those offered to prospective customers. However, they can get a few extra months of free membership IF they help bring in new customers.

Churn, churn churn
With little confidence in the company to take care of current customers, turnover continues … as does the search for new customers. The company may not realize it, but turnover would be much greater if it weren’t for customer inertia – whether their customers are locked into annual contracts or unable to find suitable alternatives. The reality is unhappy customers who stay don’t bring in additional business.

Heavily promoting to attract new customers at the expense of taking care of existing customers is the perfect recipe for making customers feel like chopped liver. It’s also a strategy that leads to continued high turnover and brand damage. Customer churn isn’t the only issue here – employee turnover is also evident.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are four steps companies can take so their customers and employees don’t feel like chopped liver.

  • Take the time to proactively engage with and listen to your current customers and respond appropriately. Consider formal customer satisfaction surveys, customer roundtables, or lost customer analysis. The latter can be as simple as asking why a customer left, although it’s better to learn of customers’ frustrations before they leave.
  • Communicate with customers. If improvements in member services and/or facilities are in the works, let them know about it. If not, let them know why and when they can expect a future fix. The absence of such transparency leads customers to speculate about the company’s health.
  • Also take time to proactively engage with and listen to your employees, and respond appropriately. Seek their input on signs of customer frustration.
  • Communicate with employees and equip them to be customer-focused. Ensure they know what’s happening so they can address customer questions and concerns. Provide with them with training to provide top-notch customer service, and in the event of a problem, equip them to deal with customer complaints and recovery.

NOT for customers only
Engagement and retention efforts shouldn’t be limited to customers — if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.

How does your company make its customers and employees feel?