A few days ago I searched on the words “customer service” in Google and had 956,000,000 hits.  I did the same search on “employee engagement” and got 21,000,000 hits.  This result is not too surprising as managers tend to focus on improving customer service without truly addressing the service delivery process more holistically.  For me, this means not only a focus on the customer but a focus on the employees and the culture in which they deliver a company’s service each and every day.  Why?

There are several important reasons to focus on both the customer and the employee:

  • Improving service delivery processes can take you only so far.  Process improvement is essential but at some point in the industrial service process, the employee has to make choices that are often outside the guidelines of a process.  There must be other “guard rails” in place to help the employee make good, profitable decisions for both customer and company.
  • Employees create the emotional engagement that makes the service experience memorable and causes the customer to wish to return (see Human Sigma, 2007 for the research).  If those employees have little intrinsic interest in satisfying customers then delivering a positively memorable service experience will be impossible.  In the book Outside In, Harley Manning the author talks about the then new CEO of Office Depot looking at the results of an employee survey and finding that too many had little interest in serving customers.  This led to major employee reassignments.  Similarly, one of our clients Thompson Machinery, the Caterpillar dealer for western Tennessee and north Mississippi, hire for attitude and train the skill deficits.  As a result, they produce a high quality service experience for their customers.
  • When I use the term employee I mean it in its broadest context.  This includes managers all the way from top to bottom.  We need to think about managers as coaches and less as managers.  For example, many companies are doing a lot of customer service training.  This is great except that the long term value of training is less likely to be realized if there is not someone there to reinforce training messages.  Consider Pete Carroll, coach of the Seattle Seahawks.  When a player does something well he is a demonstrative cheerleader.  When the performance is less than desired, he has a discussion with the player but it appears non-emotional and short.  He reinforces the positive aspects and quickly, and quietly, deals with the negative effects.

The title of this blog is intentionally provocative.  I want to call attention to the importance of employees and the culture in which they work.  Focusing only on the customer and service delivery processes will only get you so far.  To deliver truly great customer service, the kind that causes customers to want to return requires engaged, switched-on employees who really care.  Do you have them?


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