Transforming A Culture Is No Easy Task
Developing a strategic plan to promote internal and external customer service is no easy task. The role of organizational culture, the forces effecting the culture, understanding who the internal and external customers are, and identifying the key objectives required for effective customer service will help an organization meet specific goals: Develop an internal customer service culture, effectively train all employees who interact with the external customers, provide information to customers that is useful and relevant using the communication methods they desire, and developing or enhancing a means to follow-up with customers.
What Is Culture And The Forces Of Influence?
A corporate culture “refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions” (Investopedia, 2017). Culture is usually implied and not specifically ‘defined’ – as it organically evolves over time and accumulates traits based on whom the organization hires, it’s dress code, office setup, benefits, turnover, and client satisfaction based on operations or the artifacts the organization produces.
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” In general, his view indicates that repeated behaviors or habits are the core of a culture. What people feel, think or believe are the perceptions and ultimately the forces shaping our behaviors.
It is important to direct our efforts and identify the forces that shape our behaviors within our organizations and their relation to customer service. Describing the current and desired forces will assist with accurately capturing the thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of the organizational structure and the incentives that deliver positive customer interactions by cultivating the desired culture of customer service.
Define The Customers: External vs. Internal
The distinction between internal and external customers isn’t always clear, however, we will can use an academic perspective for the purpose of this discussion.
External Customers look to “exploit artefacts[sic] produced by the organization with specific requirements and specifications” (Hobbs, 2016). External customers are essential to the success of the organization as it operates to produce the artifacts specified by external customers.
Internal customers are all members of the organization who rely on assistance from each other to fulfill their duties in the production of artifacts specified by the external customers.
Forces Of Influence And Customer Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction doesn’t start with the customer. It starts ‘in-house,’ with the employees, incentives, and programs within the organization. Employee recognition programs, cultural expectations set during on-boarding, opportunities for training (both formal and informal), competencies measured during appraisals, and policies are all forces that influence the organization’s culture and affect customer satisfaction.
Agility Starts Start At The Top
An organization’s leadership team must set the tone and embody the practices themselves. It’s not about setting expectations – it’s about ‘practicing what they preach’ and treating employees the way they want the customer to be treated. Additionally, leaders “must make the measurement of service quality and feedback from the customer a basic part of everyone’s work experience” (Morrow, 2000). The Agile organization embodies these beliefs because the leadership is passionate about practicing what they preach. Leaders set the tone.
Agile Organizations Hire For The Culture
Organizations like Zappos, a leading online retailer for the shoe industry, is well known for starting with a “cultural fit interview, which carries half the weight of whether the candidate is hired” (Patel, 2015) by offering $2,000 to quit after the first week of training if the candidate decides the job isn’t for them. Zappos instills their ‘ten core values’ on each of their employees and dedicates a portion of their budget to employee team building and promotion of its values and culture. The idea is, when the organization gets the culture right, great customer service and brand recognition will evolve organically on its own. Agile organizations are infectious with their values.
Additionally, it may be necessary to remove any employees who do not show the behaviors required to foster positive customer interactions. Often, organizations allow employees who work with external customers to remain on the job when they are not suited for the position. “If employees don’t want to serve the customer in the best possible way, document their behaviors and use the information to help them change or to move them from areas away from interactions with external customers” (Morrow, 2000). It only takes one bad apple to ruin the bushel.
Agile Organizations Invest In Training
Formal training in customer service is a good starting point, however, organizational leadership should reframe its’ thinking and recognize that training extends beyond a mandatory class taken once a year. Training employees, again, is a top-bottom approach. Organizational leadership, managers, and supervisors should always be training their employees, offering guidance and coaching each other and their subordinates on a continual and iterative basis relative to informal or formal training initiatives respectively.
Agile Organizations Effectively On-board New Hires
Effectively setting expectations and training employees starts with the organization’s on-boarding process. On-boarding new hires is the organization’s first opportunity to set expectations, provide examples of excellent customer service observed by past and current employees, and explain how the culture affects customer service in the respective industry.
Agile Organizations Evaluate Performance And Customer Satisfaction
Work Performance Standards and employee performance reviews are another opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization’s customer service initiatives. When employees are appraised on customer satisfaction as part of their work performance standards, they will be motivated to meet and exceed customer service standards as they are clearly measurable and defined. Performance reviews provide feedback to the employee regarding their competency in customer service within their organization and helps align the employee with the expectations, standards, and behaviors that are expected within the culture. “Using customer satisfaction as a measure of on-the-job success is one of the surest ways to guarantee great service” (Johnson C., 2015). What gets measured gets done.
Agile Organizations Provide Opportunities For Growth
Providing exceptional customer service to every customer every time is an unreasonable expectation – no one person is fully equipped to know the best possible solution that fits a customer’s needs in the best possible way. It’s important for leaders to recognize that mistakes do happen. However, addressing these mistakes and making them opportunities to learn not only helps the employee grow and gain improved competencies in customer service, but improves the organization’s overall readiness to meet similar challenges and issues experienced when addressing customer concerns or demands. Transparency is the key to success when mistakes are made, though they should be handled tactfully so as not to embarrass the employee or customer(s), as they help all members of the organization learn from the mistakes made so as not to repeat them.
Agile Organizations Encourage Ownership Of The Issue(s)
Employees that feel empowered to make decisions will take ownership of the issues challenging internal and external customers. Conversely, employees who worry about job security protect themselves first. When employees feel insecure about their jobs, they will hesitate to take ownership of issues. When shaping an organizational culture, it is important for employees to feel trusted and empowered to make decisions regarding the issues faced by customers without fear of repercussion.
Agile Organizations Develop Policies That Encourage Empowerment
Establish policies that are customer-centric and show concern for customer needs. Eliminate “routine and rigid policies and guidelines and strive to be an organization that is easy to do business with” (Morrow, 2000). Customer service is not the sole responsibility of the Customer Service Department; it is an organizational effort and policies that facilitate this empower all employees to deliver exceptional customer service.
Agile Organizations Reward High Performers
Reward employees for the behaviors you wish to cultivate. Cash incentives and bonuses are great, however, there are other ways to let an employee know they have done a good job. Extra time off, an article in the organization’s newsletter, a trophy awarded at a recognition dinner, tickets to special events, or even hand written notes are ways to reward behaviors you wish to see more of.
Identify the Objectives of Customer Service
The organization should identify the primary objectives in customer service. Below are some quantitative and qualitative examples that can trickle into an employee’s work performance standards and performance reviews.
- “Determine whether the organization is providing a satisfactory service to its customers” (West, 2017).
- Confirm that the requirements of the customer have not changed
- “Individual Customer Service Performance” (Vulpen, 2017).
- “Employee Satisfaction” (Liebenberg, 2004).
- Provide your organization with an objective evaluation of customer satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction.
- Level of knowledge of the problem(s).
- Identify areas for improvement.
Organizational Culture is difficult to define, however, recognizing the forces that influence your culture will aid in its’ refinement. The best culture makes all employees feel safe and welcome and it should grow organically to fit the needs of external and internal customers alike. It should be adjusted if it causes the organization to end up with homogenized employees who think and act the same. “Trust in your employees goes a long way towards a positive organizational culture, because trust leads to independent employees who help the organization grow” (Patel, 2015).
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Hobbs, B. &. (2016). Projects with internal vs. external customers: An empirical investigation of variation in practice. International Journal of Project Management Volume 34, Issue 4, 675 – 687.
Investopedia. (2017, April 11). Corporate Culture. Retrieved from Investopedia: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/corporate-culture.asp
Johnson C., R. (2015, July 8). 5 Ways Corporate Culture Affects Your Customer’s Experience. Retrieved from smallbizdaily: http://www.smallbizdaily.com/5-ways-corporate-culture-affects-customers-experience/
Liebenberg, J. &. (2004). Factors Influencing a Customer-Service Culture in a Higher Education Environment. Journal of Human Resrouce Management Issue 2 (2) , 1-10.
Morrow, P. (2000, August 2). Eight Keys to Creating a Customer Service Culture. Retrieved from Inc.: https://www.inc.com/articles/2000/08/20028.html
Patel, S. (2015, August 6). 10 Examples of Companies with Fantastic Cultures. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/249174
Vulpen, E. V. (2017, January 4). How 11 Factors Influence Customer Service Performance. Retrieved from Analytics in HR: https://www.analyticsinhr.com/blog/factors-influencing-customer-service-performance/
West, K. (2017, April 13). Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Your Business. Retrieved from National Business Research Institute: https://www.nbrii.com/blog/customer-satisfaction-surveys-and-your-business/