customer experience, delight your customers

With so much focus these days on the customer experience, I wonder how many companies understand the role they play. I'm not talking about the technology they use or the workflows they develop to keep the well-oiled machine working. No, I'm curious as to how many organizations and their employees provide good customer experiences because they assume it's their job to do so. 

Customer Experience Starts with You

In his book, Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to ExtraordinarySteve Curtin makes a simple declaration: Exceptional Customer Service is Always Voluntary. 

If you understand this, you know that you can't mandate exceptional customer service anymore than you can require all your employees to be happy. Furthermore, if employees aren't aware that delivering a valuable customer experience is in their domain, it probably won't be a deliberate by-product of what they do. In other words, are your employees empowered to engage, help or otherwise support customers?

If you answered no, you're not alone. But seven quick steps aren't going to magically transform your company into the next Zappos or L.L. Bean, unless you truly understand the difference between having a job and having a job with purpose. 

You probably just rolled your eyes. I admit, I did too. Because it's a tight economy. We can't all have jobs that are meaningful, especially when you're being paid minimum wage or haven't had a raise in you-don't-know-when. Chances are if you pay me a few bucks, I'm not going to be all that engaged in what I'm doing whether it's bagging groceries or answering calls in the service center.  Neither I nor this book can help you pay your employees more, but it can help you instill a company culture that promotes job essence, not just job function. 

Mr. Curtin says that the difference between the two is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary customer service, in that job function speaks to the duties and tasks associated with a job role, whereas job essence is an employee's highest priority at work. If you're confused, simply ask yourself what would have happened if the job essence of bond traders on Wall Street  was to maintain the integrity of the mortgage bonds they sold, rather than to sell the most or make the most money? 

Model, Recognize & Reward Good Culture

Like most everything these days, it comes down to culture. Think of Walmart. Now think of Zappos. They're both retailers, but their culture is supremely different. As Mr. Curtin writes: 

When employees are made aware of the essence of their jobs and it's reinforced (i.e., modeled, recognized, and rewarded) by their immediate supervisors, then customer service quality improves, fewer eggs get broken, and more lasting positive impressions are made on customers. (p. 24)

Chapter by chapter, Curtin outlines that seven steps and walks the reader through what it takes to master the skill. I'd like to assume that most of what he writes is obvious -- of course, you need to offer up specific and positive compliments -- but then I remember how many crappy managers and out of touch supervisors I've had to suffer through, and it's clear they could have used a manual on empathy. 

If you're a manager or in a leadership position and have bemoaned once or twice about how lazy/inconsiderate/unmotivated employees are -- remember this: 

Employees develop their own definitions of customer service and decide for themselves how they view customers: as honored contributors to the success of the enterprise, or as fickle adversaries who are just looking for the best deal. But most customer service employees have not made a conscious choice to provide exceptional service. As a result, they are indifferent toward both customer service and customers. 

Why haven't they made a conscious choice? No one has asked them to.  (p. 168)

While there may be many ways to deliver an extraordinary customer experience, the journey may be doomed from the start if a company's culture isn't reinforced from within. 

Image credit: Shutterstock / Thinglass