SERVICE THAT STARTS WITH THE EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE
Eight characteristics of great service teams
If an organization wants to improve the customer experience,
perhaps they should first consider the employee experience.
By Paul Martin
When an organization considers the customer service it is delivering, it often looks to how they are treating the customer—what they are experiencing. How the customer feels after interacting with employees, or their satisfaction with the product or service they purchased are valid elements to evaluate. But how much of the customer’s satisfaction is related to the way they were treated by the employees? Odds are, a lot of it is. Happy employees simply provide better service. If an organization wants to improve the customer experience, perhaps they should first consider the employee experience.
What do your employees really care about? What makes their experience a positive one? What characteristics of an organization make an employee want to deliver a great experience for the customer? Let’s consider eight items that members of a high-performing team experience at work.
- They are surrounded by people they like and admire. People naturally enjoy being around others who are humble and smart. In order for a business to have these kinds of people, they have to pay close attention to the hiring process and commit themselves to not settling for average. Even if a prospective employee has the skills and the experience, that doesn’t mean they are humble or smart. The interview process needs to be tweaked to get at the real characteristics of the person. This often means understanding their story—formative experiences that made them who they are. When it comes to true humility, look for quiet confidence. It is confidence that breeds true humility. Don’t mistake arrogance for confidence; they aren’t the same thing. When looking for smarts, pay attention to the sense of humor a candidate may possess. Are they quick with their humor? Can they tell a funny story well? When a team is filled with humble and smart people, the team reaffirms the best behaviors and staff will work to not let one another down.
- They believe that they are heard by management. No work team is perfect. There will be ways in which the environment can be improved. Maybe the automation system is dated, the rules are inflexible, or the workspace isn’t ideal for peak performance. If employees feel like they can speak up about things that can be improved, they feel like they are being heard—that is, if the management actually takes some kind of action in response to the employees’ feedback. Perhaps something can’t be changed. Let them know the constraints. Tell them the truth. If employees know they had a voice and were heard, they are better equipped to serve the customer.
- They feel respected by the rest of the team. For a team member to feel that they are part of the team, they need to sense that they are respected. They want to know that the contributions they make are helping. They want to know others have confidence in them to serve the customer competently. One luxury hotel chain is famous for its staff motto, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” This phrase communicates a lot. The management recognizes the dignity of their staff. They are not lowly housekeepers or maintenance staff. They are valued contributors to the success of the organization. The management of this hotel empowers staff to solve customer problems on their own, even if it costs the hotel money. Their goal is to have customers that rave about the level of service they provide. Respect is always important to long-term success.
- They see that problems get solved, for good. When an organization is seeing the same problem crop up year after year, team members can begin to lose confidence in the leadership. Frequently these kinds of recurring headaches cannot be resolved by command. There is likely a fundamental cause that needs to be identified and resolved for good. Nothing drives employees to despair like ad hoc fixes, particularly if they are impacting the customer or their ability to serve them properly. Employees can be instrumental in solving nagging problems. One proven technique is to build a team of employees from every level of the organization and lead them to together chart the problematic workflow, identifying the problems with it, then prioritizing the problems that need to be addressed first. Finding a solution is often easy using a brainstorming process. If done patiently and with input from everyone, the best solutions often appear as if by magic. When employees know that they had a part in resolving a nagging problem, they know they are part of an effective team.
- They are rewarded and praised openly. Almost everyone loves public praise. But some kinds of praise can be valued more than others. Is the praise for successful sales accompanied by praise for the sacrifice others made to facilitate that sale? Are the long hours put in recognized? Employees at every level are hopefully making contributions that make a difference. And contributions should be rewarded. Rewards can take many forms. It could be a simple and public acknowledgement by a manager, or a formal executive letter of praise in an employee’s file. It could be a gift card, a one-time bonus, or a meaningful work trip. One way to discover what kinds of rewards team members value is to ask. And don’t forget, the rewards that are really of value may differ by generation.
- They see themselves as part of a healthy work family. The idea of a work team being like family is tricky. Families come in all forms, but the common element is familiarity. Over time, work teams can evolve to take on elements of a family. Trust, conflict, and accountability all come with it. A healthy team can develop these characteristics and, if so, can take leaps forward in providing a coordinated and effective level of service to customers. Families come with messy situations sometimes, but it can be magic if the individuals are committed to the future with each other.
- They see conflicts are handled with grace and humility. Conflict is a natural consequence of people interacting with each other on a regular basis. And any team at some point is going to have conflict. But how are those conflicts resolved? Is there trust in the relationships of those involved? If the team is acting like a family, with a foundation of trust, a resolution is possible. At the heart of it is the humility of team members. Humble employees remember that they can be wrong. Humble employees understand that providing people with what they need to succeed helps everyone. And that is the heart of grace. Taking responsibility, considering others, and remembering that everyone is working to a common goal are keys to resolving conflicts.
- They see those around them taking responsibility for outcomes, both good and bad. There is nothing like watching a person take responsibility for an outcome that wasn’t optimal, particularly when everyone knows they were not the sole or perhaps even a significant cause of that outcome. It’s leadership in action to own not only the individual’s direct action, but also their area of responsibility. If there is a failure in customer service, there’s no better encouragement to team members than to see management own it. Agency and company leadership can build confidence in their team’s ability to serve the customer if they see the boss own the successes and the failures.
Customer-focused service is a great concentration for company staff, but it doesn’t start there. Great service leader-ship looks at those delivering the service and sees what they need to be a team that is healthy and vibrant enough to satisfy customer expectations.
Paul Martin is director of academic content at The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research headquartered in Austin, Texas. Paul works to develop, maintain, and deliver quality educational programs for the organization. Paul has over three decades in the insurance and risk management industry.