Any customer experience may be so typical that sometimes you don’t even notice it anymore. You walk into a retail outlet, a fast food restaurant or a convenience store and the person serving you looks at you through bleary eyes, almost completely disinterested in your needs or wants, says a scripted “Can I help you?” and then embarks on the mostly disengaged process of filling your order.
Is it just my age (okay, over 50), or do most young customer-facing employees seem to have absolutely no purpose as they wander aimlessly through each customer encounter? Each customer interaction is the same. We are all faceless, nameless numbers queuing up to order our sandwich.
Those employees appear to be working simply to fill a shift or to do their time so they can then escape from their workplace and live their real lives. There’s really no time, energy or focus to care about the customer experience. They are robotic, like machines going through the motions until their shift is over.
It is not my intention in this post to wax judgmentally on any one demographic segment of the workforce population. My real point here is that in this current crummy state of customer service, it certainly doesn’t take much to stand out. Yet most employers are not giving their first-time employees anything to work for aside from a regular paycheck.
In spite of it all, young front-line workers can engage customers and deliver excellent customer service. They just need to understand the reason to deliver excellent customer service and learn the customer service skills to do it.
If you want proof of the current crummy state of customer service, just walk into any fast food restaurant in America to assess a typical customer service experience. When was the last time you could characterize your visit to a fast food establishment as an excellent customer experience?
Now, my colleague, Laura Meredith, takes me to task on this idea about younger employees. She thinks I am generalizing across a market and stereotyping a set of workers. But, I say Laura is atypical. In fact, I don’t know anyone else who is on a first-name basis with the young man at the McDonald’s drive-thru window. When she swings in for her coffee, she talks to him about his medical technician studies and internship. He asks her for an update on the kitchen remodel. He even wants to see photos! He knows she always likes six creams for her coffee – three for immediate use and the other three for her next cup at the office. It’s excellent customer service delivered each and every time. Nevertheless, I think I am safe to say that most of us are not on a first-name basis with the cashier at the window. And yes, maybe it’s not just first-time employees. Older employees are certainly capable of delivering the same lackluster customer service experience.
But then I stopped at the new Chick-fil-A restaurant in town. I was amazed at the difference! The owners and management at Chick-fil-A have built a refreshingly excellent customer experience by casting a vision of brand values. Clearly they value excellent customer service and have a set of expected customer service behaviors for their mostly teenage employees. No wonder the company has been named “best drive-thru in America” by the quick-service restaurant trade journal QSR two years in a row!
Chick-fil-A’s restaurant management doesn’t leave their young employees hanging. Management trains these young people with solid customer service skills anchored in the company’s vision. At Chick-fil-A, employees, both young and old, have something larger than themselves to guide them in their customer interactions. Employees come to understand that an excellent customer experience is much more than a fantastic-tasting chicken sandwich and a side of waffle fries; it’s also about the providers of the customer service experience.
Chick-fil-A’s brand vision statement is very simple: Be America’s Best Quick-Service Restaurant. What sets the company apart is how the management makes that brand vision come alive to each and every employee. They design and provide extensive customer service training emphasizing how that simple brand vision must be carried out in customer service behaviors, all the way down to words, actions, and yes … even smiles. The monotone voice, the bleary eyes, the scripted nonsense that you experience in so many customer interactions are simply not tolerated at Chick-fil-A. The company may call it culture, but really it is the brand vision coming through loud and clear … in the employees’ customer interactions.
Chick-fil-A management is smart enough to know that demanding certain employee behavior does not produce desired results. You have to engrain it, from the top down.
The Chick-fil-A brand vision has very little to do with chicken sandwiches (or even cows advocating for chicken consumption!). Every other fast food restaurant sells chicken sandwiches too, many of them less expensive. Chick-fil-A has defined its brand as a delightful, family atmosphere where parents and children can come and have fun in a pleasant and cheerful environment. It’s about a delightful customer experience.
Chick-fil-A hires its front-line employees based on their capacity and willingness to create a specific excellent customer experience and then diligently supports those employees with an engraining customer service training process that demonstrates how individual attitudes, behaviors and customer conversations define the brand. In fact, what Chick-fil-A management really instills in its people is the importance of living the brand promise at each and every customer touchpoint, during every customer interaction. And it is making these touchpoints wildly successful!
Chick-fil-A clearly demonstrates the relationship between a solid brand vision and connecting that brand vision to employees in a meaningful way to affect excellent customer service and deliver an excellent customer experience.
If you and your company can truly
- define your brand vision, what you and your products and services stand for, and
- effectively communicate that brand vision to your front-line employees with engraining customer service training,
then you will be able to imprint your brand image in the minds of your customers, and the brand itself will provide a lasting stimulus that will motivate your front-line workers to do so much more than simply mark their time. And the excellent customer experience you want will be the natural and inevitable result.