Company culture has a way of trickling out. The values, ethics, environment, and leadership of your company — the ingredients of company culture — affect not just employees, but also your customers.
Working somewhere with a great culture gives team members a sense of pride, which comes across to the customers they serve. After flying Southwest Airlines, for instance, one Forbes writer received a copy of Nuts!, a book about the airline, annotated by a flight attendant with comments like “this is what I love about working here!”
Good or bad, customers get a glimpse of your company’s culture in every service experience. Here’s how to make sure they like what they see:
1. Listen First.
Setting the example is a powerful culture-building strategy: You want your team to take the time to listen to customers, so make sure you’re listening to your team.
In team meetings, don’t just rattle off projects and deadlines; take some time to check in with people. What’s going well at work? What challenges are your employees facing, and how might you be able to help them? On a 1-10 scale, how stressed are they?
Remember, your team looks up to you. When you engage them thoughtfully, they’ll handle customer communications the same way. And when a customer calls in about a product defect or other stressful situation, it’s incredibly refreshing to feel heard by the person on the other end of the line.
2. Be Flexible.
To many employers, the shift to remote work related to COVID-19 seemed sudden. In fact, remote work culture has been on the rise for years: According to a Flexjobs report, the arrangement has grown by 44% in the past five years, 91% in the past 10 years, and 159% in the last 12 years.
To be prepared for whatever issue customers call in with, workers need flexibility from their employers. Video-chatting with customers may have been unheard of before the pandemic, but in-person visits may no longer be an option. Make new ways of working part of the culture by, for example, hosting a Zoom happy hour so workers can get comfortable with the platform.
3. Practice Patience.
Patience is a virtue that’s passed from leaders to employees to customers. When you give grace to workers, they’ll extend that same courtesy to your customers.
Again, modeling is key. If you run around like there’s always another fire to put out, your workers will be equally frantic. But if you take time to understand issues and address them thoughtfully, you’ll see that same approach play out in your customer service operations.
This is doubly important when interacting with your customer service team. Don’t insist that they limit their time on the phone with each customer to a certain duration. Give them time to discuss recurring issues with related teams, like product development. Invite them to ask questions, even if you’re late for a meeting.
4. Default to Transparency.
Customers can tell when you aren’t giving them the full story. The more transparent you can be with them, the more likely you are to earn their trust.
The same is true with your employees. During the COVID-19 crisis, every worker wants to know: Is the company on a sound financial footing? Are jobs at risk? If so, whose, and when will a decision be made? When employees feel secure, they’re more willing to go out on a limb for customers.
When you’re not in the same office every day, a culture of transparency can be tough to build. Regularly communicate with your employees, providing updates on how and why certain decisions are made. Your customers will have a much better experience with a well-informed employee than one who feels like they’ve been hung out to dry.
5. Eliminate Silos.
When departments don’t communicate with each other, mistakes get made. Tensions develop, which customers can pick up on. Eliminate silos, and you’ll improve both your efficiency and your quality of service.
Reinforce existing communication channels that are working well. If they’re not, ask employees to suggest new ones. Encourage them to reach across departments to find support rather than continuously relying on the same people. The better the whole team works together, the better the customer’s experience.
6. Encourage Positivity.
Employees who have a bad attitude pass it on. According to studies by Gallup and the Queens School of Business, disengaged workers make 60% more errors and defects than their peers.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: If you’re already dealing with a defective product, and the team member makes another mistake, would you keep working with that company? Chances are, you’d choose a competitor next time.
To build a more positive culture, start by re-examining your company’s social norms. When people start work, do they say “hello” to each other? Is banter part and parcel of your company’s Slack habits? Reinforce behaviors that keep team members connected and engaged.
7. Provide Paid Training.
Like just about everything else in business, providing a great customer experience takes training. The good news is, investing in employee development also pays dividends culturally. An incredible 94% of employees would stay longer at a company that invested in their education, according to a LinkedIn report.
Every employee education program should have formal and informal components. On the formal side, pay for the entire team — not just the customer service department — to take an online course in customer service. Informally, pair people with mentors, and provide weekly discussion prompts related to customer service.
The reality is, strengthening company culture takes time. But when your culture improves, so does everything else your company does.
Employees that enjoy what they do are more productive. They do quality work not because they worry about being reprimanded, but because they take pride in their job. And when they hop on the phone with a customer, they do all they can to make sure the experience is a great one.
Image credit: Karolina Grabowska; Pexels