The key to change lies in questions, not demands


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This is the first post in a series that will explore a set of questions I received from participants during a recent webinar on the topic of customer service. (I say “explore” rather than “answer” because I’ve discovered over the years that there is rarely a single right answer to these types of questions. More often, there are a variety of solutions or guidelines that, when applied, produce successful outcomes.)

Question: Given the behaviors you advocate are voluntary and genuine, how can you ask someone on your team to change – doesn’t that take away from it being genuine?

I certainly don’t advocate trying to forcibly change employees or “make” them be more genuine as an effective way to improve customer service. Like you, I recognize the futility of trying to change others. Changing ourselves is difficult enough… The most effective managers I’ve encountered have had a knack for bringing subordinates to the same conclusions that they’ve formed (based on their unique experience, analysis, and insights) by engaging them with questions. The most effective question I’m aware of to improve the quality of customer service that employees provide is this: “Would you describe for me, from your perspective, what you do – what your job entails?”

It’s likely that most of what you’ll hear in response to this question will pertain to job function: the duties/tasks associated with one’s job role. Little if anything will be said about job essence: an employee’s highest priority at work, which, for most service industry employees, is to create a delighted customer – or promoter. This creates an opportunity for the manager to enlighten the employee about the two halves of his job role: job function AND job essence. Honestly, the awareness created as a result of the ensuing conversation may be sufficient to raise the quality of the employee’s personal customer service without any additional training.

I believe that the great majority of employees want to do a good job at work and be recognized for their effort. Employees don’t willfully ignore customers. They unwittingly treat them indifferently. By having the above conversation with their employees, managers can create the awareness necessary for employees to choose their own behaviors in support of the organization’s customer service mission.

In the first paragraph, I suggested that there’s rarely a single “right” answer to these types of questions. You’ve read my response. Now it’s your turn. How would you respond to the above question?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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