Analyse your service hotspots

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay provide practical tips on how to help create a great customer experience

Consistently delivering outstanding service is a must for high-performing organisations. The benefits are undisputed: for businesses, customers stay longer, purchase more frequently and for all organisations they are more likely to talk positively to others about the organisation. If you want to help create a customer-focused culture, you need to truly show through your own actions that service excellence matters.


As an L&D professional, what can you do to influence the creation of a service culture? Through our work with best practice service organisations, we have identified eight key customer-sensitive areas or hot spots. This article asks you to rate yourself against these hot spots, to consider the strengths in the service you provide and where your customers are likely to judge that you need to improve. We will then go on to outline ten principles which offer practical ways to help you improve the service that your organisation provides.

Are you hot, cold or lukewarm?

Deeds not words is a well-known saying. If you want to help your organisation become more customer-focused, a good starting point is to consider how customer-focused you and your own team are and what you can personally do to deliver great service.

Looking back over the past six months, rate yourself and your team:

Actions above and beyond – How often do you genuinely delight your customers and really exceed their expectations? Regularly is hot, occasionally is lukewarm, rarely is cold.

 “Can do”– What is your reputation?  Do people see you and your department as “can do” and helpful? The more you feel this is true of you and your department, the higher the rating: Always is hot, sometimes is lukewarm, rarely is cold.

Approachable – Are you and your team warm and friendly?  Always is hot, sometimes is lukewarm, rarely is cold.

Written thanks – Do you ever receive emails, letters or comment cards with thanks for the department or as individuals? Often is hot, sometimes is lukewarm, rarely is cold.

Complaints – Do people frequently complain about you or your department? Regularly is cold, occasionally is lukewarm, almost never is hot.

Same problems reoccurring – Do you have the same challenges coming up time after time? Regularly is cold, sometimes is lukewarm, rarely is hot.

Delivering – When you agree an action in your team, how likely is it that you carry this through? Always is hot, sometimes is lukewarm, rarely
is cold.

System failure – Do your systems and procedures let you down or hinder you in delivering great service? Regularly is cold, occasionally is lukewarm, almost never is hot.


How many ‘hots’ did you count? If you got six or more that’s a strong indicator of great service, two or less then you badly need to make changes, three to five, there is room for improvement.

The reality is everyone can do better – even good standards can erode over time.

Consider the following ten principles to adopt to help become a hot service organisation and consider what this means for you and your team. The diagnosis and the principles need regularly revisiting to ensure standards and practices don’t deteriorate. As an example, some years ago ScottishPower used to be held up as an exemplar of serving the customer well, yet recently its service standards had slipped so far that Ofgem said in November 2014 that the supplier would be banned for a time from recruiting new customers unless it fixed its serious customer service problems. That threat was put into effect in February 2015.              

Ten principles to become a hot service organisation

1. Customer service is a leadership issue

Many organisations make the mistake of focusing their efforts on service training for front line staff. Yet without strong support and action from managers at all levels in the organisation from the top down, then customer-centricity becomes empty words. Your organisation may invest in front line development but the real gain comes from ensuring that your leadership teams receive development that helps them create a motivating climate where people want to give of their best.

This means encouraging managers to lead by example and role model customer-centric behaviours when they interact with customers (and we’ll talk more about the importance of this later) as well as when they deal with colleagues internally with their own and other teams. Businesses such as Waitrose and John Lewis actively encourage their managers to be on the floor and interacting with customers.


2. Standards must be owned by employees

Set and communicate clear expectations about the organisation’s service standards with all team members. L&D have a key role to play in helping people deliver to a set of service standards that reflect what is important to the customer. In many organisations, displaying a warm, friendly and genuine approach is a driver of customer satisfaction. How do you train this in without appearing patronising or demeaning? Learning professionals need to consider how to develop interpersonal skills training in a way which is authentic and relevant to the learner and which reflects the needs of different customer segments.

We have found that adopting a facilitative, discussion-based approach using blended learning techniques can be very effective. TJ customer service award winner, Elior, for example has successfully identified and used service champions throughout its business to facilitate peer-to-peer discussions about service.


3. Service is personal, people make the difference

Recruit customer-focused people. In our experience it makes it so much easier to create a customer-focused culture if the people you recruit are customer-focused too. The maxim: ‘recruit for attitude, train for skills’ is true here.

HR and L&D professionals can make an important contribution to the recruitment process by helping devise ways to identify how customer-focused recruits truly are. We recommend where at all possible seeing potential candidates in action with customers via practical exercises and simulations. Businesses such as Pret a Manager invite and pay potential recruits who have been shortlisted to work for a day alongside existing customer service team members. At the end of the trial day the rest of the team decide whether the candidate demonstrated a customer-focused approach and would fit in with the team. This tests whether deeds match words: people can often talk a good talk about service (and have practised their responses to customer-focused competency based questions).


4. Regular, year-round service training
and development

Provide regular ongoing training-focused service throughout the year to all employees. In our experience, many organisations provide customer service training as part of induction and then take it no further. In our view, it is important to ‘top up’ service training each year and to do this for all employees, irrespective of whether they have an internal or an external customer. One engineering organisation runs a two-day ‘customer service top up’ event each year which everyone from senior leaders to service engineers attend. As a result of this intervention and implementing the ideas that have been generated from it, the business has seen its Net Promoter Score (service measurement) increase by more than 20 points in two years.

Blended learning approaches are useful here. Use webinars, blogs, apps and videos created by team members to help introduce and reinforce customer service messages. Use collaborative sites such as Learning Stone and Yammer to encourage sharing of learning about good service. Team members are able to share examples of best practice in delivering excellent service with their colleagues, encouraging others to make improvements across the team.


5. Listen and take on board what complaining customers say

Display a passion to listen to and resolve customer complaints effectively. It is a known fact that dealing with complaints well is a sure way of increasing customer satisfaction. It’s therefore important that people who are on the receiving end of complaints feel confident and competent to deal effectively with all customer issues. As an L&D professional, it’s worth reviewing the development that all customer service teams receive as well as front line staff. Check processes: the easier you make it to complain and the quicker a complaint is satisfactorily resolved, the higher the customer satisfaction.

We have worked with both front line team members as well as managers to help build their confidence and competence to deal with difficult situations. A home maintenance organisation radically raised its overall customer satisfaction by overhauling the way that complaints were handled. All front line teams including team leaders and managers were trained in complaint handling approaches and techniques. At the same time, the initiative introduced new levels of empowerment for speedy, first-time resolution.


6. Make customer feedback a part of all
L&D initiatives

Integrate customer feedback in to your learning interventions. How much do you talk about and reference the customer in your learning and development programmes? Ultimately the purpose of every business is to gain and retain a customer. Have you considered citing customer surveys, comments and feedback in development programmes other than service? For example, you can integrate customer insights as part of influencing programmes and negotiation training; you can usefully refer to customer needs as part of team building interventions. The more you integrate customer needs within learning programmes, the more you reinforce a customer-focused culture.


7. Show that people’s ideas count

Encourage people to contribute ideas for service improvement. Customer expectations are constantly increasing and it’s helpful to continually look at ways in which the customer experience can be improved.

People in L&D and OD can act as facilitators to help teams identify areas for improvement. A good approach is to encourage team members to identify ‘dissatisfiers’, aspects of the service that produce a particularly negative reaction in customers. For example, this might be a process and procedures that have been carried out in the same way for some time but fail the customer-friendliness test. You can help teams to prioritise improvements in service delivery, recognising which areas will have the most positive impact on the customer.

We find that front line staff are keen to be involved in service improvements, particularly if they know their views will be listened to and acted upon. Encourage team leaders to share when and how suggested service improvements have been actioned and celebrate their success. Insurance company LV= energetically encourages new ideas from its employees and publicises the results under the banner: “You said… We did…”.


8. Encourage cross-company co-operation

Focus on the internal as well as the external customer. The quality of the service that people receive within an organisation is as important as the quality of service that is provided to external customers. When different parts of the organisation fail to co-operate or blame each other, it can lead to service failure. The external customer sees your organisation as a single entity and expects seamless service. To promote this, it’s helpful to involve all parts of the business in any customer experience training.

We often focus our attention on internal departments to facilitate a more open process of honest feedback, encouraging them to come forward with what each department does well and what they can do to improve their service. An output is often a service improvement plan which can be reviewed and updated every
six months.


9. Integrate the customer into performance management

Ensure that each team member’s objectives include delivering strong customer service. For reviewers, remember to include observations about service excellence in one-to-one reviews, feedback and coaching sessions. Observe team members in their interactions with customers and provide ongoing feedback on their service behaviours. Recognise others for their effort and achievement in delivering excellent service to customers. At Southern Railway, managers are targeted with observing real-time interactions between front line staff and customers and providing feedback against the organisation’s service standards.


10. Service starts with you

Provide a high level of personal service. Consider the extent to which you personally role model great service. Do you set a positive personal example to your own team? Use the hot spots assessment at the start of this article to help identify where you and your team need to put your energy to improve the service you provide.


Evidence consistently shows that loyal customers who receive outstanding service are more profitable for the organisation. But consistently delivering outstanding service is a challenge for most organisations.

Poor customer service is a creeping disease that can slowly engulf any organisation. Vigilance is required, coupled with personal energy to keep moving forward. As an L&D, OD or HR professional, you can do a lot to influence the creation and maintenance of a service culture.

Our work with best practice service organisations shows that continuing awareness of the issues and a willingness and persistence is required. We have shown ways you can help to keep the organisation ever-ready to meet the customer challenge. Now it’s in your hands. 

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