We asked Gerry Brown to tell us a little about his Four Principles of Customer Service (CX [Customer Experience]). Culture, Commitment, Community and Communication. In this Blog we explore the second principle: Commitment.
There is always room for new ideas, and building a better foundation usually happens when we are open to new ideas and thoughts shared. We hope you enjoy the Four Principles journey with Gerry.
When it came to understanding more about how, where and why CX was so effective and important, I looked closer at some of the companies that really do have customer experience working for them, and found strong evidence of the Four Principles that are vital to the development and sustainability of a Customer Experience program. Just as a reminder these are; Culture, Commitment, Community and Communication. The power of these principles, both individually and in combination, is that they are founded on deep, basic truths that have broad and enduring applications. When integrated into our daily lives they provide a context and a framework that can mobilize people to develop the understanding, skills and patience to handle almost any situation. This is what it takes to bring home the bacon and is way beyond ‘lipstick on the pig’. You can’t pick these up at the cosmetic counter.
These Four Principles are simple and each is intentionally represented by just a single word that very much mirrors the important and real-life values, and how we approach the world as individuals. They can be, and are, used by all of us every day in our interactions with others; when we hold open doors, support worthy causes, apologize unreservedly and sometimes unnecessarily (in the UK and Canada) and (occasionally) smile at strangers. In a customer service environment, you really can’t make people do what they don’t want to do, or at least you can’t do it indefinitely or with everyone.
Any discussion involving principles and natural law will undoubtedly uncover a full complement of ideas and concepts that can apply to almost any eventuality. While we may all have slightly different interpretations of these specific principles, I also believe that there is universal awareness and understanding of their value, their relevance and their importance to the survival and growth of any business.
Let’s look closer at Commitment, the second principle in our customer experience journey.
The Four Principals – 2. Commitment
Getting the culture right is a key cornerstone in the foundations of customer experience, but unless and until there is commitment throughout the company, it won’t have the staying power or game changing influence on the company’s DNA: to ensure that customer experience is a living, breathing organism and not just an empty promise or a marketing slogan. As with culture, senior executive ownership, on an on-going and visibly participatory basis, is a vital element in demonstrating commitment.
This leading UK consumer automotive service brand, and another company whose culture is powered by people, is a great proponent and a positive, real life example of senior management commitment.
In an article that I wrote about their customer experience vision, I highlighted the fact that when call volumes increase on cold winter mornings the whole company gets involved. Almost anyone, from the directors to the rest of the management team, take to the phones to ensure customer’s calls are quickly answered and their problems solved. This not only demonstrates commitment to meeting customer needs, but also clearly shows that ‘everyone is in this together’ and cufflinks are no barrier to rolling sleeves up and getting down and dirty in the trenches.
However, Commitment isn’t the sole responsibility of the top table, and in a truly customer centric organization everyone in the company understands and demonstrates commitment, in a variety of innovative and creative ways. In his book about Ritz Carlton Hotels, The New Gold
Standard, Joseph Michelli tells us about a general manager who endured fourteen interviews to land his role. Four were with the owners of the hotel, but ten were with other front-line staff members who saw that their commitment to quality included having a voice in who joins them as colleagues. This commitment is also visibly and measurably apparent in the fact that any employee has the ability to spend up to $2000 to satisfy a customer need, without referral to a senior manager, or fear of reprisal.
This US based, 40 year old success story, a pioneer in the low-cost airline segment, has long been a poster child for great customer experience and, in particular, employee commitment. For those who haven’t had the experience, the simplest way to explain it is to say that Southwest is the complete antithesis of Ryanair. The last time I flew with them I was pleasantly surprised to see the captain of the aircraft helping with check-in, and other flight crew doing whatever they could to ensure speedy yet civilized boarding and an on-time departure. As they said, “We like to think of ourselves as a Customer Service company that happens to fly airplanes (on schedule, with personality and perks along the way).” This commitment isn’t accidental or occasional. As with Zappos, it is backed up by a published declaration of key commitments that supports their goal to remain a sustainable, profitable airline, and their culture of taking care of their people and the planet, while delivering a consistent and memorable customer experience.
While commitment like culture can’t be mandated, it is vital that the CEO or MD leads the way and lives by the same values as the rest of the company. Four Seasons also provides a powerful and decisive example of the importance of commitment, and its impact throughout the organization. As the company grew and staff numbers increased, Isadore Sharpe recognized the importance of involving all employees in the change process, and in particular allowing them to take responsibility, and in effect self-manage. Some managers resisted this and, as Mr Sharpe believed so passionately in its alignment to the Four Seasons’ culture, he decided that they needed a clear code of values, or a credo that all employees would contribute and sign up to.
As he recounted, reinforcing the credo, based on the Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, was one of the most challenging and difficult things he had to do, especially as it meant parting ways with executives who, by their lack of commitment, contradicted this policy and negatively affected the company’s credibility. He was clearly proven right and said that “Enshrining the Golden Rule as our primary working guide was the most fundamental decision in shaping our future.”
This view is expressed in a similar vein by Stephen Covey who pointedly said “No involvement, no commitment” and goes on “Many organizations have people whose goals are totally different from the goals of the enterprise with reward systems that are completely out of alignment with stated value systems.” Another way to look at this is to see if business leaders are committed to having customer experience metrics that determine how everyone in the organization is measured and paid, as American Express has done.
Jim Bush, President Global Network at American Express, has put this principle into practice very effectively and measurably. His team of customer service people, known as customer care professionals, are part of a measurement system that surveys the customer and gets the feedback for every servicing transaction which is used that measures their performance, complemented by some productivity indicators. Those two measures drive
incentives that are the basis for compensation for the customer care professionals, and indeed all of the management team. This has not only led to increasingly happy customers, but has also contributed handsomely to the bottom line at American Express.
As with culture, commitment may be seen through different lenses and be demonstrated uniquely in each company. However, as the examples show, if it is based on a deeply shared and socialized value system, is aligned to the overall business culture and based on correct principles, then commitment, authenticity and unity will flow through your company like a welcome summer breeze.
Look out for the next issue: Community
About the Author
Gerry Brown aka The Customer Lifeguard, is on a mission to save the world from bad customer service. He helps businesses save customers at risk of defecting and breathes life into their customer service operations and customer experience strategy. Gerry provides straight talking, no-nonsense advice and practical solutions for customer experience adoption and has provided organizational leadership on people development, business transformation, customer engagement and technology enablement for some of the largest companies in the UK, Canada, and EMEA. These include Autoglass, The Royal Albert Hall, O2, Screwfix, Sage, BSkyB, Bell Canada and TELUS. Gerry is a Member of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA), the Global Speakers Federation (GSF), the Customer Experience Professionals Association and a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP). Check out Gerry’s book: When A Customer Wins, Nobody Loses!: A winning formula for building lasting customer relationships.