7 things leaders should harness to improve customer service

15th Apr 2016

To succeed in business, you have to be able to forge great relationships – with both customers and colleagues. 

Business leaders arguably have the greatest responsibility in this regard. Not only do they need to forge effective relationships with their senior teams, board of directors, managers, employees, partners and collaborators, but they also need to create an environment in which these relationships align to deliver brilliant customer service.

In its Leading by example report, the Institute of Customer Service has identified a number of key elements that can help companies thrive in ‘the relationship economy’. Focusing on these areas will help today’s business leaders embed a ‘customer service culture’ within their organisation. Here are seven: 

1. Lead by example 

It’s no secret that honesty, trustworthiness, leading by example and fairness are all essential qualities. However, according to the Institute’s research, less than a third of employees rate their chief executives and boards of directors highly in these areas. In the relationship economy, these values have a renewed importance, so it is crucial to ensure you are demonstrating them. 

2. Commit to a strategy

A long-term focus on customer service needs to be at the heart of organisations’ strategies. Our research shows that 46% of employees think their organisation’s customer service strategy changes too often, while only 41% believe customer service is valued by the whole organisation. Selecting partners with concurrent values and developing long-term relationships can help companies maintain a consistent commitment to service.

3. Get boardroom backing

Boardrooms need relevant customer service skills and experience, and they should adopt a language that positions service in relation to business performance, risk and reputation. Organisations should signal their strategic commitment to customer service by publishing a consistent set of customer service metrics in annual reports. If customer service is at the heart of organisational strategy, it needs to become a formal aspect of corporate governance, too.

4. Create a dialogue

In the relationship economy, employee engagement, customer service and business performance are all intrinsically linked. Our research identifies five key ingredients of employee engagement. These include: emotional intelligence; consistent behaviour; creating a genuine dialogue with employees; setting boundaries; and sustaining a long-term focus.

5. Recruit the right people

Line managers of frontline customer service staff have a crucial influence on service culture. However, the combination of rising customer expectations and the changing and diverse nature of the workforce have made line management more challenging. It requires higher levels of skills and the ability to handle different situations and personalities. As a result, leaders need to ensure that their recruitment, training and development programmes help them find (and hold on to) the right people.

6. Listen to your inner customer

Customer insight allows leaders to stay attuned to changing customer needs and expectations. Leaders should be active consumers, constantly seeking out innovative best practice. They should regularly test their own organisation’s customer experience, get involved personally in resolving complaints and learn to be effective listeners, interpreting customers’ unarticulated and latent needs.

7. Innovate

One of the most important requirements of leadership is creating a culture that encourages employees to generate ideas that improve the customer experience. This presents an ongoing challenge for businesses. Leaders need to continually assess the impact that disruptive technologies could have on their organisations, and recognise which they should tap into.

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