It’s time for the annual ritual of Customer Service Week – a five day period each year when business leaders worldwide unite to celebrate a group of employees (and an entire organizational function) that they tend to disregard the other 51 weeks of the year.
That may sound harsh, but it is, unfortunately, an accurate depiction of how many business leaders view the role of customer service. They see it as a cost of doing business. Not a revenue-driver, but an expense. Not a role people aspire to, but a place for entry-level staff. Not a glamorous job, but a mind-numbing one.
Isn’t it curious that there’s no comparable annual celebration for organizational functions such as sales, marketing, or product development? It’s almost as if Customer Service Week was born out of executive guilt, so business leaders could, at least for a moment, acknowledge a function that rarely garners their attention the way other higher-profile, more obvious revenue-driving activities do.
The fact is, if you truly want to demonstrate to your workforce how important customer service is, then you need to consistently telegraph that message for more than just a small fraction of the year. This is why the most important day of Customer Service Week is the day after it ends, because that’s when an organization’s true colors are revealed. That’s when your workforce sees where customer service really fits into your priorities and those of the broader organization.
Companies that deliver a great customer experience outperform their peers by an over 3-to-1 ratio in shareholder return. And given that post-sale customer service is a key part of any company’s customer experience, it’s critical that business leaders show their interest in customer service — and the people who deliver it — on a regular basis. Here are five ways to accomplish that:
1. Make heroes out of service stars.
The “sales recognition conference” is a staple at many firms, used to reward top-performing salespeople with all-expense-paid trips to luxurious destinations. And what do top-performing service people get? Perhaps a token gift card or a cafeteria meal voucher.
If you want to elevate the stature of customer service in your company, be sure to reward and recognize top service performers as handsomely as you would top sales performers.
2. Reach out to service staff who “wow” their customers.
When a customer service employee receives an unsolicited commendation from a customer, what do you do?
If you want to send a compelling message to the workforce, periodically contact employees who elicit such reactions from customers. Send them a handwritten congratulatory note (perhaps affixed to a copy of a customer survey that praised them), or pick up the phone and call them, or stop by their workspace unannounced just to tell them what a great job they did.
While you’ll be reaching out to just one individual at a time, word of your gesture will quickly spread. Other employees will see exactly the type of customer-centric behavior that attracts the attention of organizational leaders — and then they’ll be more apt to model that behavior.
3. Complement internal performance metrics with external ones.
If customer service is truly important to your organization, then be sure to measure its quality. That means complementing common internal measures of performance (such as productivity, timeliness, and schedule adherence) with external ones that actually reveal how the customer is feeling about the service they get (for example, Net Promoter Score).
In addition, make sure that any organizational scorecards (the kind that business heads display at all-employee meetings) incorporate service-oriented metrics, to again underscore the importance of that discipline, putting it on par with things like sales or manufacturing excellence.
4. Hold regular skip-level meetings with frontline service staff.
In many organizations, Customer Service Week is the only time frontline service staff even see a top executive, let alone have a chance to speak with them.
Business leaders send unmistakable signals to the workforce based on where (and with whom) they spend their time. Sitting down with customer service staff – to both recognize their efforts and better understand the challenges they face – should be more than a once-a-year exercise. It should be a routine part of every business leader’s schedule, a time when they can express gratitude to service employees, as well as solicit (and act on) feedback about impediments that hamper the staff’s best efforts to deliver consistently great service.
5. Position customer service as a career path – and pay well for those roles.
If customer service is viewed as an entry-level position, a mere stepping stone to bigger and better things, then any attempt to portray service as a lynchpin of the organization will ring hollow. After all, if you outsource customer service to the lowest bidder, or hire in service people at the lowest possible wage – what message do you think that sends to the workforce?
Businesses that turn customer service into an aspirational role, into a function that offers a robust and rewarding career trajectory – they’re the ones that don’t have to convince employees that service is important.
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Companies like to pat themselves on the back for orchestrating an entire week of celebrations focused on customer service and the employees who deliver it. But here’s the inconvenient truth: Organizations that commemorate customer-centricity one week a year aren’t customer-centric at all.
Sure, go ahead and mark Customer Service Week by celebrating your service teams – highlighting their importance, recognizing their contributions, and encouraging a company-wide customer service ethic.
But perhaps the best measure of a successful Customer Service Week isn’t that it incorporates all of those celebratory elements, but rather, that it blends in with the other 51 weeks of the year. Because when every week in your organization feels like Customer Service Week, then you know you’re onto something.
[A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com.]
Jon Picoult is founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress customers and inspire employees, creating raving fans that drive business growth. Author of “FROM IMPRESSED TO OBSESSED: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Lifelong Fans,” Picoult is an acclaimed public speaker, as well as an advisor to some of world’s foremost brands. Follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram, or subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.