5 Ways to Empower Employees to Exceed Customer Expectations
Creating great customer experiences — what leaders like Disney, Zappos and Nordstrom do on a consistent basis — is one of the few areas left for companies to differentiate and generate good margins. Making it happen, however, is easier said than done; fundamentally, it is a people issue. How do you get employees to go beyond the call of duty to regularly exceed customer expectations? By empowering them to develop emotional connections with each customer.
A great client experience can happen wherever an organization interacts with a customer. And, it is not limited to face-to-face interactions or front-line staff. Zappos, an online retailer, provides great experiences through call centers and online dealings. A great customer experience is hard to pin down because the definition of "great" and "experience" are tough to define.
"Clients see good service as table stakes," says Kathy Kenny, assistant vice-president of product management information delivery at investment-servicing company CIBC Mellon. "They expect us to consistently go above and beyond, anticipate their needs and turn every request into a value-added interaction."
In general, a wonderful experience has many elements including proactively solving a customer’s problem, delivering unique value and exceeding their expectations.
Here’s an example. A modestly sized client of a private bank was on vacation during a massive rainstorm that had pummeled the city. On his own accord, a representative of the bank did a drive-by of the house and found a large tree was poised to fall on it. The bank employee, on his own, engaged a tree service to fix the problem, informing the client after he returned home. The employee didn’t consult a script or seek advice from a manager. He went the extra mile because it came naturally to him and that was the organizational expectation. The bank’s management believes creating these kinds of experiences — and not financial returns — is the key reason why it enjoys virtually 100% client retention even with above-average management fees.
The difference between a successful transaction and a great experience is the presence of an emotional connection — a happy, content and trusting feeling — between the parties. These connections should occur across the entire customer journey — not just at selected touch points. Research, cited in the Harvard Business Review, found emotionally engaged customers are typically three times more likely to recommend a product and to remain brand loyal (though this is debatable). How do you develop customer-pleasing staff?
Hire for attitude
Emotionally engaging and passionate workers do not materialize out of thin air; they emerge through a strong recruiting process that provides a regular stream of suitable employees. Experiential leaders like Apple and Southwest Airlines use psychological testing and group interviews to see how people treat each other and communicate.
Set lofty expectations, and reinforce them
Management should set high expectations for how they want their customers treated. However, employees won’t take care of customers if they are not trusted, treated with respect or listened to through formal and informal mechanisms. Importantly, management also needs to regularly and visibly reinforce these expectations and positive behaviors.
Encourage emotional connectedness
Despite advances in technology, engaging customers and solving their problems is still largely undertaken through personal contact. Emotion is the grease that more easily facilitates this interaction. Staff members have many ways to introduce emotion including taking ownership of issues (rather than blaming others), displaying empathy, being proactive and always exhibiting good interpersonal habits (e.g., shaking hands, keeping eye contact, and being active listeners). Organizations should also look to incorporate tenets of behavioural psychology in their service models.
Get out of the way
When people have clear expectations and are trusted to do their jobs, they feel valued and empowered. As a result, they are more likely to connect emotionally with the customer. Rules and metrics are helpful but can be detrimental, especially if they stifle creativity and skew behavior.
Capture and share best practices
Great experiences often arise from creative problem solving at the front lines. These learnings should be captured and shared to improve overall corporate performance.
Of course, motivated employees need supporting technology and operational systems to fulfill their promise. In some cases, companies may need to redesign their service models. However, these can only go so far in delighting customers and producing an experiential advantage. However, firms need to empower motivated front-line staff so they can emotionally connect with customers at every touch point to achieve this end.
Mitchell Osak is managing director of Quanta Consulting Inc. Quanta has delivered a variety of strategy and organizational transformation consulting and educational solutions to global Fortune 1,000 organizations. Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com