Creating An U.B.E.R. Customer Service Culture

Tags: culture

Andy Hanselman

I wrote about ‘customer delight’ in my last article on CCW Digital and it was all about ‘exceeding customer expectations’. I finished with a comment that a key challenge for any call centre was that expectations become raised as you exceed them, and you have to ‘deliver’ consistently. Here’s a great story of a UK business call centre that does seem to do that…. It’s First Direct.


A client of mine left her office in Leeds to go to an HR Directors Conference in London for a couple of days, and having arrived at Kings Cross station, left her train and got in her taxi to go to her hotel. It was then that she discovered that she had lost her purse (or it had been stolen). She ran back to her train, but found nothing. Luckily, she had enough cash in her pocket to get to the hotel, and even luckier the company had prepaid the hotel. Safely in her room, she quickly got on the phone to the various bank call centres to cancel all her cards. It was the usual laborious process of numbers, passwords, ‘press this for that’ and ‘press that for this’, ‘automated processes, and often ‘automated people.’


She then called First Direct, and told them what had happened. ‘Oh Gosh, how are you feeling? Are you OK?’ came the reply, which was a nice start. She explained her situation and the card cancellation process got underway – done very personally throughout. At the end of the process, the First Direct lady then asked ‘What are you going to do for money in the next couple of days if you have no purse or cards?’

‘I’m not really sure, I’ve not thought that far ahead’ she explained. ’Well, would you like for me to arrange £200 to be waiting for you at a nearby HSBC branch? I’ve had a look on Google maps and worked out where the nearest branch to your hotel is – If you tell me what you’ll be wearing tomorrow morning, I’ll get them to look out for you and you can collect your money!’


I’m sure there isn’t a rule book at First Direct that says ‘in the event of a client losing their card and being stuck in a hotel with no money, please follow this procedure…..’. First Direct have taken a ‘Dramatically and Demonstrably Different’ approach to providing outstanding customer experiences, and have created a customer focused culture that encourages and ‘empowers’ their people to ‘delight’ their customers.  No wonder they are the UK’s ‘most recommended’ bank!


 ‘Culture’ is often seen as the ‘soft’ side of business. My experience suggests it’s actually the hardest! Why? Because it deals with attitudes and behaviours which all somehow seem a bit vague, and can be hard to manage. It’s much easier to talk call response times, conversion ratios, sales targets, margins and NPS scores - they’re ‘real’ and they’re ‘tangible’!


The reality is that your culture is very tangible too. Your customers experience your ‘culture’ by simply talking to and interacting with your employees, whether it’s by email, on the telephone or face to face.

So, what exactly is ‘culture’? Well my very simple definition is ‘The way we do things around here’ and that means positively or negatively, deliberately or accidentally, consciously or unconsciously!  Another definition of culture I love is from Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines and he says culture is ‘What people do when no-one is looking!’ In ‘3D’ Businesses like First Direct, this does not just happen by chance!


My research suggests that their leaders work hard to create an UBER Culture where...

  • Everyone Understands what’s expected of them and behaves accordingly and consistently as a result
  • Systems and processes are Built to create consistently great customer experiences and reinforce that culture
  • People are Engaged, Empowered and Enabled to deliver them
  • People are Rewarded and Recognised for doing so!

How do they do it? Well, it obviously varies from business to business, but here are 10 things to consider for your call centre.


3D Businesses...

 1) Establish The Culture They Want…

They work hard at creating and establishing the culture they want and need and they spell out ‘The way we want to do things around here’ in a meaningful way… to the staff, not some ‘PR hype’ on the website.

 2) Create Understanding Of Where They Are Now...

3D Businesses ensure that everyone understands what’s expected of them when it comes to ‘the way we do things around here.’  They also ensure that they develop a clear understanding of their current culture... the good, the bad and the ugly. Not what the Directors say, or HR, but it’s what their people say it is, and it’s what their customers say it is! Why not get your people to ‘Describe our culture in just a few words’ (do it ‘anonymously,’ I dare you!)

3) Value Their Values…

They create and live a set of values that shape and reinforce their behaviours. Not lots of nice ‘motivational posters’ on the wall and the website but clear statements of what’s expected. There’s ownership of these values at every level and they are used to support and reinforce decisions and ‘day to day’ activities.

 4) Make It Tangible…

They clearly and consistently spell out their ‘core values’ – and establish ‘preferred behaviours’ that reinforce those values. This means agreeing specific guidelines of what’s expected from everyone in their role. Online shoe and clothes retailer, Zappos tell their call centre people to “stay on the line as long as it takes”. They also ensure that people can be (and are) ‘measured’ against these preferred behaviours and ‘live them day to day’. This starts at the top and the leaders live (and are seen to be living) these ‘preferred behaviours’ in everything they do.

5) Build Systems And Processes…

They establish systems and processes that help shape and reinforce their culture.  From HR systems and processes that ensure they recruit people that ‘fit’ and enhance the culture, induction processes, communication processes and messages, to reward and recognition systems they ensure that they positively (and consistently) reinforce the ‘preferred behaviours’ they want.  Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos says We interview people for culture fit. We want people who are passionate about what Zappos is about–service. I don’t care if they’re passionate about shoes.”

Part of their recruitment and induction process actually offers ‘new recruits’ $3,000 to ‘walk away’ during the four week induction process! They want people totally ‘committed’ to what they are trying to achieve and are prepared to ‘pay’ them not to join!

 6) Engage…

They ensure that everyone in the business ‘buys in’ to the culture they want and has ‘ownership’ of it. Whether it’s getting them involved in helping spell out and shape those ‘preferred behaviours’, helping them spot and encourage colleagues and co-workers that are living them, they ‘keep it alive’ through ongoing communication and keeping it on the agenda of everything they do.

 7) Empower…

They provide their people with guidelines and permissions to ‘make things happen’. Whether it’s the client of ours’ receptionist who knows how her visitors take their tea and coffee through to Timpsons who allow their people to spend up to £500 to solve a customer’s problem without talking to a boss, it’s about empowering people to ‘deliver’. Ritz-Carlton Hotels have a worldwide reputation for amazing customer service and their staff are allowed to spend up to $2000 without having to get permission to create an outstanding experience.... and they are actively encouraged to do that! Now THAT’S empowerment!

8) Enable…

‘Empowerment’ is one thing, but it has to be supported. 3D Businesses ensure their people can ‘deliver’ by giving them the appropriate training, knowledge and ongoing support to do this.

 9) Champion Their Champions…

They reward and recognise those that live and demonstrate the behaviours they want. The problem in many businesses that the ‘reward’ for doing great work is you get to do more! What do you ‘reward’ and ‘recognise’ in your business? Marks & Spencer allow their customers to decide what ‘rewards’ a helpful call centre team member should receive for great customer service.  A client of ours, Toni ordered some goods from the Marks & Spencer website, but unfortunately the wrong goods arrived. She contacted them by email to ‘complain’ and they sorted it quickly, efficiently and in a friendly manner, which was good. Toni then received an email asking her to rate the way her complaint was handled, which was nice…. Even better it was ‘personalised’ with the details of the person who she had dealt with, Sarah.

When Toni rated her as ‘Excellent’, she then got a reply that said …

“If you think we should recognise Jo for great service with a ‘cup o’ joe’, some lunch or a gift card, then please let us know”…..  All she had to do was to ‘tick the box’ to let them know what she thought Sarah should receive as her ‘reward’.

Now, THAT  is Dramatically and Demonstrably Different! (Interestingly, Toni also ‘checked’ what happened if she clicked ‘poor’ and no, it didn’t suggest what ‘punishment’ Sarah should get, but asked for feedback on how the experience could be improved)  

10) Challenge Their Challengers…

They challenge those that don’t! They do it in a ‘constructive’ manner and often create a culture that encourages ‘peer pressure’ to make this happen – it’s not just seen as a ‘management thing’.


So, how UBER is your culture?


  • Does everyone Understand what’s expected of them and behave accordingly and consistently as a result?
  • Are your systems and processes Built to reinforce your ‘preferred behaviours’?
  • Are all your people Engaged, Empowered and Enabled to act in line with them?
  • Are they Rewarded and Recognised for doing so?

Please don’t limit asking these questions just to senior executives or the HR team, but ask your people! THEY have the real picture of what your culture really is!