Holly Regan: Richard Branson-Style Tips to Empower Your Customer Service Team

A while ago I had blogged about using the CASE Method to improve your company’s customer experience.  CASE stands for “Copy and Steal Everything”. If you feel uncomfortable with “Steal”, then “Copy and Save Everything”.  I said you should be more intent on observing within and outside of your industry for ideas that you can CASE. Then tweak the idea to make it your own.

I recently read an article in Software Advice’s Customer Service Investigator, which featured a discussion with Communications Coach and Author Carmine Gallo on some strategies for mimicking the customer service efforts of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. While the tactics discussed are agreeably good ideas for promoting a strong customer experience, I wanted to further explore how other organizations could CASE Virgin’s best practices with the article’s author, Software Advice Managing Editor Holly Regan. You can learn more about Software Advice at the end of the post.

What is the risk involved with allowing customer service reps to operate within the “judgment playing field” (make their own decisions within boundaries)? How can other organizations comfortably adopt this tactic?

When you allow employees the freedom to make their own decisions, you open yourself up to the possibility that, occasionally, they will make the wrong ones. However, if you delineate clear boundaries for your judgment playing field ahead of time as to what employees are and aren’t allowed to do, you can ensure that even the occasional wrong decision won’t significantly harm your business. Defining these limits for acceptable behavior and communicating them to all staff members is one way organizations can feel comfortable about adopting this tactic. The other piece of the puzzle is smart hiring. If you have a strict screening process that ensures you only have people on staff who fit with your company culture and values, you can feel comfortable trusting them to make the right decisions.

Are there other benefits associated with instilling the company mission in all staff besides an improved experience for the customer – that is, do you find that employees also have a greater sense of purpose with knowledge of company goals and are willing to work harder?

Yes–instilling your company mission in all members of your staff not only allows them to deliver that mission to customers, it also gives them a higher-level view of what the company is trying to achieve through every customer service interaction. Employees who know what they’re working towards and why tend to work harder and are better able to internalize the mission and become passionate about it. They are empowered to deliver great service, regardless of their level of authority within the company.

Virgin’s employees are proof of this: customers of Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic laud the consistency of their service experience from boarding to baggage claim. The staff member checking them in for their flight portrays the same passion and enthusiasm as the flight attendant serving them in the air, because they’re both working towards the same mission. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is another great example: everyone who goes through training at one of their hotels is immersed in the company mission, from basic etiquette to service psychology, and employees of every department are empowered to do whatever it takes to deliver on that mission. As a result, they are praised as some of the most passionate customer service reps in the world.

Which members of the customer service team should have an open door policy, and how does such a policy satisfy employees?

Anyone in a management position should have an open-door policy, from the shift supervisor to the CEO. Having a forum in which employees can provide feedback – and encouraging them to do so frequently and honestly – is crucial for any service-oriented organization. Management needs to have an accurate picture of what’s working and what’s not on the ground, and who better to provide that than the employees who are directly interacting with customers day-to-day? Your service reps are the best source of feedback on what customers like about your company, and what they need that they aren’t getting.

Having an open-door policy is not only helpful for management – it also shows employees that they have a voice and that their managers genuinely care about their needs, concerns and suggestions. Employees must feel truly valued in order to feel passionate about the company they work for. Managers must also make sure to communicate with employees about how their suggestions for improvement are being implemented or why they decided not to act on them. When employees know they aren’t just giving feedback in a vacuum, they’re more likely to keep providing it. And seeing their ideas put into practice is empowering and inspires them to always be looking for new ways to innovate in customer service interactions.

Customer service reps might find it difficult to “bring their personality” to work, as many are instructed to go off scripts. Should scripting not be so heavily practiced, or should managers encourage employees to simply integrate their own “personal touch?”

As mentioned in the article, customers don’t want to interact with a robot. Service is much more effective when it’s perceived as genuine, and scripting definitely discourages this. Instead of giving reps specific instructions for what to say and how to act, managers should focus on hiring quality employees who exude the company’s culture, mission and values – and who can be trusted to use their own judgment to deliver on that. By clearly defining the judgment playing field, you can ensure your employees don’t get too far off-track while also allowing them to interact naturally with customers, as they would with a friend or colleague. This not only gives reps the freedom to be themselves, it gives customers the benefit of a unique, memorable and genuine interaction that will keep them coming back.
software_advice_logo_v2Software Advice is a free online resource that reviews CRM, marketing automation and sales force automation software. Follow them at @CRMAdvice.

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Filed under Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, Training

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