These extraordinary times call for dedicated customer service culture to actively reach out and connect with your customer base. In looking at organisations known for high levels of customer service, a common theme emerges — a culture that supports their excellence. Companies do not simply train their employees in customer service skills; they hire the right people and make sure that customer service is an integral component of operations. Here are some steps to lead in the right direction:
Retain the best
Utilities that expect their employees to provide great service also need to make it a rewarding and fun experience. A service culture creates a better work environment, which engages and motivates employees to improve performance and helps organisations attract and retain superior talent. Utilities that provide exceptional customer service know that they need happy, engaged employees to have satisfied customers; they make sure that even employees who do not directly interact with customers understand how their work ultimately affects customers. Define career development plans for all employees to ensure growth opportunities, increase retention levels and promote more effective succession planning.
Empower your employees
There are numerous ways to satisfy the customer; organisations that exhibit a culture of service give employees the power to do just that. Within the framework that the outcome should be favourable for the customer, not hurt the utility and should enhance the relationship between the organisation and the customer, customer-focused companies allow employees the latitude to find creative solutions. Once employees understand the guidelines and are given the flexibility to make decisions, they are empowered to think for themselves and explore innovative service solutions that typically enhance customer satisfaction. For example, have established policies for customer service representatives (CSR) to use when discussing COVID-19 payment arrangements with customers. Within these guidelines, the CSRs have been given the authority to negotiate terms with each customer that are appropriate for their individual situation.
Communicate service success
To promote the culture of service, organisations need to establish effective customer contact and feedback systems that capture current comments, compliments and complaints. The success of these systems then needs to be communicated. To truly engrain service into the culture, an organisation must talk about customer service and its importance each day. Your organisation should develop ways of recognising employee accomplishments when they deliver exceptional customer service. By celebrating these events, and communicating the accomplishments, utility management reinforces the message that “this is what we value.” With repetition, employees come to understand what is important, and then internalise these values. Examples of excellent customer service should be communicated to both internal and external stakeholders.
Reward and recognise excellent customer service
Behavioural research has shown that you get more of the behaviour you reward. To support the service culture, organisations must recognise and reward specific employees. While monetary incentives are effective, there are various other ways to reward employees. Examples include an article in your organisation’s employee newsletter or intranet, a plaque awarded at a special recognition lunch or a handwritten note from a member of senior management. There are many creative and inexpensive ways to encourage the kinds of behaviour that support a great service culture. Publicly recognising top service performers with praise and awards can also encourage other staff members to enhance skills to become elite service performers. Additionally, when you conduct surveys on customer satisfaction and the quality of service, be sure to provide results to all employees so that everyone knows where they stand and the overall satisfaction level of their customers.
Create and track metrics
There is an old saying “What gets measured, gets done.” For some employees, the fact that something is being measured increases motivation to perform. The act of measuring can engender a sense of competition in employees – including rivalry within oneself to see if a goal can be achieved or even exceeded. When organisations set goals and measure performance against the goals it also provides the ability to hold individuals, groups and an entire organisation accountable for the resulting success or failure. The utility must make the measurement of service quality and feedback from the customer a basic part of all employees’ work experience. This information should be available and understood by the entire organisation. The effort goes beyond measuring call wait time per CSR at the call centre, but also including the customers’ perception of service.
In a time of extraordinary change in the industry, excellent customer service will be a strong indicator of success and longevity. Effective leadership that espouses a customer-centric service culture will be prepared to serve its customers while dealing with the wide range of challenges that remain ahead.