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Creating and Leading a Customer Service Culture

80% of companies say they deliver “superior” customer service, but only 8% of customers think these same companies deliver “superior” customer service. This startling fact from Bain and Company reveals that the service delivery gap is real—that often our organizations aren’t in tune with the customer experience or deliberately working to create a culture of customer service excellence. Companies who place an emphasis on developing their service culture report more satisfied customers, greater employee engagement and retention, and higher profits. Creating a customer service culture doesn’t happen overnight, but these tips will get you started.

Tip One: Make sure all employees can identify the product or service they provide and who they serve.

We must know what we offer and to whom we offer it. Some people might say, “I don’t have customers.” This is not true—no matter the industry or role, every employee has customers. Don’t forget about internal customer service, which greatly affects the external service we provide. If we don’t serve our internal customers well or don’t promote an environment of service, we probably won’t serve our primary customers very well. It’s also helpful if employees consider how their jobs make a difference to customers. If you lead a team, help your employees see the impact they make every day.

Tip Two: Understand your customers’ needs and expectations and understand what you can and can’t do in your role.

If we want to exceed our customers’ expectations, we better know what they expect! This can be challenging, since customers’ expectations vary—some customers expect a basic product or service while others expect consistent above and beyond service. When in doubt, ask your customers what they want, need, and expect. It’s not unusual that some customers may have high expectations that you can’t meet. In that case, communicate consistently, be honest, and don’t overpromise and underdeliver. It’s also important to understand what you can and can’t do in your role. Do you feel like you have the power to make things right for the customer? If you lead a team, set expectations for service and make sure your employees know when they can and can’t make decisions.

Tip Three: Go beyond in every moment and especially when things go wrong.

What does going beyond look like—what are the skills it takes to exceed customer expectations? In an age of distraction, it’s crucial that customer service providers develop their listening skills. When we listen well, our customers feel heard and cared for. Good listening reduces miscommunication and deescalates emotion. Whether you’re communicating with your customers in person or virtually, it’s also important to be responsive, demonstrate a positive attitude, and display empathy. Use these skills consistently—each interaction we have with a customer is an opportunity to “make it or break it.” When things do go wrong, our response must be timely, sincere, and personal. Take responsibility for the mistake and apologize, without assessing blame. If you lead a team, this starts with you! Model the behavior you want to see and own up when you fall short. Take time to reward and recognize employees who go above and beyond.

Tip Four: Assure satisfaction.

The best way to know if your customers are satisfied is to ask. Find ways to get real feedback from your customers, whether it’s through surveys, interviews, polls, or social media posts. We must consistently evaluate our customers’ satisfaction to improve. Also, think about what you measure. Do you have the right metrics in place? For example, you could review service level, customer retention, or response time. Consider what is important to your organization and evaluate your service providers accordingly. If you lead a team, observe your employees in action and provide feedback consistently. Seek out customer feedback—make calls, send surveys, or do whatever it takes to assure that your team is meeting your customers’ expectations.

 on’t let your organization fall victim to the service delivery gap. Step into your customers’ shoes to see your service the way your customers see it. Work to develop a culture of customer service excellence within your organization, which starts with making sure that all employees know their product or service and customers. Spend time understanding your customers’ expectations and consistently exceed them. Finally, make sure your customers are satisfied. When everyone is focused on creating a service culture, you’ll find happier employees, delighted customers, and bottom line results.

Libby Ehrig is a Facilitator at ATW Training Solutions.  She can be reached at

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