Creating A Positive Work Culture
By Elizabeth P. Cipolla
Recently, I taught a communication course as an adjunct instructor. In an effort to help create greater learning, I would often encourage students to discuss how the material directly applied to their lives outside of the classroom. Periodically, my students would share stories from their work life and seek my assistance in knowing how to apply the communication material to their specific situation. There was one student in particular who was always so positive, hard-working, creative and encouraging towards others. However, whenever she talked about her work scenarios, she would begin to show a hopeless and frustrated side that was completely out of character. It shocked me to see how anxious and withdrawn she’d become whenever we’d discuss workplace communication scenarios. This student works in a retail customer service field where she interfaces with the public. I imagine she doesn’t always feel energized to show her true positive self that I see in the classroom. It saddens me to think of how condescending and deflating the communication culture seems to be in workplaces like that of my student. How might this translate to the bottom line for such businesses trying to earn a profit?
The holiday shopping season has just come to an end, and like many of you, I fought through busy aisles and waited in long lines to find the perfect gifts for my loved ones. Based upon the examples shared by my students, I looked around closely to observe the interactions taking place between store managers and their employees. I couldn’t believe the amount of communication mishaps happening all around which sometimes created an awkward or frustrating customer service experience for me. The result? I wanted to avoid those stores and take my business elsewhere.
As a busy professional juggling many roles including spouse, parent and business leader, my time is precious to me. Whether it’s dining at a restaurant, shopping in a store, getting my vehicle serviced, or waiting for a bank transaction, every customer service experience has one of two impacts on my day: it makes my life easier or leaves me feeling frustrated. Regardless of how new your employee may be, how understaffed you are, or if you are busier than you had planned, my experience boils down to how you’ve impacted me during our transaction. Stated differently, my experience boils down directly to the communication culture created by management.
The way you act as a business leader behind the scenes impacts who comes through your door and who stays. This directly correlates to business stability and growth. For any business, customer service can “make or break” its sustainability. The good news is that your customers’ service experience is completely controllable by you. How do I know? It’s simple. Customer service begins at the top, with a service-focused culture that trickles into every nook and cranny of your business. If you want to develop a superior customer service culture that fosters success and longevity for your business, it needs to start with you.
ARE YOU SETTING A POSITIVE STANDARD?
The way your employees’ are treating your customers is a direct reflection of how they feel they’re being treated within your organization. As a leader, are you setting the service standards high for your levels of internal customer service? Do you lead by example to foster an environment that is respectful of their time, recognizes them as individuals, and values their contributions? Just as your customers are the bread and butter of your operation, so too are your employees who are an invaluable commodity.
DO YOU EMPOWER YOUR PEOPLE?
Since it is impossible for you to be everywhere at once, your employees need to be empowered to make important decisions. This begins with training to give them the tools they need to do their job well. It also involves taking the time to communicate what is set in stone, and what is negotiable when it comes to accommodating customers. Once you’ve given them the tools they need to succeed, it continues with your faith in their abilities and support of their efforts. If you are truly confident in your people, their self-confidence in working through tricky customer service situations will increase. Otherwise, their fear of making a mistake and desire to avoid making a decision without being told what to do by you will trump their ability to immediately address a customer’s issue.
DO YOU MAKE YOUR EMPLOYEE’S FEEL MORE THAN A NUMBER?
As a business leader, you know your customers will be more likely to become loyal repeat customers if you make them feel like more than a number. Ensuring your customers feel valued by everyone they encounter is critical to making this possible. Did you ever stop to consider that this process begins at the top of your organizational chart and doesn’t stop until it reaches every employee in your company? Your employees will give out to the customers what they are getting from you. How are you showing your employees’ they are more than a number?
DO YOU FOCUS ON WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Customers are drawn to doing business with companies who are focused on finding solutions. Their praise and repeat business will reward your efforts of accepting the challenge to find a way to tirelessly work through their issue. Your “can do” attitude will delight them because it is so rare to find a company who is willing to put forth extra effort for a problem that doesn’t fit neatly into what they’ve come to expect. How are you leading your operation to be focused on solutions rather than finding someone to blame? Do you welcome the challenge of responding to your employees’ concerns; even the difficult ones? Or, do you turn a blind eye in hopes of avoiding an uncomfortable situation?
Creating a customer service focused culture is possible if you are committed to being an involved leader who sets — and lives by — high service standards throughout every aspect of your business.
Elizabeth P. Cipolla SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a leadership communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 20 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, aerospace, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.