Whilst the people of your organisation deliver customer service, every part of your organisation, including the physical place and environment, influence the customer experience. In a previous post, I wrote about changing the atmosphere to support customer interactions as well as technology to make interactions work to your advantage; however, there are a number of other parts of your organisation that require the attention of your staff to ensure the customer is receiving the best possible experience. I have saved this as one of the last stages in the DIME™ approach because it is dependent on having employed the right team into the right culture and empowering them to understand the value of exceptional service through their interactions. The following four steps will assist leaders in getting staff to control the physical environment in relation to the customer experience.
1. Develop awareness
Customer service is one of those things that can never be switched off. The mentality of a working week or working hours works against what organisations are trying to achieve with customer service. So many times you hear and read people talking about a ‘work–life balance’, but what we should be trying to achieve is one life that includes both personal time and work time. One of the core skills that customer service professionals need in this matter is awareness, all of the time. The difference between achieving exceptional customer experience could be the moment where a staff member doesn’t think he or she needs to be aware at that moment. Awareness is particularly important when it comes to the physical environment. Because staff who serve customers are continuously around people, the moment there is no physical customer usually signifies time to take the foot off the pedal. It is during these times that staff need to be aware of their physical environment and look for things that detract from the customer experience. This could be something as simple as rubbish or an untidy area, or even a safety hazard because something has broken. As leaders, by setting up a perfect environment (or the illusion of a perfect environment for customers) staff can see what the standard is and by continuously showing them what they can be looking for will ensure that the environment doesn’t fail over time.
2. Encourage ownership
Depending on the size of your organisation, there may be a number of different divisions and departments, all of which are delegated responsibilities. The physical place or environment, however, needs to fall under the responsibility of every staff member in every division, from the Chief Executive Officer (or even better, Chairman of the Board) all the way to contractors and their subcontractors. No matter what position or salary people are on, the physical place of the organisation has to be owned by everyone. The saying is ‘think like a customer, and act like an owner’. This means that everyone in the organisation is responsible for thinking from the customer’s point of view and taking action as if they are solely responsible for the business. For example, if someone from the Accounts Department noticed some incorrect information on the company website they should inform the IT or Marketing Department first – not waiting for a customer to pick up the error. If each person in your organisation found one thing a day that they could do to improve the physical place, just by being there, imagine the difference this would make to the customer experience.
3. Allow change
A great way to emphasise the importance of the environment is by making sure it is different to that of other organisations. In places where everything blends in the same, it is hard to be able to take control and notice things because we tend to compare them to the other similar things out there. I have previously written about the unique point of differentiation, which applies here also. People will give lots of advice about how things should be set up, but ultimately there is never a one-size-fits-all approach, as organisations need to do what is right for their customers and not the status quo. This doesn’t mean to be different, but rather doing the same things in a different way. For this to occur, your staff should continuously look for and identify ways to address improvements to the customer experience and also provide feedback for future scope of modifying the physical and online environment. A fantastic example of this initiative would be the Virgin Australia Premium Entry at Sydney Airport, which allows business class and high-tiered passengers travelling without luggage to step straight out of their cars and proceed through a dedicated check-in and security point, which will land them inside the premium lounge. It is the same physical place, just done differently.
4. Test the experience
As customer-focused professionals, it is easy sometimes to get caught up or be so ‘busy’ with things that, despite our awareness and ownership, result in a significant number of missed opportunities to positively impact and change the customer experience. Ask yourself how often you see your organisation from the customer’s point of view, or, as a customer yourself. By road testing the physical place, through both immersive experience and observation, you can provide feedback on the overall customer experience, which can lead to the identification of specific opportunities to address future improvements. It is important to note that I am not referring to a mystery shopping experience (that will produce answers you most likely already know). The first step is to make this part of the workflow for your staff at various stages of the year. Depending on your product or service, arrange for your staff (during work time) to be a customer, and even bring other friends or family members who would be happy to provide candid feedback. Either give petty cash or reimburse any transactions, but, most importantly, ensure they analyse their experience from their point of view, but also in relation to your common purpose.
Chris Smoje is a customer service speaker, trainer, facilitator and founder of the DIME™ Customer Service approach. Chris works with organisations and their people to develop a common interest and excitement about delivering exceptional customer service results: www.dimecustomerservice.com