In this #SmallBizCX19 session, Jeff Toister talks about how companies can get employees to care about customers and keep a laser-like focus on customers even after business expansion and growth
Well, hi everyone. We are here with Jeff Toister. A little bit about Jeff before we start. He's the best selling author, and he's written three books on customer service including the "Service Culture Handbook", which we're gonna talk a little bit about today. He has been named in the Top 50 Customer Service Blogs on the planet. He's also recognized as a Top Customer Service Thought Leader by ICMI Global Gurus and Com100, and thousands of people from all over the world subscribe to his "Service Tip of the Week" email, which is pretty awesome. You should sign up for that if you haven't already. Also, he's known for some training videos that he has created and you can find those on LinkedIn and LinkedIn learning, his sessions are on there. You should look for those, those are really good too.
So, I'm gonna start with my first question. Jeff, many businesses face a challenge when it comes to getting employees to genuinely care about their customers, and why do you think it's so hard to get employees to care about customers? Why do you think people struggle with that?
I'm gonna share something I think it's a little counterintuitive. I think that employees really do care. They care more than we think. They don't care like a business owner would care and so sometimes that's misinterpreted as not caring. If I own a small business, I care a lot, It's my identity, but employees still care. However, they face a lot of challenges that really diminished their motivation. And, you know, examples of that would be a business owner or leadership doesn't really share, you know, what the vision is, what great service should look like? They assume because they see it, everyone else should know it. Employees don't have the resources that they need to provide great service. They feel like they're stretched thin or under-appreciated, and all of those diminish motivation. So, I think that the challenge is really-- it's not that they don't care. If you hire the right person, they're going to care. But we need to make it easy for them to continue caring and make it easy for them to understand what service, what good service should look like.
Right, that makes sense. So, how do you think that we can get them to care? That's like a side note. Do you think it has to do with maybe getting them to take like pride in their work and giving them feedback or--?
It does. Well, so we were, just before we started the live portion interview, you and I were talking about college football, alright? And how fun college football is. And think of a football team or baseball team or any kind of sports team, and ask yourself, "Are they motivated because they're winning? Or are they winning because they're motivated?" And I think that same question applies to employees in a customer service environment? Do they provide better customer service because they're motivated? Or do they get motivated when they're able to provide better customer service? The answer is probably a little bit of both, right?
If we can make it really clear what the objective is and what great service should look like, and we make it really easy for employees to deliver that, people feel pumped up. I've talked to thousands and thousands of customer service professionals, they want to help. They deeply care about doing a great job. What frustrates them is when they feel like they can't help and then after a while, there's something called learned helplessness where I feel like it doesn't matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I'm not gonna create a good result, so I'm just going to stop trying. And that's I think when, you know, from a business owner say, "Well, this employee doesn't care," it may not be that they don't care. It's that they're so demotivated from trying that they're not gonna try anymore.
Right. That makes sense. So, in your book, you talk a lot about the three steps to getting employees obsessed with customer service, the three steps that it takes. What are those three steps, if you could sum them up for our audience?
And this ties in really nicely to this whole idea of how do we get employees to care? So, the very first step, step one, is we need a vision, and a vision is simply a shared definition of outstanding service or an outstanding experience that gets everyone on the same page. So, if I'm a business leader or business owner, I can't assume that my employees will understand service the same way I do. So I need to articulate that in a way that everybody is on the same page and gets it.
The second step is to engage employees and employee engagement is a big topic. I had a conversation just today with a leader and ask the question, "What does employee engagement mean to you?" And if you think about it, a lot of people go, "Well, I don't know." Or, "Well, our vendor does a survey." Or, "Well, it means something but we don't all agree on what it means. So this is what I think it means." An engaged employee understands the vision, so they know what makes the organization successful, they're committed to helping achieve it. So, if they know, "This is what we're trying to do, and here's how I can contribute," then that employees by definition engage. So we need to make it very clear that they understand the vision and know-how they contribute. So that's the second step.
The third step and this one is critical, we need alignment. In other words, we need to make sure that everything we're doing is aligned with that vision, so it's easy for employees to provide outstanding service. I'll give you a couple of examples. I talked to a customer service professional, and she said to me that she was very frustrated, because she was given, in her words, "Six minutes to solve a customer's problem." In other words, a customer call in, she had six minutes to get that call done. And she said, "You know, sometimes, in fact often, that's not enough time to make them feel better. I just have to tell them what to do." And so the idea of great service is in direct conflict or misalignment with the idea that we have to get it done in six minutes. And this is counterintuitive, but I've done my own research and work with other contact centers. When they've taken that, you know, handled time away, for example, and said, "Just focus on getting the customer's needs met," the call doesn't get any longer. In fact, sometimes it even shortens, which is very counterintuitive, but the service quality goes up. So, that would be an example of misalignment. I'll give you another example and this is from my own experience as a customer service leader in a small business. We sold, the company I work for a sold collectible. So the people we were talking to really wanted to find details about the items we were selling.
Yet, we were paying bottom barrel salary, you know, the low end of the salary scale. So, we had no hope of attracting the best and the brightest employees, they can easily get paid more to do the same job somewhere else.
You know, if I want someone who's super detailed and super focused, and super into the product, you know, I'm paying as low as I could possibly pay. There's no way, I mean, that's an alignment conflict, right? There's no-- I'm gonna have to raise the salary to attract better quality people if I want to provide that type of service. So alignment, there's critical.
Definitely, that definitely makes sense. It has to match up. You got what you pay for, I guess that's for let us to do?
Definitely, I do. And again counterintuitive, I worked with another small business, and they had the same problem. And the owner of this business was paying his employees too low yet, they weren't providing a level service he wanted. And so I showed him where his starting salary was, where starting wage was on the salary scale how bad it was. And I said, "Let's just increase that a little bit, doesn't even have to be top the line, just a little bit." As soon as he did that, he was able to attract a new employee that was at a far different caliber than ever before. And the cool thing about this business is a lot of their customer service inquiries had the opportunity to turn them into sales. And with this new employee, she was able to increase sales from customer service inquiries at such a level that it far in a way paid for the salary increase, and then some so even exceeded the owner's expectations. But it was counterintuitive. If I spend more on a better employee, I'm actually gonna make more money versus saving money, that's counterintuitive, but often that's what happens.
Yeah, I can definitely see that that definitely makes sense. So, as a trainer, what is typically the biggest challenge you see businesses face when you're trying to implement these three steps that we just talked about? And how do they typically overcome that challenge?
I think the biggest challenge is commitment. And I'll give you an example of what that looks like for most businesses versus the few that really succeed. There is a really nice lake near my house, and this lake has this path around it, a lane in each direction for running, jogging, walking, bicycling, et cetera. And every January that path is absolutely choked with people. Why? Because it's the new year, and this new year and finally you're gonna go out and do it. I've got my new running shoes, my new outfit, and it's great. So that's I think a metaphor for businesses that are trying to become customer-focused, when we hold a training class or a pep are high really, "Yeah," you know, we hire a speaker like me or somebody. But here's the difference between the many and the few. Come February, most of those people, 90% of those people are gone. Like up, they stopped, it was too much work. It wasn't that they didn't know what to do, it was that doing it relentlessly every day was hard.
A lot of effort.
And that's what separates I think, the businesses that do it well from businesses that don't. I hear from a lot of organizations and they'll say, "You know, I've got a staff of 15 people and I want to do, you know, half-day of training." "Great. Then what? What do you do after that half day because that's one event." What happens afterwards, a month later, two months later, six months later? If you're not still relentlessly focusing on service and experience six months later and reinforcing those same messages, then it's going to fade. In fact, most leaders have told me, "If I send my people to one class, I might get a week or two of improved performance," like the people at the lake that I see, "But then we quickly go back to our bad habits." So it's the commitment more than anything else that really separates the few from the many.
Right. That makes sense. It's hard to do that, I'm sure, but it pays off in the end. So, in your experience, what kind of impact is getting your employees obsessed with customer service have on the customer experience?
So, I think we'd all like to say in a way it's self-evident, right? Better experience equals better loyalty, equals better profits. You know, I could think of an example. There's a plumbing company that I've used in town. I'm in San Diego and so this company's called Ideal Plumbing, and actually, Ideal Plumbing Heating Air and Electrical, so they provide a number of services. We wouldn't think of as a Plumbing Companies, is kind of the star of service, but they really do. And so I can speak to the lens of that example, not only do they provide great service, but it's consistent. So, you know, they provide a lot of different services and it doesn't matter who's come out to my house, whether it's an electrician, a plumber, an HVAC specialist, they've always been polite, friendly, they do great work. They also look for other opportunities to serve. So that's a very consistent thing. And so what happens when you get that consistently excellent service, the next time something goes wrong, I don't shop around for an electrician or get three bids or, you know, fine, you know, a recommendation for it. I just call this company. That's all I do because I know they're gonna take care of me. And so when you're able to provide that consistent level of experience to your customers, that builds habits, that builds loyalty, and I think businesses gain a few very tangible benefits. They certainly gain, you know, the repeat business, which is what we want and we should be tracking.
The second thing that they gain though is they gain more incremental revenue. In other words, I'm a loyal plumbing customer, that's how I started out. But because of the great plumbing service, I felt more confident using their electricians or their age fact specialist. They also do remodeling, so I've done several remodeling projects with them, more revenue.
And the third thing is when you provide consistently excellent service, you spend a lot less money solving problems, so your servicing costs go way down. And so all of those things end up benefiting the business and they come from creating this consistently excellent experience.
Awesome. That's awesome. That was a good answer. So, if a business is successful in getting their employees obsessed with customer service, like using the steps you just talked about, and they reach that point, it'll most likely grow, they'll most likely grow and gain a larger following or have more loyal customers that want to stick around and use them again. How can a business maintain a customer focus as they grow once they start to experience that growth?
I hear about that challenge a lot that growth makes it really difficult. Hey, if I have five people, we can talk to each other, monitor each other, but now it's 50 or even 500. What do you do? It comes back to that commitment and that relentless focus and making sure that you're never too big to focus on the basics of what makes your organization uniquely successful. So, a few examples of what that looks like. I was talking to a company just today where, you know, they've gone through a lot of growth from a very tiny organization to a much bigger one. Yet, the CEO still has on a monthly basis, either the CEO or another Senior Executive will get in front of the entire company. It's so big now they have to have multiple sessions. But they'll get in front of the entire company, and they'll talk about culture, and they'll talk about service. You know, I know another company that I worked with, were the same thing is that the CEO, they do quarterly town halls, the CEO will talk about culture every town hall, but you'll also talk about culture in every executive meeting, in every one on one with employees, even at lunch. When he just casually having lunch with employees, he'll talk about culture. And I know this not only from working with this organization, but I was originally hired to do some training. And the first thing that I was told is, "You need to talk about our culture in your training." So every single thing that they do is an opportunity to reinforce the culture, and as your organization grows, you have to do that if you want to keep everybody on the same page. You point out it's not easy, but you have to be very deliberate about making sure your culture is something that's frequently repeated.
Awesome. That was a good answer as well, I wouldn't have thought of that myself to keep focused on the culture, but that makes sense when you think about it.
The tough part about that, though, is that you know, if you keep repeating the same message, the people will stop listening to it. So you have to talk about culture but find different and unique ways to address it or bring it up so that you don't say the same thing every time because then people, you know, they won't hear it. So, then that's not easy.
Right. No, that makes sense, though, so they don't lose interest. So, you've included your Service Culture Toolkit as a resource for us to hand out to the audience, which we're gonna be doing a follow-up email on Monday. So all the people that have logged on today and signed in and we're gonna send them resources that the speakers provided us with. But in that toolkit, if there's one key takeaway that a reader leaves with after reviewing your toolkit, what would you want that takeaway to be? And I know that's a compliment to your actual "Service Culture Handbook" book, which I actually have here, so I recommend getting this.
Oh, thank you. I appreciate that. [laughs]
Really good book. It's a really good book. So, if they could take one key takeaway from those two things, what do you think that you would want that to be?
You know, I actually addressed this in the book. I have a friend who's a baker and something that she shared with me is that even the smallest detail can change the result. So, for example, I'm a very good friend of hers, and that I'm willing to test her creations and let her know if they're good or not. Anytime she bakes something, I'm there for her because I'm a giver. But one of the things, for example, that I've learned is that if she's making cookies, and she uses butter that's cold from the refrigerator, or she uses butter that she's allowed to warm up to room temperature, that's a very tiny difference but I can taste the difference in those cookies. I think service culture is the same way. When I hear from customer service and customer experience leaders, business leaders, there's often this impatience where I want to jump around and pick and choose which solutions I implement, and which solutions I don't. And I can tell you from talking to hundreds and probably thousands of service leaders and business owners, that approach simply doesn't work. You don't get the same results when you pick and choose. So the advice I would give the toolkit is actually arranged in chronological order from step one, step two, et cetara. Follow each step, follow it precisely, and when you do that, you're gonna get the result you're looking for. If you deviate then you're going to get something different and it may not be that service culture that you're trying to achieve.
Right, that makes sense. As a side note, I have to ask which one tastes better? The room temperature butter or the cold butter?
Oh, clearly warming up to room temperature, that extra level of care and attention, you taste more of the butter when that happens. It's a small detail, but it's really important.
can't believe that that's interesting. Just I was listening to that part and I had it now. Now I know for when I made cookies at home, I know what to do.
That's the secret. [laughs]
That's awesome. We learned a little bit about baking, we learned a little bit about customer experience and customer service. Look at all the awesome stuff we're learning. [laughs] So, right now we're gonna open up if anybody has questions, we're gonna answer those, but if not, I do also have some additional questions that I'm going to ask if we don't have any. Do we have anything at all yet? Okay. I just have a couple more for you.
That's all right. Of all the companies you've helped create a customer-focused culture and helped with employee training, do you have a favorite success story, or like a success story that stands out in your mind?
Which kid is your favorite, right? [laughs]
Yeah. [chuckles] I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but maybe you could just talk about one of your favorites.
Well, so my Plumber Ideal is, you know, they became a client of mine.
And that was fun because I was able to see what they're already doing really well, and kind of see behind the scenes and some of the things that they did. So because it affects me personally, that was really fun. I can give you a couple more examples. I work with an organization called Cleo. What Cleo does is they provide legal practice management software. So if you're a lawyer, you've probably heard of them, and if you're not a lawyer, you'll never know who they are.
But what impressed me with them is that you know, that example I gave you earlier kind of the recipe and following the steps. The service leader that I work with, it was we were starting with a startup company so she's wearing many hats and working long hours, you know, incredible amounts of stress as trying to grow this company. She was laser-focused on, "I'm gonna do one thing at a time. I'm gonna do it really, really well, and once we've perfected that, we'll move on to the next step." I see so many other leaders trying to do 12 things at once that all go badly, rather than one thing really well. They were awarded a few years ago Best Contact Center Culture by ICMI. So, it was a happy thing for me to see that pay off.
Oh, that, well, yeah.
One more example and it was just a treat for me, I didn't really do much with this engagement. In San Diego where I live, the number one rated tourist attraction is the USS Midway. And for people who might be tuning in thinking about going to San Diego, it's a retired aircraft carrier that's become a museum and you can tour the entire aircraft carrier, there's volunteers who tell you exactly what it's like to serve on board. I was hired to help them clarify their customer service vision, you know, what should it be. I was so impressed because the goal is to write like a new vision statement. And what we found going through the process is that people, whether it was employees or volunteers, he had an incredible connection to the mission. And so we came away from this processing, we don't need something new. It's their mission and the mission is to help preserve the history and the legacy. I'm paraphrasing but also help educate the public on what it's like to serve, and particularly onboard the USS Midway, and that's what they come to do every day. So it felt good for me, even though I didn't do a lot and that engagement to be a part of something where the culture is so powerful. So I gave you three examples and I've left out way too many examples because there are so many great organizations and I'm probably making someone mad right now.
No one be jealous, no one be jealous.
[laughs] Let's say it.
We're on a time table, so don't be jealous until it's--
That's it, yeah. I had more time with, you know.
[laughs] I'm gonna ask you one more if that's all right with you?
So, have you ever had a customer experience personally that left an impact on you? And that would probably be the plumbing one that you talked about?
That would be a good impact, right?
What do you say?
Do you mean a good impact?
Oh, you know, good or if you have a negative one, we can talk about that too.
That negative, you know, the negative ones--
About how why it was negative?
Our brains naturally focus on the negative, it has a much bigger impact. And if I were advising an organization, I'd say, "You'd be better off avoiding service failures than trying really hard to deliver like a wow experience because negatives are more powerful." But I'll give you, you know, one more. This is not really a smaller business, but a company that I love to do business with, and that's REI. And for people that aren't familiar, REI is-- they sell outdoor equipment, you know, hiking backpacking. The shirt I'm wearing, I bought at REI, I love being outdoors. And what's cool about it is their vision is, "We want to help you enjoy the outdoors." And every time I do business with them, whether I shop at a retail store, go online contact customer support, it doesn't matter. I have a consistently excellent experience. And that consistency is key, and the experience also reflects the vision. I'm speaking with someone who enjoys the outdoors themselves and wants to take the time to help me get more fun outdoors as well. And that's something that's always stood out for me why I get kind of excited when I think about doing business with REI.
That's awesome. It sounds like they must hire people that have a passion for the outdoors and a similar attitude and personality that kind of like falls in line with what they do.
They absolutely do and have a passion that's deep. For example, a year ago I was planning this really, really big hike so I went to REI to get some more equipment, of course. And when I told the sales associate what I was doing, not only did they know what equipment I needed, they knew what hike I was going on. And they said, "Oh, you're going on the cactus, the clouds like? Oh, here's what I like about it." And so, I mean, that's really deep passion and commitment. That's a different level of service than, "Oh, that section is over there."
Yeah, that's awesome. That's definitely a great example. So, we're probably going to wrap it up with Jeff's session right now, but I just want to thank you, Jeff, so much for taking the time out of your day today. I know that you're busy, and we just truly appreciate you coming on and talking a little bit about what people can do to improve their customer service and their customer experience. Like I said before, just been kind enough to provide us with the Service Culture Toolkit that we're gonna be sharing with you guys in a follow-up email. And like I said before, that's an accompaniment to his book "The Service Culture Handbook", which is a great book, I suggest you pick it up. And I just want to thank you again, so much, we really appreciate it. It was enjoyable to have you on for the session and to get to meet you in person.
Oh, it's been my pleasure. I really appreciate you having me and all that you and the rest of the crew at LiveHelpNow are doing to put on the summit. It's a big day. So thanks for having me be a part of it.
Thank you so much. You had a great time. We'll talk to you again soon.
All right, bye.
Jeff is an author, speaker, and a consultant who works with companies to develop customer focused cutures. In this session, Jeff will talk about how companies can get employees to care about customers and keep a laser like focus on customers even after business expansion and growth
"It comes back to that commitment and that relentless focus and making sure that you're never too big to focus on the basics of what makes your organization uniquely successful."