I loved WestJet’s “Christmas Miracle.” I couldn’t stop watching this viral video for a number of reasons. For one, it goes above and beyond the scope of customer service excellence. Through its gift-giving customer service effort, WestJet was able to bring its customers (and even its YouTube viewers) to tears. But while it was fun to watch customers receive surprise gifts, there was another aspect to the video that intrigued me: WestJet level of employee engagement in the company’s rich customer centric culture.
Engaging employees in a customer centric culture is a difficult task. It does not focus on just one area such hiring or on-boarding or recognition. To create a truly engaging customer centric culture, there needs to be a set of processes in place, across the organization, at every point of an employee’s career. Here are a few of the ways that can help:
1) Choosing the right employees. Choosing the right employees, especially for customer service, involves a flexible hiring process that allows you to choose candidates based on fit. In customer service, this fit means placing less emphasis on what a candidate has done in previous positions, with more emphasis on what an employee would do in certain situations. Engaged customer service employees have a rare blend of passive, yet assertive traits that make them invaluable on the frontlines of customer concerns. These traits should be sought out before picking the best-looking resume.
2) Training employees with hands-on, peer-to-peer training. Micha Solomon wrote a great blog post on Forbes about “How Hiring and HR Build Customer Service Culture.” Solomon writes that hiring the right customer service employees is important because (A) they are ultimately on the front lines, serving as the “face” of the organization and (B) “The employees you hire will ultimately exert pressure-positive or negative-on other staff members, who, when its their turn, will directly interact with customers.”
While Solomon admits that the first reason (A) is a bit obvious, the second reason is important to consider. If you’re hiring the right employees for customer service, those employees should be the ones directly training new employees. Which do you think is more impactful: a powerpoint presentation from a middle manager or a hands-on lesson from an employee performing the same job as the new hire? At the very least, the new hires will behave in the way their peer trainer behaves as a way to “fit” with the organization. If new hires cannot behave in the same manner their per trainers behave, they’ll likely leave.
3) Combine empowerment with standard processes, without micromanaging. Empowerment is the new buzzword in customer service, and it should be, because empowered employees have the ability to best satisfy customers wants and needs. But it can’t just be about empowerment. There needs to be a standard, communicated process for almost every situation. Employees need to be well-versed in these processes; without them, most employees will feel lost. Once employees have a firm grasp of the set processes and procedures in your customer service operations, it’s important to communicate that they can deviate, should they find it necessary. Employees who are empowered by both education and the ability to deviate from the “plan” without someone standing over their shoulders are the employees who will feel most comfortable providing excellent customer service.
4) Meaningfully recognize employees, often. Employee recognition programs often drive performance and help engage employees, but only if these recognition efforts are recognized by employees. Do you think a paper certificate or gold star will have much impact on an employee’s level of engagement? Recognition efforts need to be personalized and thoughtful in order to build a community within an organization. This personal sense of community is especially important to customer centric operations that deal with people every day. One way to engage employees through meaningful personalize, and fun recognition is to have an employee-led recognition committee. These employees will know how to meaningfully celebrate because they are planning for their peers.