Can Everyone at Your Organization Define Good Customer Service?

By Brian Cole Miller

What does “good customer service” really mean? Is there one and only one definition? Of course not. As a matter of fact, each organization, and often each individual within an organization, defines “good customer service” differently.

However, to be most effective in providing good customer service, everyone in your organization must have a clear, unified vision of what good customer service should be. Coming to an agreement on this vision is not always easy. Often, an organization's definition is too vague and staff members are intimidated to ask for clarification. This leads to confusion, misinterpretation, and unaligned goals.

A clear definition and vision of “good customer service” is vital to achieving success and creating GREAT impressions on your customers. Here is a quick activity to help you and your coworkers break down these barriers to establishing your organization's service vision and open a dialogue.

Improve Your Seating Arrangement

At the beginning of your next staff meeting, start by looking at the group thoughtfully, as if you are processing something in your head. Then declare, “I don't think the seating arrangement is going to work for today's meeting.” (Do NOT tell them that this is an “activity,” just speak as if you are acting on the spur of the moment.)

Smile as if you just thought of it and say, “Here's what we're going to do!” As you are looking at your watch or the clock on the wall, say, “Let's make this fun—you have exactly 60 seconds to improve your seating arrangement. Ready? Set? Go!”

After giving these instructions, do not ask if there are any questions. Look at the clock to discourage your staff from even asking.

If they ask for clarification, simply restate your original directions and turn away immediately to discourage further dialogue. It is amazing how quickly anyone wanting clarification will back off if the source appears elusive.

Usually, the pressure of the group will encourage everyone to move quickly. Do not be surprised (and do not stop them) if they start moving tables and chairs to “improve their seating arrangement.” Most people tend to emphasize taking action over thinking, planning, or understanding first. Watch this play out, but don't make any comments or otherwise indicate that you are watching.

After 60 seconds, stop.

Debrief the activity by asking these questions:

  • Did you meet your objective? How do you know if you did or did not?
  • You may hear things like, “Yes, because I'm closer to the window;” “No, because I'm not sure what the objective was;” or “Yes, because we are all sitting in a circle now.”
  • What was your objective? Was it clear?
  • Listen to what they have to say and then point out that the objective to “improve your seating arrangement” was not clear by asking, “What does improve mean?” Ask several individuals how they interpreted improve to illustrate the variation in objectives.
  • Did you seek clarification of the goal?  If not, why?
  • How often at work do you seek clarification on goals that are given? What makes us more or less inclined to seek clarification?
  • If you did seek clarification, what happened? Did you persist in understanding the objective?
  • How often do you ask for clarification at work and, when you get a curt, unhelpful response (“You should be able to figure out what improve means”) you back off and make assumptions to avoid appearing foolish or inept? What impact does that have on your success?
  • How did the time limit factor into the way you behaved?
  • Why was everyone moving so quickly? Why did action start without any thinking or planning?
  • What can we do to prevent this kind of thing from happening to us on the job?
  • Make the transition here to how these factors influence each staff member while they are on the job and dealing with customers.
In this activity, “improve your seating arrangement” will mean many different things to different people. People will take action without a plan or predefined goals. Assumptions will be made and probably not checked. Some may even impose their interpretation or assumptions on others (by making them move into a circle, for example).

Don't beat them up for their behavior. Remember, you set them up. The purpose is to show them how often their work environment sets them up like this, and to exhibit how they typically respond.

Turn the Tables

Now that the staff members are aware of the setup, turn the tables and begin a conversation about what “good customer service” really means. Once everyone realizes that throwing vague terms around doesn't help in creating a clear definition, talk about what does. Encourage team members to ask questions of clarification so that you develop clear, well defined goals. Get specific with the definitions and don't make any assumptions. Refer back to the activity and ask questions like:

  • How clear are we on our current customer service goals? Do we all interpret them the same?
  • How does time pressure affect our customer service efforts and ability to deliver service?
  • What can we do, specifically, that will help us provide good customer service and make a GREAT impression on our customers?
  • What can we say that will create a GREAT impression?
  • How will we know when we've provided good customer service?
If the answers to these questions are vague, follow up by asking, “And what would that look like? What would you actually do or say to accomplish that?”

Only when everyone in your organization has a common understanding of “good customer service” will you ALL be able to create a GREAT impression on the customer and help them “improve their seating arrangement” every time!

Brian Cole Miller is a Communico facilitator and is the principal and founder of Working Solutions, a company dedicated to helping front line managers be more competent and confident in their jobs. He is the author of several books for busy managers. His book, Keeping Employees Accountable for Results, is available online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

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