Customer experience is key. Everybody agrees that in this day and age, one negative customer review can deeply hurt even the strongest businesses. We book our vacations according to what other tourists write about that location, we go to restaurants that rank higher in recommendations and we don’t purchase any electronics before checking what others who have bought them have to say.

On one hand, it makes the jobs of the sales people more difficult but on the other it ensures customers make informed decisions that they have a better chance to be happy with. There are numerous books, articles and courses on how to make customers happy.

The CEO of one of the companies I used to work for once said “it’s impossible to make all our customers 100% happy. The only way to achieve that would be to stop billing everybody and then we’d go out of business.” But people don’t necessarily resent paying for things. They do, however, feel very cheated when something they are paying for does not deliver what it promised.

A great customer experience starts with leadership

When it comes to ensuring a positive customer experience, it all has to start from the top – leaders of the organization have to be truly committed to this goal.

Procedures should not be set in stone

It is a common misconception that the customer service employees are in charge with solving any and all complaints or requests. Indeed they are the first line. They have to deal all day every day with customers that are disappointed, angry and quite often aggressive. Very few people call or write to customer support to let them know how happy they are with the product service.

Customer service employees will respond according to company policies and these are supposed to be drawn in alignment with that organization’s goals and values. If a certain company claims it is friendly and customer oriented yet its internal procedures don’t allow for any refunds or replacements apart from what is legally required this will be transparent in the attitude of those first-line employees.

All the empathy and skillfully constructed scripts in the world will not make an unhappy customer feel better about being stuck with a service or product that does not suit their needs. Leaders need to realize that even though procedures ensure all similar situations are dealt with in the exact same way, leaving no autonomy to the customer service employees will lead to them acting as very bored (and slightly defensive) robots.

Leading by example is key

You can take a child to the best school with the most interesting curricula and the most well prepared teachers. If the parents use foul language at home, that kid is not going to talk out of Webster’s dictionary on the playground. In the same way, an organization can invest a lot of resources in customer service training but if the people at the top are not truly committed to this and don’t act accordingly it will prove to be all in vain.

Once the CEO declares that offering a positive customer experience is a priority and acts on his words, it’s a totally different story. Taking a few hours once in a while to go in the front line and see first-hand what customers ask for will show employees that this really is important.

Furthermore, pretty much all the people in the organization are the internal clients of that CEO so the way that they behave and communicate with them will have a great impact on the way each person will act at work.

Companies with aggressive and demanding leaders may have some financial results on the short term (because guerrilla–like sales techniques still work to some extent) but failing to make the customers happy after securing those numbers will inevitably lead to a downfall.

Celebrating the customer champions

Even though customer service is mostly regarded as an entry-level job that can easily be done by pretty much anybody with a good vocabulary and some patience, handling customer complaints is hard. First of all, listening to disgruntled people for a whole day can make even the shiniest personality feel a little under the weather. Secondly, people are difficult to deal with. They have different backgrounds, different values and very varied understandings of the exact same thing.

Some situations can be handled in a matter of minutes but every once in a while there is that complicated case that requires the customer service assistant to involve two or three other departments and call the customer back a few times before it is all settled. It is therefore important that these efforts are acknowledged and celebrated.

Sharing a customer thank-you letter with everybody, giving that employee a small prize (it can be money, a day off or a gift from the company) will show that the organization is practicing what it preaches. Furthermore, making these situations known is a good way of helping employees share their experience and learn from it.

All in all

Companies can thrive only if people buy what they are selling and stay loyal to the brand. This means that cultivating a long-term positive relationship with customers is key. Successful leaders know how to balance the need for financial results with the imperative of having satisfied customers who come back.

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