by: Jeff Mowatt
“I’m just doing this until something better comes along – like retirement!” If that sums up the attitude held by some of your employees, then imagine the negative impact on teamwork, productivity, and especially customer loyalty. Chances are that you, as a business manager or owner, are committed to satisfying customers. But what are you doing about employees who see their jobs merely as “fillers”? Business leaders need to create an environment that motivates employees to want to take care of customers. Unfortunately, the conventional methods to create a customer-focused culture through mission statements have often fallen short.
In the late 1980s and early ’90s, a lot of managers and business gurus seemed to think that if companies just had a corporate mission statement, all of their customer service and teamwork problems would be magically solved. These mission statements almost always touted the organization’s undying – “commitment to satisfying customers”- Blah, blah, blah. If only it were that simple. A mission statement is a good idea – provided there’s ongoing real-world implementation of the principles and values it conveys.
Managers need a fresh approach to ensuring that customers are satisfied and that employees are personally committed to making it happen. After working with dozens of corporations over the years that have been faced with this challenge, I developed the concept of CAST Meetings© (Customer Service Team Meetings). Think of it as a way to breathe new life into your corporate mission.
At CAST Meetings, managers and employees gather for a couple of hours once a month to focus on enhancing customer satisfaction. You may think you already do something similar in your organization. Perhaps you call it a “staff meeting”. The problem is that staff meetings end up focusing on workers’ needs and managers’ needs – not on those of customers. So, erase the notion that CAST Meetings have any connection to your current staff meeting. Everyone attending CAST – front-line employees, support staff, and managers of all levels – will focus on the most important person, the customer. When introducing CAST Meetings to our clients, we include these seven key elements.
1. Spread Your Customers’ Words. At CAST Meetings, everyone learns the latest results of your customer surveys, letters, and comments. One of the most useful, least expensive ways to collect customer feedback that we teach in our seminars is to ensure that employees directly ask customers a magic question, “What can we do to improve our service?” Asking that question and bringing the responses to CAST Meetings not only provides valuable information, it also reminds front-line employees of one of their most valuable roles – being the eyes and ears of the company.
2. Get People Thinking. Prior to introducing the first CAST Meeting, we conduct training sessions for our client’s management and staff on ways to enhance customer satisfaction – without working harder. As part of these seminars, we brainstorm ways to boost customer satisfaction at each Point of Perception©. Here we generate a list of ways we might enhance customers’ experience at every point where they form an impression of the company – on the web site, when they phone in, as they enter the parking lot, while waiting on site, and so on. Later we bring those ideas to CAST Meetings. We’ve found that employees share ideas that are often realistic, innovative, and create tremendous value for customers. As Sam Walton said, “Listen to everyone in your company, especially the ones who actually talk to customers. They really know what’s going on out there.” The bonus is that since front-line employees are the ones coming up with the ideas, they are more committed to implementing them.
3. Sift to Find the Nuggets. At the monthly CAST Meetings, we sift through the feedback generated by both the customers and the employees. Just because we’ve collected a list of ideas from these groups, doesn’t necessarily mean that we can or should act on each suggestion. At the CAST Meetings we use two primary tools to evaluate the suggestions. One way is using a feedback grid that we discuss in our management training seminars. This grid reveals how your customers rate the various services you provide and how important those services are to them.
Another approach to evaluating the suggestions put forth is simply to ask all CAST Meeting participants to come up with as many pros and cons of the idea as possible. The result is everyone – not just managers – does a preliminary assessment of the suggestion. That way, when ideas are rejected, it’s not just managers rejecting the concepts (which is demoralizing for everyone). Instead, everyone understands why certain ideas won’t be acted upon. This goes a long way to eliminating the “them vs. us” attitude between managers and front-line staff thats so prevalent in many organizations.
4. Implement Now – Perfect Later. Pilot. Pilot. Pilot. When you identify an idea that on the surface looks like it has merit, the next step is to launch a preliminary test run, or “pilot”. So, let’s say for a 30-day trial basis you are going to give several front-line employees in a specific department the authority to make a decision that typically requires management approval. Those same employees volunteer to try the program, monitor the results, and report their findings at the next CAST Meeting. If they indicate that the pilot went well, then at the CAST Meeting it can be fine-tuned and expanded to other areas within the organization.
One of the great hidden benefits of conducting a monthly CAST Meeting is that those participants who agree to test a pilot project suddenly have a deadline. Moreover, they’ve committed to present their findings to their peers and supervisors. Giving a public report of what they’ve done serves as a tremendous incentive to actually get something done without pleading, nagging, or cajoling.
5. Replace Policies with Parables. Perhaps the most critical element of any CAST Meeting is “story-time.” During this part of the agenda, managers call upon selected front-line employees, who recently provided exceptional service, to share a specific on-the-job incident, and explain why they did what they did. These stories become your organization’s parables – living examples of your beliefs. Parables have been used to teach history and values since before the creation of the written word. They endure because they are interesting, teach us lessons, and are easily remembered. These stories become your “code” – the way you do business. In other words, these real-life stories not only reflect your organization’s mission, vision, and values – they become its living and breathing embodiment.
6. Coach Instead of Fighting Fires. We often hear one of the roles of the manager is to act as a mentor or coach. Yet managers get so busy that the only time they “coach” people is when a subordinate fouls up. Worse still, only one person at a time learns from the mistake. That’s not our idea of being a mentor. An effective coach is more proactive.
One of my colleagues, fellow professional speaker Joe Bonura, told me, “Spaced repetition is the mother of memory.” At CAST Meetings, one of the roles of the manager is to take one of the customer service ideas that we’ve shared in the training seminar and reinforce its application. That way, simple vital customer service tips are repeated and are more likely to be remembered and applied. So rather than reacting to individual crises, managers help all employees to prevent customer service problems before they occur.
7. Celebrate Service – Not Seniority. In a study of Fortune 500 corporations, researchers found that the number one motivator of employees is recognition – knowing that they are appreciated. CAST Meetings give managers a forum to provide recognition that’s not based on seniority – but on exemplary customer service. Perhaps even more important is that the recognition doesn’t just come from management – it comes from the workers’ peers. That means you’re creating a shift in culture right at the grass roots. Add to that a few words of open praise from the senior manager to the team, and everyone feels like they are part of a greater good. Combine it with pizza, snacks, or lunch and you’ve created a customer-focused event that employees look forward to.
Bottom Line – It Gets Results.
It’s easy for corporate leaders to pay lip service to the importance of customers. Mission statements may play well for advertising purposes and look good on the boardroom wall. But employees see beneath the veil of slogans. They need to know that you as a leader actually mean what you say – and that you’re willing to back statements with action. Simple logic dictates that if that kind of integrity is missing, even the best employee will eventually become de-motivated and start marking time.
With CAST Meetings employees discover that the company indeed practices what it preaches. That’s the kind of trust that translates into improved performance for everyone. One of our clients found that within six months of using CAST, morale had noticeably improved and employee productivity increased by 34 percent. Meanwhile, the client reported that the number of customer complaints plummeted fourfold. That’s a corporate culture where all the stakeholders benefit. After all, ensuring that everyone wins is very likely what your mission statement is all about.
This article is based on the critically acclaimed book Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month by customer service strategist and professional speaker Jeff Mowatt. To obtain a copy of his book or to inquire about engaging Mowatt for your team, visit www.jeffmowatt.com or call (800) 566-9288.