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Do happy employees give better service?

Another question that was asked through the search box here on Service Untitled was “do happy employees give better service?” I think the most appropriate answer is they sure do.

You’ve probably had a job you didn’t like. Were you motivated to provide great service? I know I wouldn’t be. When I like my job, I really want to provide great service. I want to go above and beyond to make the customer happy – that way they have a positive view of the company I’m working for.

There will always be really exceptional people that will provide great service and maintain a good attitude even if the rest of the things aren’t that good. Those people are very rare, though, and I am sure they would provide even better service if they were in a job that they really liked.

You should aim to make your employees happy. If they’re happy, they will be a lot more motivated to provide quality service. It will be a lot easier for them to do so as well. Customer service is at least 50% attitude and people have better attitudes when they’re happy.

I’ve written about how to make your employees happy before:

And of course, you can just search for the word “fun” and get plenty of results.

What are you doing to make (and keep) your employees happy?

Recruiting talented employees to enhance customer service

smile!Happy employees make for motivated people who want to deliver the best customer service they can to assist consumers and clients. These are the people who become the eyes, ears, and voices for any organization, often beginning at the receptionist desk¬† and progressing all the way up the corporate ladder to the person in charge of operations. Recruiting and keeping talented employees therefore is very important when building relationships with people and developing a company’s brand, because it’s what people say about you and your business when you’re not in their presence that makes a profound difference in the world of customer experience.

If we consider that customer service is the most important part of our marketing plans, both immediate and future, then we must concentrate on hiring and keeping the best employees because these are the people who can drive a company forward. Too often we read stories of disgruntled employees who have complained about belittling actions from their superiors, the lack of benefits for health and retirement, the absence of training programs, or the lack of confidence and permission for employees to perform their duties without having to get special permission every step of the way during a customer crisis. Once a company creates doubt and demonstrates a lack of integrity, employees lose faith and thus there is no denying that the elephant is in the room. Will your employees be your dream weavers or will they make nightmares come true?

So how do we keep employees happy and engaged? Since it’s a reality that it costs money to hire and train the best of the best, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to recognize and celebrate accomplishments – much as we would want done to us as we reach new milestones? Start with the best training, the best coaching, and the best communicators who can teach all aspects of one’s business. Once employees have the same vision and want to help improve the experience by sharing, they become more confident and empowered to put their best foot forward when faced with unique situations. Employees are empowered when they are well-trained, well-advised, and encouraged to improve and help to advocate changes as needed.

Organizations need to be transparent, for the more that is shared with the staff, the more opportunities there will be to iron out the problems and move ahead with new ideas to make better choices. Encourage personal development, and celebrate career advancement when it is deserved. Employees are proud when their accomplishments are recognized at staff meetings and celebratory events. Make the working environment a place where employees want to show up every day; not a place where they stand outside dreading the tick of the clock.

Encourage employees to participate in community events; having rewarding and humanitarian experiences enrich a community and our country. Humanize your company, build relationships with people because everyone has family and friends who can spread the word and appreciate your efforts.

Many happy returns

How any business handles complaints and returns defines customer service. Since the benefit of any product or service is realized once the sale is made, it is imperative that an exchange or return be made easily so as not to make the buyer feel pressured. Customers will buy more with good policies and refer new buyers as well. A bad experience is likely to end the relationship and result in the loss of business; not a desired effect with today’s economy and competition.

So what is the best return policy? If you model your business plan after Nordstrom’s slogan, “Even if you’re making an exchange or return, we make it easy,” the policy should be whatever keeps the customer happy which is getting their money back with the least resistance and work. Of course the store owner gets stuck with extra credit card fees, repackaging, restocking, and reselling the returned item, but the loss of a customer is far more expensive.

All return policies need to be visible. Post them on cash registers, on receipts and if online, post prominent links. Staff should be trained when checking customers out so as to mention the policy and how many days a customer has to return merchandise. Nowadays it is obvious how many stores have extended the return time period, and some have no limits at all. Any exceptions to the return policy should be clear, and an upfront approach perhaps by the sales representative at checkout could reinforce the reminder with a statement such as, “Sales items cannot be returned.”

All employees should be trained to handle returns, exchanges and refunds. The staff should stay friendly and proceed as quickly as possible with the least amount of paperwork and questions. A return is not the time to ask customers for more data than necessary since the customer is likely not happy. Try to turn the transaction into a pleasant experience by staying friendly even if the customer gets rude. Online return policies often include prepaid return labels, which is a great way to gain the competitive edge by reversing and reducing the risk for consumers. Again, making sure that the policy is clear reduces confusion.

Lastly, don’t treat 99% of customers like the 1% who are dishonest and who try to take advantage of generous return policies. Most customers just want to be happy with their purchases and ensure they have spent their money wisely.

photo credit: Bitman

Poll Employees

I am a big fan of asking employees about their opinions. Employee satisfaction is just as important as customer satisfaction (see this post about the three legged stool) and when employees are happy, they are a lot more likely to be willing to provide better service. It seems trivial, but employee opinions (if they are even provided) are frequently ignored and rarely acted upon. Some companies and executives do a great job at making employee feedback a regular part of the improvement process (see this post about Legal Seafoods), but others have a lot of room for improvement.

A perfect way to start from scratch is to simply poll your employees. Send them an email survey asking them a few questions about what it is like to work at your company and they work they do. Ask if they have the tools they need to do their job, ask supervisors and management, and ask about the customers. You want a combination of open ended and multiple choice questions to get data that you can not only compare, but act upon. Chances are, you’ll start to see trends and correlations quite quickly.

You can also conduct a poll or a survey to ask about a particular issue. It doesn’t have to be some super-serious issue, it can be about anything. Your next poll can be something along the lines of “Where would you like to have the next company party?” Employees will like that the company is asking for their opinion.

The most important step after that, is of course, to act upon the suggestions. You want to take employee feedback seriously and actually keep their opinions in mind. If you keep asking and not acting, then employees will get discouraged and the act of asking might end up hurting you more than it helped. If you are willing and prepared to take employee feedback seriously and make changes based on that feedback, then start asking. You’ll learn a lot and help make it so your employees feel valued.

Happy Birthday to Service Untitled!

BbigbirthdaycakeIt was on my calendar, but I completely forgot to write about it until now: Service Untitled turned two years old today (it’s a blogiversary). The post I wrote last year was a bit more eloquent, but I’m going to say essentially the same thing this year.

For the last two years, I have blogged about customer service and the customer service experience every single Monday thru Friday (except holidays and occasional days when I’m sick).

I have to say I really like doing it and what I like even more is getting the chance to talk to and meet such interesting people. Not just the people I interview, but the other bloggers, customer service professionals, employees, journalists, and plethora of people I talk to and/or exchange emails with every week. It helps humanize some of the subscriber numbers and makes the writing process a lot more interesting.

The people you meet through blogging (especially customer service blogs) are fascinating and the experience of meeting, talking to, and even working with these people is probably the main reason I keep writing every day.

You can’t take people for granted, though. I am eternally grateful to the amazing people I have met and have had the pleasure of working with through my blog and my consulting work. This includes the wonderful group of customer service bloggers that help me (and I try to help them), my consulting clients, the individuals that allow me to interview them, the people who write guest writer posts every so often on Service Untitled, my advertisers, and everyone else.

Most importantly, this includes my readers. Without the readers, writing this blog would be far too academic and self-reflective (I have never kept a diary consistently). I am thankful to have such a great group of readers – a group that not only reads my posts, but takes the time to email suggestions, post comments, refer my blog to their friends and colleagues, and talk about my blog.

I’ve written another 290 or so posts over the last year. My readership has increased significantly and I continue to get a lot of positive feedback about my blog. It is still exciting to see a post of mine featured on another blog or to see my blog linked to in some random blog’s blogroll. It shows that people reading and enjoying my blog, which is always good to hear.

If my posts are helping companies, individuals, and organizations to improve their customer service and their customer service experience, they’re doing their job and I’m doing my job. I’m looking forward to continuing to my job — as a blogger, as a writer, and as a consultant — for many years to come.

Thanks for the great two years. With your continued support, I am sure there will be many more.

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Happy National Customer Service Week!

388197432_f33a941ab8 I’d like to wish a very Happy National Customer Service Week to everyone. While I never advocate customer service being a weekly, monthly, etc. theme for your company (it should be permanent), there is nothing wrong with a week to recognize customer service.

The official web site has some tips here. As my friend and fellow customer service writer suggests, just take a few moments and say thanks! Thanks to your customers, friends, employees, and so on.

Here are some helpful links:

Thank you for reading Service Untitled! Thanks for telling your friends and helping to spread the word. It has been (and continues to be) a lot of fun.

Photo/image courtesy of juniperberry.

A New Way to Find Great Employees

There are a lot of smart things that most companies don’t do. Luckily, the wonders of blogs and consultants help you get some ideas about what smart things your company can do. Today, I am going to write about a highly effective way to find great employees for customer service jobs.

For anyone who has ever tried to recruit great customer service employees, you know it is like finding a needle in a haystack. Some people are qualified, but don’t have the right attitude. Others aren’t qualified, but have the perfect attitude. The best people already seem to have jobs. That’s why you need to be different and creative with your recruiting methods.

My brilliant suggestion is this: be on the lookout for great employees, everywhere. It may seem like common sense, but so few companies do it.

For example, I’ve had great customer service experiences at/with:

  • my local grocery store
  • fast food restaurants
  • regular restaurants
  • clothing stores
  • my ISP
  • using various services online (see this post about ChaCha)

The customer service at all these locations isn’t always consistently amazing, but I’ve had at least one notable (and positive) experience at each. The difference is in the representative and usually, their attitude. The type of person who can make a customer service experience notable just because of a great attitude is the type of person you want working for you.

So why not ask? That’s part two of the brilliant suggestion. Offer these employees your card and say something like “If you’re ever looking for a job, we’d be really interested in interviewing you for a customer service position we have an opening for.”

Here are some things worth noting:

  • This can be considered “poaching” employees, but you can use your judgement to decide it’s right or not. If employees are happy where they are, they won’t leave. Use your judgement about whether you feel it’s right or not.
  • Usually, you will be able to tell whether or not the person is interested pretty quickly.
  • Your rate of offers to interviews to hires will probably be pretty low, but it’s worth it, especially if you have a hard time recruiting quality people.
  • Be relatively stingy with your offers. Don’t hand out your card to people who do okay. You’re looking for people who do an exceptional job.
  • You likely have to have a hire the smile, train the skill type philosophy for this to work. Chances are, the people you offer jobs to won’t have the specific skills needed to do the job (yet).

So, if you go to a place regularly and know of a person that seems to have a great attitude, consider offering them your card. Encourage your employees to do the same.

There are a lot of great people out there just waiting to be discovered, so get started.

Photo courtesy of Brymer.

Rewarding Employees

I was also reading Fortune Small Business over the weekend. There was an article about the “best bosses” as ranked by an organization called Winning Workplaces.

What caught my attention was that the CEO of Rackspace (Graham Weston) was featured as one of the companies and there was a quote from Daivd Bryce, whom was interviewed by Service Untitled a few months ago. Mike Faith of Headsets.com was also featured.

Some highlights (in my own words):

  • Vitale, Caturano & Company gives gourmet dinners during tax seasons, tuition reimbursement, and more. [Link]
  • Interaction Associates conducts regular “Quality of Work Life” surveys. [Link]
  • Headsets.com encourages employees to submit ideas and feedback and hosts an open invitation dinner at the CEO’s home every Tuesday. [Link]
  • SmartPak Equine has employee stock ownership, open-book management and a quarterly recognition program by and for employees has kept SmartPak’s workforce motivated and focused on the company’s core values. They also weekly meetings with the purpose of of simplifying tasks. [Link]
  • M5 Networks gives certain employees things like a “Trustworthiness Award” and a prize, has monthly late-night jam sessions with the company’s band (made up of employees), telecommunicating options, and more. [Link]
  • At Seventh Generation, the company invests a lot of time and money into training and quality products. [Link]
  • St. Louis Staffing (which I have heard a lot about lately) provides full and part time employees with health insurance, paid time off, bonuses, flexible schedules, and apparel. [Link
  • Digineer provides classes for subjects like time management, health and wellness, and has community activities like an Iron Chef competition, snow tubing, and family picnics. [Link]
  • New Media Strategies has cool perks like movie time for employees, an “Ass Kickers of the Month” award, an open-bar happy hour, a training university, and more. [Link]
  • Rackspace’s CEO lets top performing employees use his BMW for a week, has awards for providing Fanatical Support and more. [Link]

Equity programs for employees were a very common theme. Lots of companies also have training programs for employees that teach both work and non-work related things. To me, those seemed to be the two most common things. Both are extremely useful in enabling and encouraging employees to perform better and go the extra mile.

If you would like to review all of the profiles, and the full articles, click here.

Does your company do anything like this? Would you be interested in learning more about any of these companies? Let me know and I will do my best to make it happen!

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