(Lack of) Total Management Cooperation

It’s been a long week. I’m going to end the week (and start the weekend) with an above average post (if you are thinking that all of my posts are above average, then this post is above that).

I constantly babble about how important it is for the commitment to customer service to start at the top (also known as management dedication). However, a question I am asked a lot is “How do I convince my company’s management team that customer service is important?” This post will hopefully help you convince them and is dedicated to people in charge of a company’s customer service department.

Very few companies want to look at customer service as anything besides a gigantic cost center (which it is – good customer service departments are extremely expensive to staff and run). Successful customer service companies don’t look at as a cost center, but instead a potential customer winner over center (that isn’t the official term, but it does work).

Remember the stool!
Remember the three legged stool? I vowed to talk more about it, but it is hard to work it into posts as often as I’d like without overusing it. However, the three legged stool is so important. Explain it to your company’s management team. Employees have to be happy or they won’t be nice to customers. If customers aren’t happy, they won’t be nice to employees. If the business results are bad, everything will likely fail. However, if all three legs (items) are good, everything will work out.

Show them examples.
I have talked about quite a few companies that have seen above-average levels of success largely due to customer service. Companies like Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton, Headsets.com, Rackspace, Chick-fil-A, Printing For Less, and Starbucks are all companies I have talked about that have seen success partly (if not more than that) due to a strong commitment to customer service. Explain to your management team what these companies have done and what they have seen.

Concrete figures.
It’s more like soft concrete figures across the street, but they are figures nonetheless. Business people like facts and figures. Fact: Great customer service increases customer loyalty. Fact: Happy employees are more productive. Fact: Great customer service helps create customer evangelists, who definitely help businesses. None of these are solid facts (not in the 2 + 2 = 4 sense), but with research and logic, you should be able to find plenty of articles, white papers, research studies, and academic papers stating the same or very similar points.

Management teams don’t like to (but need to) hear about how their competition is doing something better. Say something like:

“We at Company X have 25% customer retention. At Company Y, where they have great customer service, has 65% customer retention. I spoke to Bob in our business department and he ran some figures and said that if we could increase our customer retention by 40%, we’d make another $5 million. That’s one tenth of what I’m asking for to help improve our customer service and that’s just one figure.”

That should get them almost every time. Management teams hate to hear how much better their competition is doing, especially when they can be doing just as well.

Get support.
Before going to your management team, talk to both customers and employees. Do they want to shift to a more customer service focused company? Customers probably will, but will they spend more? Ask! Explain what you want to do and ask for support. The reactions can’t hurt (worst that can happen is you stay like you are), but certainly can help.

Be sure to.
Explain to your management team that giving you a bigger budget for customer service, hiring a few consultants, or giving you a bigger salary won’t necessarily make their company the next Nordstrom or Ritz Carlton. Tell them that for this to work, it requires constant work and a constant dedication to customer service by everyone – including them.

Take an answer.
If the management team says yes, you are free to jump up and down because you are so happy. However, if they say no, take an answer. Work on your data, talk to more people, and get more examples and try again in a few months. It may be a slow (and painful) process, but if your data is good enough, you should be able to convince your management team.