Companies spend millions of dollars installing CRM systems to create good customer relationships, but how much attention is given to creating an organizational culture and policies that promote customer-centric behavior from their customer service representatives?
I recently conducted a study to determine the factors that influence the behavior of customer service workers during customer interactions. Customer service worker behavior is important because the behavior exhibited by a service representative will affect a customer's relationship with the organization, and consequently affect CRM success. Research has consistently found that person-to-person interactions between customers and employees greatly affect a customer's overall relationship with a company. The design for the study was to conduct two focus groups with industry experts to verify the content of a survey that was created for the study. The survey was then administered in a test-retest process to verify reliability.
The first focus group included senior CRM consultants who had participated in many CRM installations. During the session the consultants were asked if an organization needs a customer-centric culture and employee-friendly policies to maximize the CRM investment. The consultants concluded that CRM is an enabler of customer relationships, but that CRM could not achieve its full potential unless an organization has a customer-centric culture. The second focus group included the management of an organization that has achieved outstanding customer service rankings, and was listed on the Fortune Magazine 100 Best Places to Work List for six consecutive years. The organization has a customer-centric, employee-friendly culture.
The managers were asked to review the following list of factors that affect employee behavior: employee job fit/employee empathy; job satisfaction; organizational culture; physical surroundings; training; the ability of the organization and individual employees to manage change; level of employee stress; job design; role clarity; work overload; empowerment; the congruity of policies and procedures to support good customer service; employee perception of organizational fairness; and employee perception of organizational concern for the employee and her family. Additionally, the speed and availability of necessary information to solve customer problems and customer-friendly organizational processes and procedures can also influence a customer's perception of service quality. The managers agreed that the factors influence customer service worker behavior.
The managers believed that customer service workers who are frustrated or angry with their employers often subtly project their negative feeling about the organization during customer interactions. They believed that customer service workers will also project the customer view that is prevalent in their organization. The survey that was created for the study includes several questions about each factor to determine if a problem might exist and further investigation is needed. The focus group of managers reviewed the survey and agreed to allow the survey to be administered to their employees. The survey was sent to a randomly selected group of employees. Responses indicated that the organization had positively executed policies and actions concerning all the factors that were measured.
Some of the findings were extremely interesting. One item stated was, In the past six months my manager has mentioned/discussed the importance of good customer service times. The average response was 12 times. The responses indicate that the organization's management has accepted the customer service paradigm, and that management reinforces the importance of customer service with employees often. Another item states: I believe that the company I work for cares about its employees and their families. The answers indicated that the employees strongly agreed that their employer is concerned about the employees and their families. Creating a culture of mutual trust is important because it can be a means to build a sustainable competitive advantage.
Several questions on the survey are used to gauge if employees have personalities that are conducive to customer service work. Some people are naturally more sympathetic than others and consequently good candidates for customer service positions. The results indicate that the organization is hiring empathetic people who are supportive of good customer service.
The positive scores achieved on the survey reflect the organization's successful implementation of a customer-centric culture and employee-friendly policies.
The lessons learned from the study are:
1. Employee and organizational cultural factors affect customer service worker behavior.
2. Customer service worker behavior during customer-to-company interactions affects customer relationships with the organization and CRM success.
3. The human and cultural factors that affect customer service worker behavior are measurable and controllable.
About the Author
Richard Lutz, Ph.D., is a full-time professor/administrator at Quinnipiac University. He conducts research about organizational culture and leadership. He can be reached at Richard.firstname.lastname@example.org.