Required Reading: Crafting a Customer Service Culture

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When it comes to customer service, there is no single path to creating exceptional experiences, says Flavio Martins, vice president of operations at DigiCert. It can happen in any environment where daily learning and growth take place through trial and error, he says, and where people know they have the freedom to experiment.

In his book Win the Customer: 70 Simple Rules for Sensational Service, Martins stresses that customer service should be a central concern in businesses of all sizes. Martins recently shared his insights with Associate Editor Oren Smilansky.

CRM: Of the 70 rules you list in the book, which one do you consider the most important?

Martins: I'd point to the last one: Stop making resolutions and start making service decisions today. We'll all be well off if we decide today to do whatever we can to help make sure the next customer we interact with gets a good experience. Great customer service doesn't necessarily have to be something you plan in advance and pass through corporate channels. It can start with something as simple as having one agent on the front lines who decides that he's going to do what's best for the customer (acting within compliance of the process available, of course).

CRM: The first rule you list in the book is "Be prepared to break traditional rules." Why?

Martins: To create memorable service experiences today often requires looking at the service experience in a way that is different from the traditional, so-called tried-and-true methods of managing customer relationships. Customers have a lot more influence and a lot more options than they used to, so what we've considered to be good customer service isn't as effective today as it used to be.

CRM: What is one common mistake you've seen companies make when it comes to customer service?

Martins: Too many organizations fail to understand who their customers truly are and what they expect of the company's products and services. If you can't understand what the real motivation is behind your customers' actions, it makes it extremely difficult to create the types of relationships that lead to more engaged customers and long-lasting relationships.

I suggest every organization sit down and try to understand who its customers are. Think about how you need to act to create memorable experiences with your customers. That means going outside the established norm of what your organization has done in the past. Or maybe it means getting creative with the type of service you offer customers.

CRM: You stress using positive language ("find a way to say yes even when the answer is no"; "use positive words to win customers"). Why do you think positive communication is so essential to customer service?

Martins: Customer service is subject to human emotion, and the things that connect a customer with an organization aren't necessarily the brand image, the online presence, or even a product. Often it comes down to how the customer feels after interacting with the individuals within this organization. So we want to use positive language that will steer them towards the organization.

CRM: You write that companies shouldn't pay too much attention to what their competitors are doing when it comes to customer service. Why is that?

Martins: Once an organization starts taking those initial steps in establishing great customer service, they'll oftentimes find themselves ahead of the rest of the pack and in a position where they really don't have a competitor pushing them to be better than they are. You're really out there on your own. Once you take those first few steps, you have to be committed to work with your customer and continue to set that bar higher and higher.

CRM: What steps can companies take to develop a customer service–oriented culture?

Martins: Make it a priority to discuss customer service at all levels of the organization. It can be as simple as [instituting] a new directive that in executive meetings there is adequate time to discuss voice of the customer, customer feedback, and things of that nature. Once you do that, you can make customer experience one of the main components against which business decisions are evaluated. When a company is developing new products or new services or making decisions, it also has to consider what the ultimate experience impact is going to be. Once it starts to do that, I always recommend bringing in people who have connections with customers to serve as advisers or stakeholders. That way, we don't make decisions without insight as to what's happening day to day.

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