Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
Over the years, I’ve had conversations with hundreds of frontline employees in the service industry. All of these employees were passionate about something but, more often than not, their passion had little to do with their job roles.
Many described their jobs as boring, routine, and monotonous.
These conversations have inspired me to explore the question, “Why is it that frontline employees in the service industry oftentimes appear apathetic about customer service and indifferent toward their customers?”
While there are many variables including: company hiring, training, and retention practices; the existing customer service culture; the effectiveness of the employee’s immediate supervisor, etc., one key contributor that most companies miss is to clearly distinguish between an employee’s job functions and job essence.
Job functions are the duties associated with one’s job role. Performance of these functions is mandatory. It’s what the employee was hired to do. It’s what the employee is paid to do. It’s the criteria upon which his performance is judged.
Job essence is the employee’s highest priority—which, for most employees, is to create a delighted customer: one who will repurchase, is less price-sensitive, and will recommend the company/brand to others.
In contrast to job functions, job essence is frequently ignored by both employers and employees. Here’s why: Employers tend to focus on that which can be documented and measured—things like job descriptions, policies, procedures, and checklists. All of these pertain to job function. And employees tend to focus on whatever their managers focus on.
For instance, suppose a restaurant manager tells a newly-hired hostess that customer service is his top priority. (Most do.) But when the hostess’s side work (e.g., folding napkins, filling salt and pepper shakers, etc.) suffers due to her consistent presence out front greeting guests as they arrive, he questions her priorities by asking, “Why aren’t there more napkins folded?”
She will quickly learn the manager’s true priority is folded napkins (job function), not delighted customers (job essence).
You see, whereas performing job functions is mandatory, demonstrating job essence is optional—employees don’t have to do it. And most don’t. And unlike job functions for which employees are paid, there’s no additional cost to the employer for employees to demonstrate job essence. Companies don’t pay their employees extra to care, take initiative, or accept responsibility.
Both job function (competency) and job essence (passion to serve) are required to create delighted customers. Customers won’t appreciate passionate, service-oriented employees who are incompetent. Nor will they respond to capable employees whose customer service they would describe as apathetic or indifferent. In other words, restaurant guests appreciate being greeted warmly and having a clean, folded napkin.
The opportunity to create delighted customers lies at the intersection of job function and job essence.
I have identified seven customer service behaviors that are available to frontline customer service providers at this intersection. These behaviors will enable them to elevate their personal customer service from typical, routine, and expected, to unique, refreshing, and unexpected.
In so doing, they will create delighted customers—loyal customers who will brag about the company/brand to others.
Here are three of the behaviors:
1. Express genuine interest: To express genuine interest in a customer is to go beyond that which a customer typically expects during a customer service interaction. For example, most customers might expect a supermarket cashier to smile, make eye contact, and add a bit of enthusiasm to her voice. These qualities may not always occur but they are the basics of a face-to-face customer service interaction.
To go beyond the basics might mean posing a question or two to the customer.
For example, I once observed the transaction ahead of me while in line at an Albertsons supermarket. As the cashier scanned a bag of dog food, she simply asked, “What kind of dog do you have?”
With that, the cashier and the customer had an enthusiastic exchange about their mutual love of Labrador Retrievers. It wasn’t long—maybe all of 20 seconds while the customer swiped his bank card and signed for his purchases. But an impression was made. A connection was established.
2. Share unique knowledge: To share unique knowledge with a customer means to go beyond the job knowledge that is ordinarily expected of one’s job role. For example, most restaurant guests expect for servers to possess basic job knowledge such as the evening’s specials, the soupe du jour, information about food preparation, ingredients/allergens, availability, pricing, etc.
Unique knowledge goes beyond job knowledge. It is interesting, memorable, and unexpected. It has character and substance.
It’s the difference between: “Tonight, our featured appetizer is the Pâté de Foie Gras” and “Our chef trained at the prestigious Restaurant School in Philadelphia and apprenticed at Le Bec Fin. She also traveled to France to refine her knowledge of French delicacies such as truffles, escargot, and foie gras. In fact, our Pâté de Foie Gras is our featured appetizer. May I tempt you with an order?”
Seriously, which of these two approaches would make an impression on you? Which might motivate you to order the appetizer?
3. Deliver service heroics: To deliver service heroics means to go beyond the customer’s expectations in providing him with an exceptional customer service experience. Sometimes, this will require an employee to go above and beyond the call of duty. He may be challenged to perform beyond the scope of his job description.
I won’t provide my own example here. Instead, I’ll ask you to reflect back on your own experience as a customer. Everyone reading this post has a vivid example of a time when a frontline hourly employee went above and beyond the call of duty to provide exceptional customer service.
Perhaps you wrote a letter to the employee’s boss or maybe you gave him or her a substantial gratuity? If not, I’m confident that you have at least shared the story with many others. An impression was made—one that you won’t soon forget.
Each of these behaviors shares the same set of characteristics: they demonstrate the essence of an employee’s job—his or her highest priority—to create a delighted customer; they’re optional—which is why, as customers, we don’t often experience them; and they’re free—companies don’t pay their employees extra to express genuine interest, share unique knowledge, or deliver service heroics.
By recognizing and communicating the difference between job function and job essence, then guiding employee performance by sharing and rewarding customer service behaviors that go beyond that which customers typically expect, companies will differentiate themselves on the basis of customer service quality.
While most of their competitors will be providing the customer service status quo, these companies will be providing Service Elevated!