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Choose employees who choose to serve

I recall saying to a client across the conference table, “Exceptional customer service is always optional.”

Upon hearing this, his eyes narrowed, he leaned forward, and his voice lowered as he responded, “Not around here. Around here, exceptional customer service is mandatory.”

I disagreed but, in his defense, most general managers would say the same thing: “Of course exceptional customer service is not optional. We don’t permit employees to provide substandard customer service!”

In theory, they’re right. But in practice, they’re kidding themselves.

The reason that you and I, as customers, rarely experience the “exceptional” customer service these business leaders claim is mandatory, is because it’s optional.

An employee chooses to make eye contact, smile, or add a bit of enthusiasm to her voice.

Can you recall a recent interaction you’ve had over the phone or face-to-face with an employee who you sensed was apathetic, bored, or indifferent towards serving you? Of course you can. It happens all the time—even in work environments where exceptional customer service is “mandatory.”

Employers can mandate many aspects of an employee’s job role: the protocol required to complete a task; the employee’s wardrobe and grooming standards; or the time the employee begins or ends her shift.

But they cannot mandate the attributes that influence whether or not customers receive exceptional customer service.

An employee’s personality, disposition, uniqueness, creativity, or engagement level is determined by the employee, not her employer. She chooses to smile. She chooses to refuse to banter with a coworker in front of a customer. She chooses to go the extra mile to serve a customer.

While employers cannot mandate these attributes, they can hire for them. That’s why the companies that consistently produce the highest levels of customer satisfaction also invest the most in their employee selection efforts.

Leaders at these companies are not kidding themselves.

They recognize that employees choose to provide exceptional customer service (or, as is often the case, choose not to) and they establish their employee selection criteria accordingly.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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