When I don’t get good customer service at a place, I blame leadership. Every time. Leadership determines core values. Leadership works with the rest of the group to determine standards. Leadership educates staff on how to maintain those standards, and leadership monitors to make sure everybody understands. Leadership provides the vision. Leadership leads.

Who are the people you look to for direction? Those are the people I include in the overall category of leadership:

* Top CEOs of corporations are leaders. They look to each other, to historic figures, and inside themselves for guidance.

* Supervisors and managers are leaders. They pattern themselves after the CEO and project that person’s business ethics and approaches.

* Shift supervisors, team leaders, floor managers – they’re all leaders. They look to their supervisors and managers for direction and guidance.

Customer service approaches start at the top and affect everyone in every leadership position within the company.

One of the challenges in any business is consistency. You can travel all around the country these days and get the same dining experience and the same food at any one of hundreds of franchise restaurants. Ever wonder how they do that? Ever wonder why those places are so popular? Because they’ve got a set of rules. There’s a way that customers are supposed to be greeted and treated.

Somebody has to set up the rules. Somebody has to be the ruler. Somebody has to say this is how you are trained, and this is how you’re going to help customers, and we’re going to monitor you to make sure it happens. You have some flexibility in how you’re going to make the business run, but not at the core. The core values are always rock-solid.

Sometimes the rules for customer service are simple to teach and everybody ought to have no problem understanding: No use of private cell phones at work. Period. No iPods. Period.

Sometimes the rules are a little more difficult to teach. The greeting is just one example. Leadership has to train everyone to offer an appropriate greeting. And if people don’t use the right words, leadership has to be able to explain why the specific greeting is important and work with those people until they get it right, every time.

When I’m a potential customer, I like being greeting with “How may I help you?” That tells me the person is ready to do something to help me. All I have to explain is the “how” and we’re on our way.

Another example: In a perfect world, there would be someone on hand at all times to answer the telephone so that employees wouldn’t have to interrupt their work with customers in the store to provide service to those outside the store. Well, it’s not a perfect world. Leadership has to train people how to handle a telephone call that comes in when they’re busy with another customer.

My suggestion for how to provide good customer service in that situation is based on old-fashioned common courtesy. Make eye contact with the customer and say, “Excuse me; there’s no one else to answer the telephone. I really must take that call. It shouldn’t take long. I apologize.”

Answer the telephone and keep the conversation short. If it looks like it’s going to be a longer interaction, get the caller’s number and call back.

But how many times as a customer have you waited…and waited…and waited…while that telephone call went on…and on…and on? What really frosts me is when I figure out that it’s a personal conversation. Big red flag that leadership isn’t on the ball.

Great customer service starts with a commitment from leadership to provide training, monitor for quality, praise employees for good efforts, and correct them when they don’t meet the standards. It’s an ongoing program for improvement – not just a 15-minute video tape all employees must watch on their first day at the job.

Leadership leads. What is leadership at your business doing to encourage outstanding customer service?

Author's Bio: 

Adapted from Mike McKinley’s book, They Have the Money: A Simple Equation for Keeping Your Customers. See Mike’s Web site for more information about this and other profit-building products: www.RealMikeMcKinley.com.