By Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

One of the hallmarks of any successful business is its ability to deliver value. No matter what form it comes in – be it a product or service, a commitment, or even information – value is ultimately defined by the customer.

It’s no secret a company needs to provide quality service to enhance the value it provides its customers. A business’s bottom line depends on it, and how successful a company is at delivering customer service hinges upon its ability to align the behaviors of its employees the established goals set forth by the organization’s leaders. In addition, it also depends upon the company’s capacity for developing and leveraging best practices, as well as crafting and executing internal processes to provide external value.

“You can enhance your external service by improving your internal culture,” said Brian Gareau, a speaker and consultant who specializes in strategic, tactical, and practical solutions to engage and accelerate high performance. “But it takes constant care, and it’s about being intentional and providing commitment.”

Culture Is Everything

There’s no better way for a company to assess its workplace culture than to observe the actions of its employees and how they are perceived internally and externally, as well as determine how those actions are reinforced and tolerated.

According to Gareau, all workplace actions can be categorized three ways:

  • Compliance – This action or behavior is mandatory, and it has to be done or a negative consequence will result.
  • Commitment – This action or behavior comes with an understanding of the organizational benefit and personal benefit.
  • Norm – This action or behavior occurs without conscious thought, and it is just the accepted way of doing something.

A company improves the quality of the customer service it provides by first ensuring employee compliance, commitments and norms are in sync with management’s pre-established expectations. This is achieved, said Gareau, through workforce engagement.

All About Attitude

Engaging an employee, continued Gareau, requires getting into their head, hands, heart and habits. It’s hardly an easy task, but it can be done by successfully advancing the following two ideas within the company:

1. Customer service isn’t simply an organizational department or division, and it isn’t a task assigned to a single individual. It’s a company-wide attitude.

2. Delivering quality customer service consists of more than just providing the customer with the product or service that was purchased. In order to enhance value, employees need to be able to absorb, process and accept customer feedback – and more specifically – negative customer feedback.

There are a wealth of reasons why a customer may take issue with the service provided by a company. According to Gareau, examples include:

  • Unmatched expectations
  • Taking too long to resolve issues
  • Inconsistency
  • Failing to keep promises
  • Standing by policies – no matter what
  • Winning the disagreement – at all costs
  • Perceived rudeness or a condescending attitude
  • Passing the buck
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Little to no follow-up
  • Making excuses
  • Not listening closely
  • Incomplete, generic unhelpful information

“Here’s my contention: Most of what is causing these issues is behavioral – and is a direct result of what you tolerate in the culture,” said Gareau. “Leading by example is very important, and in your culture, what people see leaders doing is very important. It doesn’t matter what you say. It’s about what you do.”

Addressing Employee Needs

Ensuring employees remain both productive and motivated ultimately comes down to satisfying their rational and emotional needs. While meeting rational needs – such as dispensing competitive wages, maintaining a safe workplace, supplying the proper tools and equipment, as well as providing proper training – is vitally important to workforce engagement, fulfilling employees’ emotional needs is an even more critical (and difficult) task for a company.

According to Gareau, an organization can expect to get approximately two or three times more out their efforts address emotional needs (company identity, organizational importance and operational impact) than they do dealing with rational needs. And it all starts with defining employee identities.

“What does it mean to be part of the organization?” asked Gareau. “Why should (employees) be proud to be part of it? They identify with the organization, and they are with the company through both the good times and the bad.”

Being able to accurately establish an employee’s level of organizational importance is important to ensuring he or she remains engaged. In order to maximize productivity, an employee needs to understand why it is important to not only support the company in its endeavors, but also follow organizational policies, practices and procedures for customer service, as well as how to support the company’s brand.

However, according to Gareau, an employee’s ability to understand his or her organizational impact is the most critical factor in determining engagement. Without accurate knowledge of how much his or her actions and behaviors affect the company as a whole, an employee cannot and will not fully maximize his or her potential for productivity.

Personal Accountability

No company can provide even adequate customer service without a workforce willing and able to accept personal accountability for day-to-day business-related happenings. And the most effective way for a company to evaluate its workforce’s personal accountability is by asking and answering the following two questions:

1. What happens when mistakes are made?

2. What happens when goals and targets are missed?

“If your answers to those questions are ‘People don’t share’ or ‘People get blamed’ or ‘People hide things,’ then your accountability is not where it needs to be,” said Gareau. “Because we have to take accountability to where customer service is as well.”

He continued by noting there are a number of signs employees in an organization lack accountability. They include:

  • Lack of interest
  • Missing deadlines
  • Making excuses
  • Avoiding the taking of initiatives
  • Telling others what they want to hear
  • Blaming others for mistakes or errors
  • Omissions
  • Pointing out inadequacies
  • Silence

“If accountability is shoved off internally, then how is it going to be taken externally?” asked Gareau.

High-performance organizations define accountability as a personal choice to proactively influence and take ownership in an effort to drive desired results. A company who views accountability in such a way sees less internal strife among employees and enjoys a more proactive workforce committed to enhancing customer service.

“You cannot maximize your accountability without full engagement,” added Gareau.

Empowerment

In trusting its employees – particularly their abilities, competencies and overall character, a company empowers them to achieve their potential. However, any organization willing to go a step further by enabling them to make sure each and every customer is satisfied stands to benefit the most. Doing so not only allows the company to end up with a better overall workforce, but it increases the value, importance and impact of the work conducted by employees.

When organizational processes are aligned, a company cultivates focus, understanding and trust among its workforce. However, in order to achieve these benefits, management needs to get in sync with those whom it employs.

According to Gareau, this is done through formal and informal communication, policies and processes, teaching and training, and decision-making.

“These processes, if done correctly, will reinforce certain behaviors in your organization and cause your culture to move forward,” he said.

Ultimately, a company’s external customer service is only as good as its internal culture, and those that adopt best practices and create internal processes to ensure employees are engaged can produce added value for their customer base.

This article's contents were adapted from a CONEXPO-CON/AGG Tech Talk, part of the show’s new 75,000-square foot Tech Experience featuring future-looking innovations that shape manufacturing.

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