Ask any member of the C-Suite what issues are top-of-mind going into 2015 and many will acknowledge the top risks include: cyber-attacks, bottom-line performance, the role that big-data is playing and last but not least the ever-changing demands of customers.  In fact, customer expectations and demands are becoming increasingly influential in determining corporate strategy. With this in mind, we caught up with a leading authority in customer service, Shep Hyken for his take on what opportunities lay ahead for the C-Suite in 2015. As one of the leading customer service experts, as well as a professional speaker and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling business author, we were very pleased that he could take the time to chat with us and give us great insights for the C-Suite as we head into 2015.

So, without further ado let’s get to Shep’s top 5.

1. THE RETURN TO CONFIDENCE

“We have just come out of a recession and many senior management teams are just regaining their confidence,”stated Shep. “They are still gun-shy about spending money, making decisions and contemplating expansion. However, as time progresses, I can see their confidence level increasing.” And with this increasing confidence, the C-Suite is really able to focus on the strategic side of the business and hire the right people up front. “By making a conscious effort to hire the right people up front, you help form the culture and behaviours necessary to succeed,”acknowledged Shep. “Of course hiring is only part of the equation. You also need to invest properly as well. Train them well and watch them save accounts, create world of mouth and get new accounts. It creates confidence with the customer to come back again and again.”

2. CUSTOMER PERCEPTIONS ARE THE REALITY

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken

“Customer service is what I do. I understand the power of amazing your customers each and every time,”noted Shep. “What astounds me is the frequency at which the leadership of a company believes that its customer service is actually better than what it is. We recently did a survey and it again demonstrated that senior leadership was misaligned in its knowledge. Yet, you speak to the front line staff or the customers and a completely different picture emerges. That is why it is imperative and should be mandatory that executives work the front lines or shadow workers to really experience and understand the customer service reality. When this occurs, customer service takes on an entirely new dimension for the C-Suite”

3.  THE NEW BENCHMARK

Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities in 2015 is for the C-Suite and their respective teams to acknowledge and act upon the fact that they can no longer benchmark against their competitors. “We now need to ask ourselves what the best companies are doing,”declared Shep. “It is no longer enough to look next door. No, we need to think in broader terms. For example, ACE Hardware has created the Ace Center for Excellence, which empowers participants to amaze their customers. ACE is a great example of how you can compete with big business and win; as well as how to lead in a customer service culture.”

4.  MEETING THE EVOLVING AND CHANGING CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS

Because of the global nature of companies and the information that consumers now have, the companies that really excel at customer service have set the bar for all companies. In other words, these companies have trained consumers on what to accept. “Today we see that customers expect good or great customer service from every experience they have. For example, years ago if you went to a restaurant and experienced really great service, you would go to another restaurant and only hope to have a similar experience,”noted Shep. “At the same time you might go to another business and not have any expectation. That has all changed now. The expectation is to always have great customer service.”

5. CULTURE

Regardless of all other opportunities for improved customer service, there is one thing for certain: it needs to start at the top. “For an organization to excel at customer service, its leadership has to decide the ‘what they will be,”shared Shep. And to reinforce the what, here are Shep’s 6 D’s:Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 7.30.08 PM

1.  Define what you want to be in super clean and easy terms. For example, the Ritz-Carlton has a simple statement – a statement of nine words that says it all. “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”Easy to remember and easy to understand. And, more importantly if you can live by that motto, then working at the Ritz-Carlton is the right place for you.

2. Disseminate to everyone! Share with your entire team what you want to be. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

3.  Deploy! It is not enough to define it and disseminate it, you need to properly deploy it. To do so, train everyone. And remember, training is not something that you did, it is something that you do over and over again. For example, you may have a weekly meeting to review your progress and top priorities.  Use that meeting to review your customer service beliefs and approaches. Leveraging short meetings to reinforce the behaviour is an excellent way to keep the right behaviour top-of-mind.

4.  Demonstrate as a leader that you also live the motto. When others see you doing the right thing, they will follow suit.  For example, Walt Disney demonstrated his beliefs daily. If he saw a piece of paper on the ground, he would always stop, pick it up and throw it in the garbage. He knew that everyone was watching him and he had to set the tone. If he walked away without picking up the paper, he was giving his employees permission to do the same.

5. Defend! Not everything goes as planned all of the time. That however is not a reason to abandon your commitment to customer service excellence. Defend the process by using it as a teaching opportunity.

6. Delight in it! Remember to celebrate and recognize accomplishments of individuals and also the organization as you turn it around. When your customer service satisfaction rates increase, celebrating with your team is essential.

And as a bonus, Shep’s final point for the C-Suite: “Remember that customer service is not a department. It is a philosophy to be embraced from the C-Suite to the recently hired person to everyone in between.”A great point which many organizations have yet to embrace, but should!

NOTE: This post was previously shared on Invest NB’s Blog.