Customer Service Experience Speakers: Create a Service Culture, and Loyalty Will Follow

NEW YORK — Southwest Airlines is often hailed as a textbook example of how providing fabulous customer service in a low-cost environment is not only possible but profitable, and the reason is simple: The company invests in its employees so they can then invest in the customers, according to Jason Young, its former manager of customer service training.

Young, Tuesday's opening keynote speaker at the Customer Service Experience conference, is now president of Leadsmart, but he picked up a few things about customer service in his 10 years with the airline. The key to Southwest's success, he said, "is building relationships internally so it expands outward to customers."

The airline has adopted what Young calls "customer-defined services," where the customer is the most important part of the business. The moment of truth for any company, he added, is whenever "a customer comes into a contact with your company that can leave an impression."

It's then that employee engagement comes into play, and where values, intentions, behavior, and perception all factor in, he said.

In that environment, teamwork is based on "relational coordination," which Young said can sometimes be seen as countercultural at many companies. "It's so easy to be so transaction-focused that you forget that we are in the business of building relationships," he stated.

Southwest, on the other hand, was founded with a corporate culture that encourages employees to take risks and be creative in their customer interactions. Its corporate vision statement says it is "dedicated to the highest quality of customer service delivery with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and company spirit," Young said.

"It helps to rethink how you are interacting with people," he told the conference attendees. "Make it more fun."

And then it helps to diffuse personal tensions that lower employee performance.

But above all else, "you need to determine what you value and do the work to live it out," he said.

Young's message was revisited throughout the day, as speakers focused largely on how companies can build and foster customer loyalty.

Richard Shapiro, founder and president of the Center for Client Retention, provided an eight-step plan for building repeat business. It featured the following:

  1. make me feel welcome;
  2. give me your full attention;
  3. answer more than my initial question;
  4. know your stuff;
  5. don’t tell me “no;”
  6. invite me to return;
  7. show me that I matter; and
  8. surprise me in good ways.

Keith Dawson, principal analyst at Ovum, said it is much harder to create loyal customers today. "Fifty or 60 years ago, we bought things because it was what our parents had. We were comfortable with it and used to it, and we didn't see a reason to change," Dawson said.

Today, loyalty is based more on making it easy for customers to do business with the company, and that requires smart connections built with solutions that are contextually aware and supported by a decisioning engine and value metrics, and that blend service channels, according to Dawson.

Dawson outlined the following five steps to building loyalty:

  1. analyze customer behavior, with special attention to the self-service options available and how and when customers use them;
  2. improve self-service, with a broader view than just the interactive voice response system;
  3. integrate all the channels together;
  4. create links between live support and self-service; and
  5. track satisfaction and evolve based on the results.

Bob Stutz, corporate vice president of Dynamics CRM at Microsoft, said during the lunch keynote that "it's all about insight now.... Customer journey mapping gives you a 360-degree, real-time view of the customer, but having a 360-degree view alone doesn't help you."

Instead, companies need to have a single view of the customer across interaction channels and devices, Stutz and several of the afternoon's speakers agreed.

"The biggest barrier to an extraordinary customer experience is not having a single view of the customer," said Martin Schneider, CRM evangelist at SugarCRM. "Stop thinking of [customer experiences] as silos, and start tying them together."

"The goal of CRM is to support the entire customer journey," Schneider said. "The channel is irrelevant. You need to know the customer no matter which channel he uses."

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The brand now offers workshops and presentations on customer service for non-competing companies.

Posted October 09, 2015