About Jeff Toister
Jeff Toister is the author of The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service. He has also authored customer service training videos on LinkedIn Learning, including Customer Service Fundamentals and Leading a Customer-Centric Culture.
Jeff was named one of the Top 30 customer service professionals in the world by Global Gurus. He was also named one of the Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter by the International Customer Management Institute.
Connect with the speakers
Connect with Jeff Toister on or buy his book, The Service Culture Handbook
Jeff Toister has extensive experience helping companies create a consistent customer service culture across their entire business. Here are a few of his tips on how to successfully accomplish that and why it’s important:
Clearly define core values
Many companies choose to define their culture through a set of core values, but those values are empty if you don’t give them tangible meaning. You can’t just throw out a bunch of values and leave them open to interpretation. If people don’t know what they mean, or everyone defines them differently, they certainly can’t use them to guide their daily work or to create a unified collective culture. Make certain these values are structured around tangible results or outcomes that your employees can then actively pursue.
Be descriptive vs. prescriptive
Every employee in an organization adds a different dimension to the overall culture, and companies must find a way to respect those important differences while maintaining consistency with unifying themes. Those that are successful in doing so most likely understand the difference between being prescriptive vs. descriptive when guiding their employees.
Taking a prescriptive approach means telling employees exactly what to say to customers and how to say it. The challenge with that is employees all have different personalities. While some shoe store employees might be comfortable with the greeting, “I can help the next shoe lover over here,” that phrase feels fake or silly to others.
A descriptive approach is helping employees understand the intent of what you want to achieve and how they should come across to customers. Provide a framework for how interactions should go, but let employees use their own personality and trust that you’ve hired the right people who can be successful in doing so.
Create an authentic customer service vision
A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service or experience that gets everyone in an organization on the same page. To be effective, this vision should reflect something authentic about what the company is already doing and an aspiration to continue and improve upon it.
Outdoor retailer REI’s mission is, at its core, to help others enjoy the outdoors. They use this as their customer service vision, and it’s been highly successful in bolstering their brand; it’s aspirational and authentically based in the company’s roots and how they were founded.
If done right, a customer service vision can be created in only two hours. Just follow these three steps:
- Give everyone chance to weigh in. Send a survey out to the whole company with a single question: What do you want our customers to think about the service we provide? This allows everyone to have input and be involved in the process.
- Gather a group of 7-10 people to create the vision statement. Less than seven people doesn’t provide enough perspectives, and more than ten is too many voices. Make sure all different levels of leadership and types of responsibilities are represented in the group. In a couple hours, they should be able to create a customer service vision statement that’s simple, customer-focused and anchored in reality.
- Socialize it within the company. The customer service vision should be a compass that guides the actions of all employees in an organization. In order to make that happen, make sure every employee knows the vision, what it means and how their role contributes.
Align everything you do with your core values and vision
An organization’s leadership team should always make decisions that are consistently aligned with their core values and customer service vision. This will help employees feel more engaged and able to emulate those values on a daily basis. When employees see the higher-ups in their organization disregarding the sentiments their business is supposedly built on, they’re more likely to check out. If their company doesn’t actually care about the core values, why should they? This negative sentiment then flows down into their customer service, impacting the bottom line.
Train employees with the end result in mind
The goal of any employee training session should be that each of them can confidently answer the following three questions: What is the company vision? What does it mean? How do I contribute? How you get to that end result will depend on the type of company and environment. It helps to use previously established blueprints for communication that have been successful in the past.
Make employees part of the change
Employees on the frontlines work with customers every day, and chances are some of them have figured out their own way to do it right. Talk to them, figure out what they’re doing and share it with other employees. Letting everyone know where the idea came from will give it authenticity, because it’s proven and didn’t come from someone up in an ivory tower who hasn’t actually experienced working with customers.
When introducing a new customer service approach, don’t tell employees they have to do it. Invite them to try it for a week and see what results they get. The phrasing makes all the difference — employees will be much more willing to commit to a new way of doing things if they don’t feel forced into it.
Finally, have supervisors hold weekly, or even daily meetings with employees in every office to talk to them about what challenges they’re facing and the solutions they’ve found. Cultivate the best practices and lessons learned and distribute them to the rest of the company. Instead of feeling like change is happening to them, all of this will ensure employees feel like they are part of the change and have valuable input to share.
Introduction: (00:05) Jeff Toister is the author of the service culture handbook, a step by step guide to getting your employees obsessed with customer service. He has also authored customer service training videos on LinkedIn Learning, including customer service fundamentals and leading a customer centric culture. Jeff was named one of the top 30 customer service professionals in the world by Global Gurus. He was also named one of the top 50 thought leaders to follow on Twitter by the international customer management Institute.
Mary Drumond: (01:11) How long has culture been a passion for you?
Jeff Toister: (01:17) Explicitly? That’s a great question.
MD: (01:18) As your main trade, let’s say. Your main focus.
JT: (01:18) As my main trade, hmm. It started when I wrote the Service Culture Handbook and the book itself was a culmination of work I had always been doing. As an example, my last corporate job, I was a training director for a parking management company and a lot of work that I did was helping our 500 locations develop, maintain and grow a service culture. I was focused on employee performance, but what I realized retroactively is that lot of it was just about culture and culture is, what do people do? What’s our collective way of behaving and thinking about our work environment? Years later as a consultant, I was doing a variety of things including, you know, straight forward customer service training. My training always focused on culture and I increasingly tried to work with organizations to help them define what culture looks like, how people should enable the culture, be a part of the culture. So when I got to writing this book, what I really decided to do was package all the work I had been doing and put it into one step-by-step guide that anybody can access and emulate by following the steps and directions in the book.
MD: (02:29) In your book, the Service Culture Handbook, you ask the question of what culture is in the same way that we talk about what customer experiences and it kind of having a different meaning to everybody. Culture also kind of has a different meaning for everyone, doesn’t it?
JT: (02:44) It does have a different meaning to different people. I think sometimes people use culture as a buzz word or a catchall and one of the things that I found is very important if you’re going to be deliberate about creating the culture that you want, you have to define things because if you say culture and you mean one thing and I mean something completely different, then we won’t be on the same page. A number of years ago, I was working with a credit union and they were working on a culture initiative and they chose to define their culture through a set of five core values. Ironically, one of those core values was integrity, which as a side note, is the most popular core value. Even Enron, of the famous accounting scandal in 2000/2001, one of their core values was integrity. So it’s a very empty word if you don’t give it meaning. And so my project, it was designed to figure out how well they rolled out the values, were they guiding people’s actions? And I learned two things. One, almost everybody knew the values, they could recite them. So the credit union had done a great job there. The second thing I learned though was, was a little stunning, which was universal disagreement as to what the values meant. And so going back to integrity, the CEO, the CFO, the chief marketing officer, they all had different definitions of the word integrity. And that taught me that you can do this kind of window dressing project to throw out a bunch of values, but if people don’t even know what they mean, they certainly can’t use them to guide their daily work. And we certainly can’t use them to create a unified collective culture. So definitions, even the word culture, become very important.
MD: (04:23) And an interesting thing that you pointed out as well was that culture can have a lot of different levels or tiers or nuances within an organization because you can aspire for worldwide company culture, but there’s still going to be culture that varies according to geographical locations or branches or even workspace all the way down to individual teams. Teams will have their own individual culture.
JT: (04:49) Well, if you look at organizations that have multiple locations and look at their Google reviews or their Yelp reviews, you’ll find exactly that. That from location to location to location, you’ll see variances in what people talk about and how people rate their service. And then if you were to visit those locations, you would just get a different vibe from one to the other. It’s incredibly hard to scale culture because every individual is like that butterfly wing flapping that creates a ripple felt eventually on the other side of the world. Every employee adds a different dimension to our culture. The larger an organization is, the more dispersed it is in terms of geography or just different silos, you’ll get people thinking differently about the work that they do. And that’s insanely difficult for organizations to create a culture that respects those important differences but also has some unifying themes. So no matter where I am, I’m getting a consistent service experience and a consistent employee experience and we remain on brand and, and some brands will do well in some locations, but not in others. I think you still have to be deliberate about the choices that you’re making. You know, one of the things that I think is important is to understand the difference between being prescriptive and descriptive when you’re trying to guide your employees. So prescriptive means I’m telling my employees exactly what to say and how to say it. So whether I’m in New York or Atlanta or in Phoenix, you know, we’re going to use exactly the same verbiage to greet people. Well, the challenge with that is that I’ve hired people with different personalities, that works for some people and not for others. I was in a shoe store and the required greeting when you’re waiting in line was, “I can help the next shoe lover over here.” Well, I mean for somebody, you could say that and get away with it and it’s fun.
MD: (06:45) I could never say that straight face.
JT: (06:48) No way. Me neither. And neither could the person saying it, quite frankly. But somebody in a meeting at corporate is like, we need a phrase, what’s our catch phrase? Let’s go with shoe lover. This is my personality. I decided to let the person behind me go and I said, I just like shoes, but maybe you love them. I guess you’re next. It was just awkward. And so that’s the prescriptive where we’ve given them exactly what to say, but descriptive means, well, this is the intent of what we’re trying to do. I want you to feel welcome, and we’re going to do it within a certain framework, but use your personality and let’s trust that we’ve brought someone in with the right personality who can do that. There’s always a tension between those two though, because if you let someone go too far astray, then they start creating different experiences that don’t align with the brand or with the culture. There’s not necessarily a happy medium that you can explicitly define. Its attention, I think, all organizations deal with, which is, you know, how much do we say you have to do it this way versus be unique and use your personality.
MD: (07:52) So it really is just finding something that you can unify everyone on, let’s say across the board, regardless of the, the different personality traits or culture traits or even generation traits, and being able to find something that collectively people can get on board with. And that’s what you should use as the culture that you establish for your organization?
JT: (08:15) I think the best way to think of it is when your organization is doing things really well and we’re, we’re having that great moment or that great day, all things are are running full steam ahead. What are we doing? In my research and my work with organizations, I found that customer focused organizations are able to really put their finger on that pulse and explicitly define what that is. There’s something called a customer service vision, which is a shared definition of outstanding service or outstanding experience that gets everybody on the same page. Some of the most customer focused organizations, they simply use their mission statement or their corporate vision for this. But whatever it is, it reflects something authentic about what we’re already doing and reflects an aspiration to do even more of that. You know, one company that I’ve probably talked too much about just cause I’m such a fan, but I really love REI, that outdoor retailer. And their mission is essentially to help us all enjoy the outdoors. That’s something that’s based upon the roots of the company, how it got founded. But even today, every single thing that they do is aligned with that vision of we’re here to help you enjoy the outdoors. So it’s authentic and it’s aspirational.
MD: (09:26) Yeah. REI is really a brand that people feel passionate about because they are so passionate, and I got to tell you, I don’t hike. It really, really don’t like camping. Like you will never find me camping and I still love REI and I’m still a Co-op member and I still stop there and I still prefer to buy with them than to buy in other places regardless of price because I like the feeling that I’m a part of that brand and for me it’s worth it to pay a little bit more at times to be able to feel like I’m a part of that.
JT: (09:56) Well and compare them to the typical sporting goods store. Let’s say you wanted to get a headlamp, not because you’re hiking at night, but because you’re walking your dog in the evening. You go to a sporting goods store and you’ll have a disinterested associate point you to aisle four and there you go. Or you walk into an REI and the sales associate gives you a dissertation on the differences between different headlamps and asks you important questions to figure out what you’re going to be doing with it because those questions actually matter in terms of how it fits, the brightness, the batteries, et cetera, things you’ve never considered, yet you walk out of there with the perfect headlamp for those dog walks and not for the hiking that you’ll never do. And that is the difference. REI is a very deliberate culture and the people they hire tend to be gravitating towards that culture because they love the outdoors and they want to share that, as you described, that passion with other people.
MD: (10:55) They’re kind of the gold standard, let’s say. Part of what you do for a living is helping companies that can’t really, or are having trouble creating that vision.
JT: (11:04) Well, I think the trouble is we make things too complicated. I’ve talked to quite a few customer service leaders where they’ve gotten stuck trying to create their vision. In fact, I got an email just the other day from a CEO who said, we created our vision at an executive retreat, and it’s falling flat. My advice was, well, part of it’s because you created an executive retreat. You assume that the only people who have their finger on the pulse of your culture are your executives, but but who really knows. Well it’s everyone. The process is important. And over a number of years, I’ve refined a process for creating the customer service vision. And if you do it right, it actually only takes two hours, not two days, two months, or even two years. It takes two hours to write something that’s really authentic, but part of it is following the right steps. So the way I’ve figured out through experimentation is that we first want everybody to have a chance to weigh in. So you send out a one question survey, everybody in the organization or the team that says, Hey, when you want our customers to think about the service that we provide, what do you want them to think of? This allows everybody to weigh in and know what you’re doing, but then when we come to write the vision, we only have 7 to 10 people in the room and the 7 to 10 people is kind of a magic number. Too few, you don’t have enough perspectives. Too many, you have too many voices, but that 7 to 10 should be a representation of different levels of leadership and also, laterally, different types of responsibilities so that everybody’s represented in that room. And over the course of two hours it takes some hard work, but at the end of that time you have typically a very simple but very focused vision statement that when you turn around and you share it with people who weren’t in that meeting, their immediate reaction is, yeah, that’s us. We’re doing things right. That’s us. So to go back to your question, I think the struggle is that organizations aren’t using a clearly thought out and well-defined process. They’re kind of mucking their way through, trying to write something and frankly it usually ends up feeling a little empty and a little too full of, you know, fancy words like integrity that don’t mean anything. And part of it is it simplifying your thinking. So a vision should be kind of bubbling below the surface and we just need to tap into it. My research, the strongest visions have three qualities. The first is that, okay, they’re simple and easy to understand. You know, REI is, and I’m paraphrasing, but it’s to help us enjoy the outdoors. Jet Blue, which is consistently rated one of the top airlines, their vision is inspire humanity. That’s really dead simple. In ‘n Out, which is my favorite place to get a fast food hamburger: Quality, service and cleanliness, that’s it. That’s the vision. So it has to be simple and easy to understand. It has to be customer focused. So focused on what you’re doing for your customer, not attributes that you hope your customer will notice about you. And that’s an important distinction. So some companies will say, well, we want to have the biggest market share, the best product, or we’re going to be known for our great service. And that’s not your vision. What are you doing for your customers? You know, going back to REI, helping you, the customer enjoy the outdoors, that’s customer focused. We’re focused on what we’re doing for you. So that’s the second attribute. And then the third attribute is it has to be both anchored in reality, it has to be something we’re already doing now, as well as aspirational. Hey, we want to do more of this in the future.
MD: (14:30) That was step two, right? Writing down that vision, is there a step three?
JT: (14:34) It’s socializing it. So the vision does no good if no one knows it. And that’s often a sticking point. Organizations will do, you know, kind of a lot of hoopla. They’ll have a big all hands and they’ll print mugs and tee shirts and they’ll say, okay, we have a vision now. And then they treat it like it’s a project and they put it on the shelf somewhere, quite literally, or on a wall and then they just go back to business as usual. If you do that, you’ve just wasted a whole bunch of time. The vision should be a North star or a compass that guides all of our actions. Well how can that guide action if I don’t know what it is or what it means once you create the vision, that’s the tip of the iceberg. The next step is you have to make sure every employee in your organization knows the vision, knows what it means and knows how their role contributes. And you know, earlier you asked me about how did I get started. When I was working for that parking management company, one of the things I backed into is, we had a vision for our company and part of my role was to go and do these customer service audits at all of our locations. So I would watch the operation, I would walk the operation to make sure things were clean and in good working order, I would talk to employees. And there was a clear difference between our locations that were high performing and the ones that were not. The ones that are high performing employees knew the vision, not just the words, but they could articulate what it meant. And then most important they could say, well this is how it applies to my job. I’m a valet parking attendant. Here’s what I do to emulate that. Or I’m a cashier, here’s what I do to emulate that. What I noticed even then was that employees who understood the vision made different decisions in their daily work. And so you need everybody in your organization to understand that. The third part is, as a leadership team, you have to make decisions that are consistently aligned with the vision and make it easy for employees to emulate the vision. So again, going back to REI, there’s such an easy example. Starting just a few years ago, REI closed their doors and shut down their website the day after Thanksgiving, which in the US is the biggest retail day of the year. And REI said, Nope, we think that the day after Thanksgiving is the perfect day to get outside, and we’re going to encourage you to do that, so much so we’re willing to lose all of those sales because we want you, and our employees by the way, to be enjoying the outdoors. And so they started their Opt Outside campaign and it, it’s not just a stunt, it’s something that they believe in their core and so they’re living those values and organizations really have to do things that are aligned with that culture if you want the culture to stick. If on the other hand you say to employees, well we want you to create this amazing service experience, but we’re not going to give you the tools or the resources to do it, you’ve created a conflict for employees where now they’re saying, well, wait a minute, you’re asking me to shoot for great and you’re giving me barely adequate in terms of you know, what you’re allowing me to do. It’s frustrating for those employees.
MD: (18:02) Yeah. That consistent brand message, whether it’s for the media or for press releases or communications or the way that the website and the ads that they run, everything that company does is a reflection of their core values and the employees also see that. Do you think that employees are more likely to feel engaged by companies that represent their core values?
JT: (18:28) Oh, of course. And if we take a moment to define engagement, engagement really is, I understand what makes the organization successful. In other words, I understand the core values or the vision or whatever’s most important. And I’m committed to being a part of that, to contributing to that. When the core values and the customer service vision is clearly aligned with everything that employees are asked to do, engagement becomes a lot easier. The challenge is when it’s not clearly defined or executives are doing things that are the opposite of what they’re asking employees to do. Then it becomes difficult for employees to be engaged because they see these, these very obvious disconnects. So I’ll give you an example. Just, this week I had a really bad service failure with the service department at my local car dealership. And essentially, I made an appointment for what I thought was going to be a two hour service. And when I got there they said, well, it’s actually going to be four hours. Well, I had two hours to spend, not four. And so I wasted the time there. And in that moment, you know, if they had a service culture, they would do something to learn from that experience, to prevent it from happening again and find a way to make it up to me. Well, they did neither. But what did happen was a day later I got a text saying, Hey, we’re going to send you a survey and it would be really helpful if you gave us a top score on that survey.
MD: (19:52) Of course they did.
JT: (19:53) Right? And it’s such a huge disconnect between, I know that survey invitation, that text was was automated, but on the ground, you know, one of the things that I suggested in my moment of frustration, I said, look, you’ve already inconvenienced me. Why don’t you give me a loaner car? I was going to wait the two hours. That would’ve been fine. Why don’t you give me a loaner car? And they were out of loaner cars. So they didn’t even have the resources that moment to make it right. The ironic thing is, you know, we can learn from these experiences. So I called another dealership. I had a string of problems with this dealer. So I said, that’s enough. I called another dealership and one of the first things the employees said to me as I’m making my appointment, I want you to know that this appointment is going to take about four hours. So we’ll give you the option to wait. We have a nice waiting room with wifi and coffee. We can give you a loaner car or we can call you an Uber and send you to a destination nearby, which would you prefer?
MD: (20:47) Hmm, look at that. And you know, those things are really gonna come into play when it comes to choosing your next vehicle because just thinking back at what you had to go through to that dealer is definitely something that kills an opportunity for rebuy. Those are the defining moments. I find myself in a similar situation as you, where sometimes I’ll go through a really bad experience as a customer and my mind is already planning blog posts and podcast episodes about it, but we seem to have a clearer vision of what’s going on and how that’s going to impact us because this is our industry. In the case of customers who don’t necessarily touch up on this industry at all, I think the frustration is even greater because they don’t understand what’s going on behind the scenes and they don’t understand which steps the company could take to make it better. And that is truly for me, defining point of understanding the customer, being customer centric all the way through, not only in your selling but in your services that come after you know, post-sale as well.
JT: (21:51) And think about how frustrating it is, to your point, when to a typical customer, it seems so obvious what they should have done and they didn’t. But what you and I know, being able to see behind the scenes is, you know, that first dealership, for example, that’s a chronic problem. The service advisor, I could see it in his eyes, he was just giving up. We had already had multiple conversations over the past couple of years about service failures and frankly, he was done. He didn’t create the service failure. He didn’t have the tools to solve it. He just didn’t care anymore.
MD: (22:32) Yeah, and his attitude of not caring is probably because he’s realized that the company doesn’t care. So if the company doesn’t care, why on earth should he care?
JT: (22:42) That’s it. That’s exactly it. And then the frustrating, isn’t it? When you care about something that you think your boss should care about more than you. Yet it really seems like it’s the other way around.
MD: (22:52) And it’s interesting because you have those people and they’re working for you and they understand that you’re not actually living what you preach. It’s like Enron having that integrity up there, you know? How can you trust that a brand is going to take good care of you when they don’t extend the same courtesy to the customers, the people that are keeping their company alive. I am pretty sure that any good employees that you have working for, you are going to jump at the first opportunity they get to work for another organization, then you’re going to be left with the bad ones and then it’s just like a spiral downward, right? There is no way that the leftover bad employees that chose to maybe continue working there for whichever reason are the ones that are going to pull your company back up. So like when companies find themselves in that kind of predicament where they’ve spiraled down so far because there’s that chain reaction between leadership that doesn’t reflect company culture on the employees and then the employees, in exchange, aren’t providing good experience for customers. How do you start climbing out of that spiral?
JT: (23:57) The brutal truth is you need a change in leadership. If we go back to the car dealership, for example, that same day I called and I asked to speak to the person in charge of the service department and they don’t have a service manager right now, so I said, well, who’s in charge of that person? It’s the general manager. Okay, I’d like to speak to that person. And he was not available. So I left a message, well it’s two days later, he hasn’t called me back. So you know where his priorities are and we have turnover and we have consistently poor service and a general manager who doesn’t find it a priority to call back upset customers. If I own the dealership, I’m firing the general manager, right? I can’t expect my frontline employees to do something that leaders are not willing to do themselves. And you said it, you know, setting ,that example and employees tend to understand what’s important based upon what the boss emphasizes. And so if a boss is always talking about service and working with employees to understand these chronic issues and fix them, employees are energized. They say, wow, this organization really cares. I do too. But when a boss is “too busy”, I know you can’t see my quotes in the air, but “too busy” to return a phone call from an upset customer, then that says, well, we’re too busy to do things ourselves. And when there’s chronic problems and you have chronic turnover in that middle management position because those people, I’ve talked to several of them, and they look frustrated and defeated as well. That all comes from, you know, whoever that general manager is. Unless that person is going to go through some sort of catharsis or some sort of transformative experience, they need to go.
MD: (25:32) Another thing is that customers understand and that lost the times. Employees are powerless. It doesn’t make it any better though. Whenever I have a problem where I’m gonna call like a, I dunno, a contact center or something like that to try to solve an issue and I’m really, really angry about it, I feel the need to apologize to the person on the other side of the company representative like I’m really angry about this. This is not your fault. You didn’t cause this, but I have to tell you and I’m angry and I have to get it out. Although those frontliners are not responsible, they are the ones that are dealing with the heavy weight of the poor experience, which is also something that probably kills their spirit.
JT: (26:13) It does.
MD: (26:13) It just kind of feeds that endless cycle of negativity inside of an organization. I can’t see somebody who works for a company that’s got horrible customer experience having a good day at work, because if customers aren’t happy and they’re constantly complaining and employees feel powerless to fix that situation for customers, my God, it must be an entire day of complaints and venting and just a lot of negativity all around.
JT: (26:41) I’ve talked to thousands of customer service employees and I’ve consistently heard exactly what you’re saying, that it is extremely challenging. One of the things that I find kind of interesting is a few years ago I discovered some research that suggests it’s easier to put someone in a tough position when you’re using an intermediary. In other words, it’s easier to come up with unfriendly customer policies and not empower your employees if you’re asking your employees to do it and you don’t have direct contact with your customers. So I’ll give you kind of a sad example, but a true one that, have you ever seen that show Undercover Boss?
MD: (27:21) Yes.
JT: (27:22) So for listeners have not seen it. A CEO or some executive puts on a disguise and goes undercover working on the front lines of their company. And allegedly they learn all these important lessons. Well, on the very first season there was the CEO of a company called GSI Commerce. And he worked in the contact center and he took a call that was just horrific because the company did the wrong thing and he was not empowered to make it right. They overcharged the customer and he literally did not have the ability, as the front line rep, to do something about it. And so he was really kind of agassed about, Oh, this is terrible. But he also saw a poor attitude from the employee who he was sitting with. And the conflict was that he immediately focused on all the things the employee was doing wrong. Well, she was doing them wrong because day after day after day, she goes to work, she doesn’t have the power to fix simple issues. Like, we charged you the wrong price, let’s make it right. She’s defeated. She’s angry. The boss takes one call and says, Oh, that’s bad, but then refocuses on the employee and instead of fixing the issue, it’s all about telling the employee they need to shape up. I think leaders need to spend more time really listening to their employees who know a lot and really listening and, when possible, really talking to customers because you’ll hear from customers that pain that you just won’t see in a survey or you just won’t notice if you never have direct customer contact.
MD: (28:57) You’re absolutely right and I’m here nodding my head while you’re speaking and most of the time, I mean especially in call centers, the person who has you on the line that they’re supposed to fix your problem, they’re not the ones that caused it in the first place. Probably some other department of the organization and when you have an organization that’s extremely siloed and they don’t really communicate among themselves, especially the problems that customers might have, it aggravates the problem even more and creates even more frustration on behalf of everyone involved. All this to say, I really have a lot of respect for people who work at call centers because it’s a really a really challenging job that offers very little gratification, I feel.
JT: (29:39) In some instances, in other instances it can be fantastic if you’re in the right culture. So I want to give you something and your listeners, something that you can use the next time you’re on that call with a call center and you’re frustrated and it’s a simple, simple question. All you do is you ask the person that you’re talking to if they are empowered to take care of your issue. So you explain that this is what I think is reasonable, this is what I’d like you to do for me. Are you empowered to fix this? And it’s helpful for them and for you because if the person says, no, I’m not. Well, instantly you feel deescalated because you realize, well, I’m not going to continue to beat up on a helpless person that’s not right. And they’re able to be candid with you, and most people will kind of step away from the script for just a moment and say, I’m not able to do this. Here’s what we can do. On the other hand though, and I know this sounds weird for a service culture guy to say, it’s if the, if the employee says, I am empowered to fix this, well then they have two options, right? They fix it. I had a person recently who said, I am empowered to fix it and I’m not going to. Well, guess what? You deserve my anger now, you shall get my wrath and I will not feel bad about it.
MD: (30:50) Now this is about you. Now the problem is you.
JT: (30:53) That’s exactly it. That’s very rare, but I really didn’t feel bad at all venting my frustration on that person.
MD: (31:00) Yeah. Yeah, really. But then again, it ties back into what sort of culture is being given in training, which takes me all the way back to a couple of minutes ago when we were discussing validating that vision and sharing the vision with the team. What is the most efficient way to make sure everyone in the company knows what your vision is and makes that vision a part of their everyday.
JT: (31:28) So descriptive, not prescriptive, right? Training of any kind. The best way to train someone is to start with the end in mind and then work backwards. There’s no one right way to do it, but if you start with the end in mind, you’ll figure out the right way for your organization. So the objectives are to make sure your employees can answer three questions. What is the vision? What does it mean? How do I contribute? And how you get there will be different depending on your environment. So if I’m at a small startup and 10 of us are working in an open space environment, that’s a conversation. That’s a, that’s a very easy thing to do. If I’m in a global organization and we’re in 15 countries and we have 10,000 employees, that’s a very different scale and a very different challenge. So if you start with the end in mind, which is how do I make sure every employee knows the vision, knows what it means and knows how they contribute, then you work backwards. And I am, I’m a big fan of respecting the work we’ve already done. Chances are most companies have some success communicating something to every employee, whether it’s a new policy, a new procedure, a new brand identity, new benefits, whatever, we’ve done in some arena where everybody has gotten the message. And so you probably have a blueprint already that works for your organization and if you can figure out what that blueprint is, that’s probably a good place to start. Okay when we communicated the new benefits, for example, this is how we did it and everybody seemed to get it eventually. We had to do a lot more follow-up than we thought. We had to do big announcements and emails and one on one meetings, site visits from HR, whatever it was. We had a whole comprehensive plan, but it worked at the end. You know, 99% of the people sign up for benefits on time. There’s our blueprint for making sure everybody understands the division. You probably have the blueprint and in just about any organization.
MD: (33:18) And how about like in cases where you’re going to find some resistance. So we’re instituting a company-wide policy that from now on we refer to customers as shoe lovers. There is going to be resistance. Of course, I’m using a super extreme example, but what happens when you know you’re going to find resistance.
JT: (33:41) I think resistance often comes from people feeling like change is happening to them and they’re not a part of the change. And so I’m a marketer, you’re a marketer. I think we have some insight into this. We know the whole shoe lever thing wasn’t something someone on the front lines came up with. Somebody in a marketing meeting was like, I’ve got an idea. So I think you start by making sure that these things are not disconnected from reality. I learned very early in my career that if you spend a lot of time talking to employees, somebody’s probably figured out the right way to do it. And if you can figure out what they’re doing well and share it with others, when you communicate that this is the new thing and make sure you emphasize where it came from, it’s going to have so much more authenticity because it’s already proven. People realize it’s one of their peers, not someone in the ivory tower who came up with it. They’re going to accept it a lot more so that is far and away the first step. The second step is inviting people to be a part of the change. So I remember years ago I was a contact center trainer, and again the lessons you learn the hard way, we were asking people to use certain phrasing and a certain approach to pitching something to customers over the phone and people really didn’t want to do it. And so what I changed the tactic from saying, you have to do this, to I’m going to invite you to try it. My invitation is to give it a week and try doing it this way and let’s see what results you get. And what was amazing, when I said, let’s just try it, people said, you know what I’ll give it a try. I don’t think it’s going to work, but I’ll give it a try. And people quickly discovered, because one of their peers had come up with this procedure, they quickly discovered it worked really, really well. And so it caught on. And another initiative that I worked on that required a really big change. One of the things we had was weekly and sometimes daily meetings with employees to ask people, what challenges are you facing? What solutions have you found? Everybody knew these meetings were happening across different shifts. And then we had a mechanism where supervisors would kind of cultivate the best practices that the employees are bringing to the table as well as the lessons learned and redistributing them to everyone. So once again, change was not happening to them. They were a part of the change and so you got much less resistance because people were able to add their 2 cents, but it was also the changes were happening based upon their input and feedback.
MD: (36:14) For our listeners out there, if you’re looking to make some big changes in your company, Jeff Toister, Jeff, how can people contact you, reach you, follow you, get more of your material? What’s the best way to find you?
JT: (36:26) I think the easiest way, if I were to give you one point of contact in the universe is to go to toistersolutions.com, and I like to give away a lot of things for free and so when you get to that website, the very first thing you’ll see is an invitation to sign up for my customer service tip of the week. It’s one email, one tip, once per week. There’s a little caveat that I’ll share with with your listeners when when you sign up for that, each email includes all of my contact information, so my email address, you can reply to any email and get to me directly. You’ll also see my phone number in there. You can call me or text me and I like to share that because I have a lot of great conversations with customer service leaders and it’s about trying to solve their challenges, so I’m not trying to sell a consulting project or training class. I just want to be helpful. And so if you go to that website and sign up for that weekly tip, you’ll get my contact information and if you’d like to start a conversation, I’d really welcome that.
MD: (37:27) That’s awesome. Thanks so much for being a part of our podcast today, Jeff, we really appreciate your insight.
JT: (37:33) It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me.