Operationalizing a Customer Service Culture
How do you turn a good idea for a corporate culture into reality? By building an employee-centric workplace.
An amazing customer service culture begins by first amazing the employees.
Ace Hardware, the chain of retail stores known for their helpful service, is a perfect role model for this. Their tag line is The Helpful Place. They have truly operationalized the word helpful into their culture. That is their version of customer service. Helpful is what gives them a competitive edge. They want to be known as the most helpful hardware stores on the planet. And, they are. That’s how they compete in their very competitive industry, going up against much larger hardware and home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes. They win their game because they deliver a level of service focused on not just being nice and friendly, but also being helpful.
And the secret to their success, and other companies who share similar success, is that they don’t start by focusing on the customer. They first focus on their employees.
Ace is very serious about this. It isn’t just a theme that lasts for a year. It’s their culture which has been around since their first store was opened in 1924. It is the reason they exist. They hire the right people to fit into the culture. They train them both technically and on how to deliver their brand of helpful customer service. The management and employees treat each other with dignity and respect, and in turn, they treat their customers in a similar fashion.
If you’ve been following my writings and social media content, you know I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher’s philosophy, which is another excellent example that makes this point. He believed that if you put your employees first, they would treat the customers (also known as the passengers) well. When the customers were treated well, they would come back. And, by the way, the customers’ repeat business would make the shareholders very happy. This philosophy was an employee-first focus. And, it worked!
Think about it another way. If your car’s front end is out of alignment, then the entire car is going to shake. It’s not so different in business. If the company’s employees don’t experience the same value, promise and treatment that is supposed to be delivered to the customer, then the experience for the customer can be shaky and the entire company can suffer.
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