Every day there seems to be a new story about an irate customer behaving badly. These unfortunate situations create psychological stress for frontline employees and additional pressures for businesses.
What can employees and companies do to provide Legendary Service while facing the headwinds of the pandemic?
Hard Times Demand Legendary Service
We’ve all been struggling through the pandemic. Everyone is tired and cranky. Everyone is lonely. And everyone’s patience seems to be at a breaking point, including executives, managers, and employees. No matter our role, we’re all human—and no one is immune to what’s been happening in our world.
Still, businesses need to stay in business. Organisations must remind their employees about the enduring value of providing Legendary Service to their customers. In fact, now is the moment for organisations to show their true colours and prove to their customers how much they matter.
Every team member must understand the importance of being patient, kind, and compassionate. When customers are difficult or wrong, the mission is to turn a bad experience into a great one. This makes the organisation shine.
Look After Your People
First, make sure your people are not burned out—that they have the energy and emotional capacity needed to provide Legendary Service. Many companies are asking their employees to do a lot more with a lot less. That’s like putting people in a pressure cooker.
Then help your team members understand why serving customers is so important. That starts with making sure they have the mindset and skills to serve customers at the highest level.
How to Create Legendary Service
The CARE model (Committed, Attentive, Responsive, and Empowered) we teach in our Legendary Service training program is an excellent framework. CARE means:
Committed: Commit yourself to helping your people. Have their backs. Never ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.
Attentive: Be attuned to the needs of your people and help them feel valued. Pay attention and give them grace when you sense they are fatigued. Praise people when they do well and redirect them when they get off track. Cheer them on and celebrate their accomplishments.
Responsive: Serve your people by being there when they need you. Use the correct leadership style for the person’s development level on different tasks. There’s no such thing as over-communicating during difficult times.
Empowered: Empower your people to provide the highest level of service without needing to call a manager. Empowerment isn’t about giving a pep talk. It means providing the training and skill sets people need to succeed.
When leaders follow the CARE model, they demonstrate that they understand what it takes to give Legendary Service. They show that they believe in a service mindset and they care about their people and their customers. It’s a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.
The Challenge of Empowerment
Empowering your people can be a challenge. As a leader, you want your people to feel empowered to solve customer problems. At the same time, you don’t want them giving away the farm.
If your team members have never been trained in customer service, it’s likely they don’t know about empowerment. One of your first goals is to make sure people understand what is in their scope of authority. They need to know what they can say ‘yes’ to, what is in-bounds, and what is out-of-bounds.
When people know the extent of their authority, they know what they are able do to help a customer. They can resolve problems on the spot. They also know when to reach out to a leader.
Ken Blanchard says, “You want people to bring their brains to work.” Make sure your people feel empowered to use their best judgment to serve their customers. Encourage them to build relationships and emotional connections with both internal and external customers. When people bring their brains to work, they can take preemptive actions to build loyalty.
The Delicate Art of Expressing Empathy
Sometimes a customer’s problem can’t be immediately resolved. When that happens, it’s a perfect time to take pause and put yourself in their shoes. When you look at a situation from the other person’s perspective, you might feel empathetic. That doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with the person—customers can be wrong sometimes. But showing empathy can go a long way in diffusing a situation.
For example, think about the mask mandate currently in place for air travel. Some people are angry about it. They feel the CDC’s rules about masks are always changing and the law is inconsistent. A flight attendant raising their voice won’t calm a passenger. But empathy might—especially if the flight attendant says something like, “I get it. I understand. I’m also tired of wearing masks. I know it can be hard to breathe.”
Practicing difficult customer interactions with your team is an excellent way to plan for them. Imagine worst-case scenarios and then have your people respond to the challenge. Customers can get aggravated, frustrated, or angry, and you don’t want people’s reactions escalating the situation. Ask your team members to imagine what customers are feeling in these situations. Uncover why they might be frustrated and what response may aggravate them. Then have people practice acknowledging the customer’s feelings instead of just apologising.
Humour as Your Friend
Humour can take tension out of a situation. It’s like deflating a balloon. It really is the best medicine, especially in a stressful or challenging moment. But it comes with a huge caveat—never make the customer feel as if they are the target of the joke. That will make the situation even worse. Just make sure that there’s no chance your humour will be misunderstood. We all could use a good laugh sometimes to blow off steam—as long as it isn’t at someone else’s expense.
The pandemic continues to run its course. Stress levels will remain high for the foreseeable future. Customers will be frustrated. But despite these challenges, we can still provide Legendary Service and turn difficult situations into winning ones.
About the authors:
Kathy Cuff is a Senior Consulting Partner for The Ken Blanchard Companies, creates an effective and positive learning environment and motivates people to take action to improve the quality of their personal and professional lives.