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Customer Service

Giving Great Service to Your Staff

We all know service is important—right?  We’d be surprised if there were a company left in the US which hasn’t incorporated some version of “the customer is always right” into its employee handbook.  Every politician and business leader can quote statistics about the pros and cons of the relentless move towards a “service economy.” And service is the topic most requested by clients who want ZingTrain to speak or work with their organization.  On the other hand, many people feel that the level of customer service that they receive as customers is lower than ever.

If service is so important, why don’t more businesses do a better job of providing it?

Vincent+and+Brandon+ScratchboardAt ZingTrain, we teach the importance of creating a vision of great service for your organization, then providing training resources and recognizing and rewarding the great service givers.  And we strongly believe that those steps are necessary prerequisites for a service-oriented organization. The focus of this blog post is not on the service our staff give to our customers, but on the service that we—as leaders in our organizations—give to our customers and to our staff. What is our role when it comes to creating a culture of great service?

One of the most powerful statements we’ve heard about the role of managers and organizational leaders with regard to customer service comes from Paul Saginaw, who co-founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen back in 1982.  Paul remains a tireless champion for great service in his current role as Zingerman’s Chief Spiritual Officer. According to Paul, “the service that our staff give to our customers will never be better than the service that we (the leadership) give to our staff.”

Think about it.  The leadership of an organization sets the bar.  We can’t reasonably expect anyone to give better service than we give.  If we set high standards, staff are challenged to meet them. If we set the bar low, it sends a strong message that service is a low priority, since the leadership can’t even be bothered to do it well.

At Zingerman’s, our management approach is based upon the concept of Servant Leadership. An important element of this approach is the belief that the leader’s role is to serve the organization, not the other way around.  So a manager’s primary customers are the people who report to him/her. If we give great service to our staff they can focus their attention where it will do the organization the most good—not on us, but on their customers, the people who come into our stores to shop.

What exactly does it mean to give great service to your staff?  Well at Zingerman’s, it’s easy. We’ve documented Zingerman’s 3 Steps to Great Service:  

1. Find out what the customer wants.
2. Get it for them (accurately, politely and enthusiastically).
3. Go the extra mile.  

Giving great service to our employees means following these 3 steps with everyone who reports to us (as well as with our peers and our customers).

Step 1: Find out what the customer wants.

At a macro level, we need to understand what our customers, in this case our employees, want from their workplace.  When it comes to benefits, we ask them through surveys and by having a cross-section of staff serve on our benefits committee.  Information is also available through industry publications. For example, Gallup survey information published in First, Break All the Rules tells us that the #1 thing employees want to know in order to feel satisfied with their jobs is “what is expected of me at work?”  This information has made us even more diligent about clearly documenting expectations for each position within our organization.

people_standing_gray+ssWe also need to understand what employees want on a micro level, by asking individuals.  We need to engage our staff, one on one, just as we do our customers, to learn about their individual preferences on such things as how they like to receive recognition: in public? With a handshake and a thank-you? Via a hand-written note? As managers, we tend to manage our staff the way we would like to be managed.  This is perfectly natural, but we give better service if we find out how our staff want to be managed and then respond accordingly.

Step 2: Get it for them—accurately, politely, enthusiastically.

Just as with our retail customers, the better job we do on Step 1 – figuring out what our staff want – the better the chances that we can be accurate in our delivery.  For example, if we know that a staff member values additional time off more than a monetary bonus, we can take that into account when designing a bonus plan.

As is also true with our retail customers, we can provide more accurate service to our staff when we understand—and follow—the procedures that are in place in our organization. Making sure that the paperwork for a promotion, raise or change in benefits is correct greatly increases the likelihood that the staff will get the “product” that they expected. Even more importantly, we must honor our commitments to our staff—taking them as seriously as we would a promise to a paying customer.

Being polite to our staff should go without saying, but unfortunately it is all too easy to let this slide, especially when we are tired, stressed or convinced that this particular staff person is on a personal crusade to drive us crazy.  But remember, the service that we give to our staff sets the bar for the service they will give to our customers. If we are rude to our staff, we are implicitly modeling that it is acceptable to be rude to customers.

The enthusiasm piece of this step is particularly important, but also challenging. Because we all have bad days–and probably a couple of staff we aren’t crazy about. So sometimes giving great service is an act.  As managers, we are on stage. So you may not feel delighted that Timmy has requested another Saturday off, but as a service-oriented leader you’ll smile, be polite and do the best you can to accommodate his request.

So does this mean that you have to give your staff everything they ask for?  Of course not. Just as we cannot satisfy every customer request, we cannot always say yes to our staff. Customers may ask for services that we don’t provide, and staff may have requests that are not in the best interest of the business as a whole.  But the attitude with which we respond is just as important as the content of the response. When we are unable to meet a staff member’s request, just as when we can’t meet a customer’s, we treat it as a complaint. But the politeness and enthusiasm with which we respond stay in place.


Step 3: Go the extra mile.

At Zingerman’s, following Step 1 (Find out what the customer wants) and 2 (Get it for them: accurately, politely and enthusiastically) defines the bare minimum in acceptable service. To give great service, we need to do Step 3 (Go the extra mile).  We define “going the extra mile” as “doing something for the customer that he/she didn’t ask for.” Going the extra mile applies to our internal customers, our staff and peers, as well.

How can you go the extra mile for your staff?  Well, physically it’s the easiest part but mentally it’s the hardest.  Because you need to think of it yourself. But once you get in the extra mile mindset, it’s easy to see many opportunities.  For example:

  • Empty someone’s wastebasket or recycling bin

  • Carry empty glasses back to the kitchen

  • Offer to bring coffee or a soft drink when you’re going to get one for yourself

  • Open the door

  • Clear their table

  • Write a note

  • Ask how their weekend away went

  • Give them a new product to take home and try

  • Ask for their input on a project that they wouldn’t normally be involved in

  • Send flowers

  • Say thanks

The organizations that become known for their service to customers have a service-oriented culture that begins at the top.  Take 5 minutes right now to stop and think about your role as a service leader in your company. What can you, personally, do to set the service bar higher by improving the service you give to your staff? 

For more information on creating a service-oriented culture, check out the resources below:

Five Elements of Building a Great Culture [WEBINAR]

One Customer at a Time [ARTICLE]

*This content was originally published in Gourmet Retailer.