A few years ago, I attended a conference on customer service excellence where I worked with more than two hundred CEOs trying to uncover the essential elements of building a service-oriented culture. After a weekend of workshops, panel discussions, and breakout groups to combine the knowledge and experience of this exceptionally talented group of senior leaders, we determined that the most crucial element in building a business that can deliver superb customer service is to hire for attitude and aptitude, train for skills. It truly is just that awesomely simple. You can teach people to run a cash register, answer the phone, take an order, or work the sales floor. Still, no training class on the earth can teach someone to have a positive and enthusiastic attitude about delivering outstanding customer service.


Hire Talented People

So, the first and most crucial step is to find and hire bright and talented people who love to serve other people and make them happy. If you can fill your organization with as many people like this as you can find, you are laying the foundation for creating a fantastic service culture in your organization. It is also important to realize that this is especially true for frontline service providers: housekeepers, cashiers, receptionists, delivery people, customer service operators, salespeople-anyone who has daily face-to-face interaction with your customers. A story should bring this into sharp focus.

I live in Florida, and the major grocery chain here is Publix. Whenever I talk about customer service to a group of people in Florida, I ask them: How many of you personally know the family that owns the Publix supermarket chain?” I have never had anyone raise their hand to that question. So, I go on to the next: “How many of you personally know the CEO of Publix?” Again, I have never had someone raise their hand. Then I continue: “How many of you personally know the regional manager for your area?” Still no hands.

“How many of you know the manager of your local Publix where you shop week-in and week-out?” At this point, I might see one person out of a crowd of several hundred raise a hand. I move on to the last question: “How many of you know the cashiers and the baggers at your local Publix pretty well?” Nearly every hand in the room will go up.


Here’s My Point:

The CEO and senior management team of Publix might be some of the friendliest and most genuinely customer-focused people in all of humanity. That is not how I judge the company. Publix Supermarkets is the hourly-wage cashier who rings me up or the person who bags my groceries. I will continue to shop at Publix and give them my loyalty or take my business elsewhere, based mainly on how well the cashiers and the baggers treat me.

Luckily, Publix does an excellent job with its frontline folks. Still, it amazes me how many companies fail to realize that some of their lowest-paid and often least-respected employees are in the best position to make or break the company’s future. The more interaction a team member has directly with customers, the more essential it is to make sure this person has the tools, resources, training, and positive attitude to consistently deliver outstanding customer experiences.

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