Customer Experience News & Trends

5 mistakes leaders make that kill the customer experience

customer experience

Many managers make subtle mistakes that mess with employees’ abilities to do a great job, as well as customers’ experiences with the company. Could you be making them, too?

What goes on behind the scenes has a huge impact on what kinds of experiences customers have with any organization. When things run smoothly, customers will have good experiences. When employees — those who deal with customers directly and those who don’t — aren’t happy, they’re not likely to consistently deliver what customers want.

Customers feel it, too

The roots of the problems often lie in subtle mistakes sales, customer service and marketing leaders make when dealing with their employees, says Christine Comaford, author of Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.

Those little issues eat at morale and productivity to the point where:

  • customers begin to notice they can’t get answers when they want them
  • frustrated customer-facing employees become upset and rude
  • productivity stalls and customers wait for products and services, and
  • poor communication interferes with accurate and fast resolutions.

Of course, most managers don’t want to hold their employees back from doing a great job and creating an incredible customer experience, but mistakes can creep in that cause it to happen.

Here are five of the worst — and how some seasoned sales, customer service and marketing managers overcame them to lead their teams to success.

1. Giving solutions

On the surface, it seems like managers should be solution makers. They’re often in charge because they were leaders who helped customers, colleagues and the company solve problems in the past.

But when leaders consistently help out employees by giving them solutions, they don’t do anyone any favors. Managers who tell their people what to do instead of encouraging them to figure things out on their own are developing order-takers instead of innovators.

Employees will lose their creativity and self-reliance if they know the boss will tell them what to do when faced with a new problem, challenging issue or unfamiliar professional territory.

The better approach is to engage employees in problem solving, says Comaford. Asking more questions than providing answers helps employees develop a sense of ownership for all that they do — a key to helping customers when they come to you with a problem.

When employees bring issues up, the best approach for managers is to try asking about three to five questions before even thinking about offering solutions. This forces employees to think through situations before asking for help. Try questions such as:

  • “How would you handle this if I weren’t here?”
  • “What do you think is the most practical approach in this situation?”
  • “Think about the impact this might have on the customer and our company, and then tell me what you think is the best way to approach this.”

2. Holding ineffective meetings

Inefficient meetings are a drain on just about everything in a business. They steal employees’ valuable time that could be better spent helping customers. They drain energy and morale from people who realize their time is being wasted. And they hurt the bottom line because productivity was lost on the time spent in the meeting.

The good news: There are ways to run meetings that keep employees focused and — down the line — customers happy. Leaders need to do all they can to avoid rambling in meetings and stay focused. Plan short, high-energy meetings with a clear agenda that includes less idea-sharing and more assignments of action.

Idea-sharing should happen before meetings begin, Comaford says. Then meeting time can be spent covering what will be done and who’ll do it.

Dave Ross, General Manager at Safelite AutoGlass in Boise, ID, wanted to use meeting time to look at customer feedback and make changes based on customers changing needs. So he shared the feedback ahead of the meeting and asked for employees to review it and think of what should be done in response to the feedback. Then at employee meetings, he shared their ideas and requested changes be made.

To increase employees’ buy-in, he slowly removed himself from the meetings, asking them to pinpoint customer issues based on feedback and come up with ideas to respond to those issues. Employees eventually took over the meetings.

3. Failing to establish rapport

When sales, customer service and marketing leaders hire employees, they’re already have the hierarchical advantage. While they are the boss who must maintain control over a group and its performance, but they also need to establish rapport.

The problem: Employees will likely operate out of fear of their boss if no rapport is ever established between them. And if they work under the auspices of fear, they will worry that everything they do for customers will be scrutinized and possibly punished. So they’ll stick to scripts, fall back on policy and never bend in the best interest of customers.

That’s why leaders want to build rapport early in relationships with employees. Then they need to maintain it over time so employees can take constructive feedback and use it to improve, and provide better customer experiences.

Here are three ways to build significant rapport when working with employees and giving them feedback:

  • Pose hypotheticals. This approach forces employees to uncover new possibilities and solutions without being told what to do. It opens up brainstorming possibilities. Instead of saying, “You should do … ” or “Why don’t you … ?,” leaders can ask, “What if … ?”
  • Ask for help. It’s every manager’s right to demand that front-line employee do something. But it’s not in the manager’s best interest. When leaders ask for help (instead of demanding it), they encourage employees to rise up, take on more responsibility, do more for customers and the good of the company, or change a behavior. So ask, “Can I have your help?”
  • Suggest. Employees get stuck in ruts. They might even need to be told what to do but still don’t want to be stifled by what seems like a demand. So a manager wants to take a more subtle approach to help them find a solution or move forward. For example, try asking, “Would it be helpful if you … ?”

4. Focusing on the process, not the outcome

Some managers may not want clones of themselves, but they sure do like the way they do things. So when they hand out assignments, leave employees in charge or start a new project with front-line staff, they have expectations of how it’ll be done. And they can’t break that thought.

Truth is, employees often have better ideas on what will make customers happy, improve operations or have the most profound impact on the working environment. And they have their own ways of getting it done.

While leaders can’t give employees free rein of the company and their jobs, they do want to give employees more freedom to get the job done as they see fit. Whether you call it empowerment or flexibility, they key is to provide the training that allows employees to handle the goals and objectives given to them. Then they can figure out the way that works best for them to accomplish the goal in the time that’s given.

For instance, Heather Wells, customer service manager at T&L Distributing in Houston, bolstered regular training sessions with lunchtime meetings. Once she covered a topic in a regular session, she pulled more information from publications and in-house experts to present during lunch breaks.

5. Framing change the wrong way

Change is constant when you deal with customers. Their needs change and how you respond to them must evolve quickly — whether it requires a shift in operations, communication or response. But knowing that rarely makes anyone feel better about change. Employees often greet it with resistance because managers present it the wrong way, says Comaford.

The ideal: Present change as merely an improvement on what is already being done. The things that aren’t working so well are being replaced with stuff that will surely work better. Try to avoid using the word “change” when you’re talking about it. Talk about “growth,” “improvement” or “advancement.”

Justin Robbins, manger of training and guest experience for Hershey Entertainment and Resorts in Hershey, PA, wanted to make many changes within his group. So he couched them as “improvements.” More importantly, he asked for regular feedback from his front-line employees, asking them for suggestions on the “improvements” that they were making.

Robbins used a lot of that feedback to tweak the adjustments before they were fully implemented so employees understood and stayed committed to the changes that would improve their operations and the customer experience.

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