Customer Service Most Valuable Practice

The Customer Service Hall of Fame's MVP—Most Valuable Practice

The MSN Money's Customer Service Hall of Fame reveals a recurring best practice among the ten companies providing the best customer service in America.

Familiar faces abound on the list., Southwest Airlines, Nordstrom's, UPS, Apple, the usual suspects -- even FedEx, despite some spectacular examples of bad customer service posted on YouTube.

The write-ups for each company were PowerPoint brief, hitting the highest points. We detected a trend:

Costco, #9: "Happy employees... When you do have an encounter with an employee there, they're always great."

Southwest Airlines, #6: "Customers send letters in droves to executives praising the workers... A senior VP of customer experience [said] 'We empower employees to make decisions, and we support them'."

Publix Super Markets, #5: "The secret sauce to their customer appreciation... It's a great place to work. That shows through to customers."

Trader Joe's, #2: "Trader Joe's compensates its employees well, providing good wages and full benefits. That seems to pay off for customers."

If you feel valued and appreciated by your employer, you're going to do good work for them. Otherwise it's just a paycheck, and we all know how much effort we put into those jobs. You can tell when you're dealing with employees who care about getting paid, or ones who care about doing a good job for you and their company.

The principle holds across the board. During the San Francisco 49ers' juggernaut years of the 1980s, owner Eddie DeBartolo handed out towels personally in the locker room after games, spent extra to give players greatly-preferred private rooms on the road and sent each player's wife or girlfriend a $500 gift certificate for Nieman-Marcus every Christmas. There's a reason legends like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice played hard for him.

The Cincinnati Bengals had a notorious history for deducting the cost of mailing checks to players from the checks and limiting players to one towel per game, among other petty employee insults, and unsurprisingly are perennial losers.

There's a consistent theme among customer service MVP companies, and you can easily hear it in their comments. "Customer satisfaction" could be renamed "employee satisfaction" for all internal company purposes and not miss a beat: "Our experience shows that focusing on employee satisfaction increases profits." "Raising employee satisfaction scores, we found, pays off with fewer customer complaints, fewer returns and less badmouthing on social media."

So to achieve high levels of employee satisfaction, here's a few considerations:

  1. It's Not (Always) About The Money. Employees know when they're underpaid. But you know people miserable in high-paying jobs. Good pay is the starting point, not the final answer. Pay your people a bit above industry average and offer generous benefits.
  2. Support Your People. A recent employee satisfaction survey reported by Bill von Achen found the #1 cause of employee dissatisfaction at a privately-held professional company to be "lack of sufficient training and support," including obsolete equipment. Your people need to know you're investing in them to succeed, not sitting back watching them struggle and thinking "If she can't do it I'll find someone who can."
  3. Address Issues Promptly. No matter what the employee's expressed concern may be, the real issue from his point of view is "Does the company care about me?" Prompt attention to the issue -- not necessarily giving the employee what he wants, but taking the time to concentrate on his issue with him -- means yes, you matter to us.
  4. Reward Employees Creatively. Instead of just cutting a bonus check, do something that shows the employee "Hey, we appreciate you, so we put a bit of time and thought into showing you that we do." It's the old principle that a mother remembers and appreciates a handmade card and gift over a more expensive purchased one. Tuck a handwritten thank-you note in with a dinner voucher at a nice restaurant for an employee's special achievement. Corny, but it truly means something to people. Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting, mentions giving an award for "Best Idea That Didn't Work" in a ceremony for employees at Calgon, reporting "increased innovation" at the company as a result. John Putzier's Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways To Make Your Company A Great Place To Work and similar books are worth the ten or twelve bucks on Kindle.
  5. Try Something, Anything. Employees do give points for effort. Truly. However corny or silly it is, anything you do, that they know you don't really have to do, to show your employees you value them gets the message across loud and clear. This includes things like communication, collaboration and even the continuous performance improvements that make their professional lives better.