A friend of mine had the unfortunate experience of having a heart attack. He told me that it was like having an elephant sitting on his chest – the pain, the helplessness, the debilitation. Upon recovery, the doctor who had been attending him spoke of the new diet he would have to follow. Up to that point, he had been eating hamburgers, fried potato chips, waffles with cream, unhealthy snacks and the like. This all had to change. Within two months, he was eating healthily and felt a whole lot better. I asked him if he felt a craving for his old style of eating. He noted that he had been sitting with a friend at a restaurant about two months into his new diet and had “stolen” a couple of fried potato chips off his friend’s plate. Apparently, he immediately felt uncomfortable and the chips upset his stomach. His appetite had changed – now, to a new style of eating those foods that have good roughage qualities and that don’t produce harmful cholesterol. A new diet, well applied, had changed his appetite – he realised that he no longer craved those “unhealthy” foods.

All businesses need to implement a customer-centric values-driven diet to cultivate an appetite for extraordinary customer service. What is meant here is the unpacking of the ‘great’ customer service value into expected behaviours that reinforce the value. These behaviours have to be talked about and lived out by all in leadership. It was Stephen R Covey (of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame) who said: “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers”. Treating employees badly or with disdain, whilst expecting them to connect emotionally with customers, just doesn’t make any sense at all. Establishing an emotional connection with employees and living out the behaviours expected by a customer-centric culture to your employees makes for an environment where employees feel valued and can reciprocate behaviours to customers to make them feel valued. In other words, the “diet” exemplified by leadership cultivates the “appetite” for great customer service within employees.

I don’t like shopping, but had to go and get some grocery items over the weekend. On my list of items to purchase, I had jotted down a light-sensitive security globe. I purchased everything on my list, but upon arriving back at home, I noticed that the globe had been scanned three times instead of just once, inflating the shopping bill considerably – an expensive item. Then I remembered the lady at the till had been distracted at the point of scanning the barcode of the globe by another customer wanting to use her pen, so presumed that she had then made the mistake. Mildly irritated, I returned to the store to reclaim the overspent amount. The manager looked at the receipt, apologised and then said: “Not only will we refund the extra billing, but we will give you the globe free for the inconvenience we have created for you”. I was stunned, but thanked him and noted that I had only expected the extra that I had paid to be refunded. He said with a smile: “We want you back”.

The appetite of thinking ‘customer first’, in everything that a business does, originates from a diet of customer-centric values. Establishing this diet involves the following actions:

  • Identifying the key tenets of the customer value proposition and related behaviours – understanding customer expectations is critical here in order for the emotional needs of consumers to be met.
  • Communicating these values and related behaviours to all employees – leaders communicate through modelling. They also communicate through what they do say and what they don’t say. If leaders don’t address behaviours that go against the value proposition, their communication is not viewed as believable.
  • Effective training – using role plays and ‘emotional communication’ practise designed particularly for those who interface with customers daily.
  • Recognising those employees who practise good customer service – reinforcing good behaviour through acknowledgement, praise and reward.

The appetite for extraordinary customer service is developed from a diet of customer-centric values. This diet needs to be applied constantly and consistently if this new appetite is to be acquired. Once embedded in everyone’s thinking, decision-making takes on a new and unselfish form for the business: “How is this decision going to help our customers? Will this new approach entrench a customer first experience?”