Know the Way, then Show the Way

Know the Way, then Show the Way


The American entrepreneur and motivational speaker John Maxwell summed up leadership perfectly when he said “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”

There are few areas of modern business where this take on leadership is more relevant and important than customer service. That’s because for service to be truly effective in building a business, it needs to be a culture, not a rule. And when you get right down to it, the culture of any organisation begins, or ends, at the very top.

The thing is, the boss of any business – whether that position is filled by an owner, MD, CEO, or senior manager – will ultimately make or break the service efforts of that business. Sure, he or she is not, in all likelihood, serving customers or responding to queries or requests, but as the visionary of the business, if customer service excellence is not a passion for the boss, there’s no way it can become, or remain, a passion for anyone else in the organisation.

Creating a service culture is certainly not rocket science, but it does require commitment and effort from all, including the boss. That, and a couple of easy to implement, service building blocks, like:

  • Make it easy for your customers to complain.
    Complaints are good. They show that your customers care enough to tell you what’s wrong instead of just voting with their feet. By making it easy for them to let you know where you’ve missed the mark, you’re able to fix it – which, more often than not, results in even more loyal customers in the long term. Keeping your customers at arms length, on the other hand, is the quickest way to business closure.
  • Measure. Measure. Measure. Then act.
    Along with enabling your customers to give you honest feedback; you need to actively be seeking out that feedback whenever possible. The adage about not being able to manage what you don’t measure is true. Keep on asking your customers for their input via formal and informal surveys. But always do it on their terms and make sure they never feel pushed into telling you what they think. Objective. Unbiased. Non-threatening. Those are the three rules of valuable customer feedback. The fourth is to act on it – and then to measure it again.
  • Employ the right people.
    This isn’t as difficult as many business owners believe it is. Sometimes it just requires that you look beyond qualifications and pay more attention to passion, attitude and culture alignment. Obviously, this is of paramount importance when employing customer-facing staff. Choose empathy, positivity and a willingness to serve over all else. Your customers will experience the difference, and your bottom line will show it.
  • Train and empower your staff.
    Not everyone has the built-in ability to deliver great service. But everyone can learn to. Once you have entrenched customer service as a culture and business strategy, be sure to equip your staff to deliver it. And keep on refreshing their education. Just as important, remember – if you have taught your people how to serve then give them the opportunity to do so. It’s really difficult to deliver great service if you can’t do anything without your supervisor’s written approval.
  • Act out.
    If Raymond Ackerman built the success of Pick ‘n Pay on a passion for service, there can be little doubting its value. But it doesn’t help to insist on service from your staff, you need to demonstrate it. You’ll be amazed at how contagious a love of your customers can be.
  • Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes.
    Take a step back, often, and have a look at your company’s product or service through the eyes of your customers. Only by ‘experiencing’ what your customer does when he or she interacts with your organisation – whether in person, online, or by phone – can you understand where the pitfalls to great service are hiding. Once you’ve done this important exercise, make sure all your employees do the same. There is a lot to be said for service built on genuine care and empathy.

The simple truth is, that brilliant customer experiences are never the result of a job description, performance requirement, value statement or short-term incentive. True customer service comes from a culture of service, an understanding of its importance and relevance to the business, and a sincere desire to delight the customer. And, like it or not, the responsibility for developing that culture and desire amongst staff rests squarely on the shoulders of the person at the helm of the organisation. So when it comes to service excellence, there’s only one way to lead, and that’s from the front.

Nathalie Schooling
Nathalie Schooling has more than 25 years' experience in the customer service industry. She is the founder and managing director of N’Lighten, a company committed to promoting service excellence through research, training, and strategic insight. For more info, go to the N'Lighten website.