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The Business Forum Journal


Building Customer Service Excellence
An Executives High Payoff Activity

By Thomas R. Northup



In our new normal world, competition has intensified. Customer service has taken on magnified importance.

Companies have only three ways to internally grow their business, all of which involve that one element no organization can live without: customers. They can:

1.      Increase the number of customers

2.      Increase the average value of a sale

3.      Increase the purchase frequency

We often equate giving good service with creating customer satisfaction. However, excellence in customer service is about creating customer loyalty. Knowing the difference between satisfaction and loyalty is the first step in developing customer focused excellence in your organization.

Are you happy with the service you receive when you make a purchase? In the rush to outsource, companies often fail to give customers the service they want. This effort to cut costs contributes to the popular opinion that service is dramatically decreasing. What long term effect will that impression have on future business from those less than satisfied customers?

A Common Scenario

Many executives think that the sales department is responsible for taking care of customers. In reality all company departments interact with customers.

Many companies rely on low-paid employees who are often hired based on criteria that place little importance on relationship skills. For example:

  1. Although the receptionist is the first contact and sets the tone for future discussion, many companies treat him or her as little more than a person who gets phone calls to the right department.

  2. Although customer service coordinates quality, quantity, shipping and delivery issues, many companies are more concerned with getting customers off the phone quickly than with helping them.

Customer requests frequently require input from various departments. Employees with this responsibility may not be well equipped to handle these contacts. How often do we hear:

            �I asked production for the information but they didn�t get it to me; what can I do?�

            �I hate to hassle Joe. He is so busy and can be rude to me.�

One department works hard to make a sale and then in follow up communication employees in another department put their own agenda first and forget to make customers feel special. The result is missed, incomplete, rude and even inaccurate communication.   

Customer Loyalty

Many companies say that it�s their people that set them apart. In reality it�s their �friendly� people that set them apart. People much prefer interacting with friends even when all else is not quite equal.

Customers contact a company because they need help. When the company doesn�t give customers the help they expect, the need still exists but the customer is now mad. Excellent customer service is about giving memorable service. Do we want customers� memories to be positive or negative?

Memorable customer service is achieved through employees who are positive, smile sincerely, are friendly and build rapport. A company first achieves these attributes by hiring the right people. In many cases, even the right people need to learn the many skills necessary to create customer loyalty. We must be prepared to train people in the appropriate skills and develop their effectiveness.

Ideal Culture

Effective executive�s understand that their company culture, which is primarily created by leadership, is the key to developing memorable experiences and strong customer loyalty. Studies show that culture affects performance by as much as 30%.

These execs don�t just focus on customer loyalty. They create a positive corporate culture by building a productive and enjoyable work environment in all aspects of the business. When employees understand the importance of their job and appreciate the responsibilities of other team members, their individual accomplishments transform into team accomplishments.

When employees are honest with each other they can have constructive conversations in a trusting atmosphere. They make significant improvements in their skill levels and become more effective.

Honest and open trusting communications are easy to define but hard to develop. Effective executives make building a positive culture a priority through these high payoff activities:

Share Power

The standard organization is constructed in a pyramid with management at the top. Requests and directives flow down. Employees carry them out.

Effective executives understand that this pyramid should be inverted because it is the employees who understand their jobs in detail. When management shares power, it supports employee requests that flow upward.

Sharing power allows employees to participate in the development of their job parameters and builds intellectual and emotional commitment. As people are part of the solution they become change initiators not change detractors.

Written Standards

Organizations must understand the key success factors in customer service and other areas of the business and make these core competencies throughout the organization. They must establish written standards addressing these core competencies.


Have accountability. It is important to develop measurement criteria for these areas. Employees want to know how they are progressing. If the company can�t measure performance it has no way to determine how well it is meeting the standard it wants to achieve.


The company must recognize that many employees don�t have appropriate customer service skills. They need training to become more effective. Provide training and then evaluate the results to measure effectiveness.

Role Model

Lastly effective executives understand that everything counts. They don�t say �Do as I say, not as I do.� They become positive role models. 


Customers are the life blood of every organization. We often think of satisfaction when we use the term customer service. A satisfied customer can be neutral and still shop. Build loyalty in customers by providing excellence in service.

Our customer�s perception is reality. When we talk about excellence we are using our word. Instead, we want to build a memorable customer experience.

Friendly employees are best able to build memorable perceptions and loyal customers. Everyone wants to feel appreciated. When we are a customer we appreciate timely and constructive answers to our questions. Being friendly facilitates memorable outcomes.

An executive�s high payoff activity is to build a company-wide core competency in service that generates loyal customers who have a memorable experience. He does this by supporting his team and sharing power with them. He establishes criteria and measurements for evaluation. He understands that training and development are both key to changing employee behaviors and attitudes. He looks at training and development as an investment, not a cost. He understands that it�s his responsibility to create a positive ROI from this effort. He builds a supportive atmosphere where employees are encouraged to take initiative and not wait until told to act. He is a role model.

The bottom line: Companies that are customer friendly and build loyalty and memorable customer experiences build unfair competitive advantage in their market place.

If you would like to explore strategic transformation, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the state of your business.

I will ask you to complete three assessments that evaluate your organization strategically, in leadership and personal productivity. This is your commitment to a focused high quality interchange.

There is no obligation. We will meet as long as necessary to have an in depth review. My objective is to first build our relationship. If we agree to continue working together, great, if not then my hope is that our discussion will lead you to constructive change.

 Tom Northup

949 689-4085 Pacific Time
[email protected]

Thomas R. Northup is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute and is a nationally recognized management expert, consultant, speaker and coach. He is the author of the book, The Five Hidden Mistakes CEOs Make. How to Unlock the Secrets and Drive Growth and Profitability. Marshall Goldsmith, author of the New York Times best-seller, What Got You Here Won�t Get You There, said about Five Mistakes �Gleaned from years of success as a CEO in his own right, Tom Northup masterfully provides practical wisdom and tools to move senior leaders beyond the status quo to help them see what they need to see, not just what they want to see.�  Tom is the former CEO and principal of three successful companies and he understands the business complexities faced by today�s busy executives. He is experienced in high growth situations, new product start-ups, strategic planning, market analysis, team operations, and turn-around/reorganization.  Today, through coaching, consulting, mentoring, and training, Tom works side-by-side with clients to build capabilities that increase revenue and profitability year after year and develop �unfair competitive advantage.� Tom graduated with a BS in Mathematics from Bucknell University and has an MBA from Syracuse University. He is an active with the Forum for Corporate Directors, the Institute of Management Consultants and runs a CEO roundtable at the Irvine Chamber of Commerce.  In addition to his book he has written many articles on management that have been published throughout the world and writes a leadership blog.

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