A Customer Service Approach to Team Building & Empowerment

How many articles have you read about great management? There are articles on empowerment; giving your team autonomy and trusting in their choices. There are articles on team building; creating a team-based culture supported by group activities and goals. And we’ve done it all! We’ve implemented the structure and bought into the methodology.

So why does it still feel hollow? 

Create genuine human connection on your team.

How can we create genuine human connections and the enthusiasm and engagement that comes from working in a supportive and collaborative team environment? How can a customer service approach to employee relationships build trust, goodwill, and team cohesion?

Let’s first take a look at what it takes to provide great customer service. The service industry is a hotly competitive game. Companies are vying for consumer loyalty and it’s often the customer experience that sets each retailer apart. This means that the providers of customer service, the men and women making sales, answering questions, and resolving problems, need to have a strong and supportive team foundation so they don’t cry uncontrollably or quit their jobs.

If you’re wondering why I changed careers . . .

I only cried once.

So here’s an example of teamwork that comes from my time managing a retail customer service team within a larger store environment.

Our team was responsible for the customer experience of shoppers throughout the store. That didn’t always (or hardly ever) mean that we were experts in any particular department. (No, I don’t know which type of cheese has the lowest amount of casein.) We were there to:

  • give each customer the best experience we could
  • make sure their needs were met
  • get their questions answered
  • and make sure they felt good about their purchase and their experience

For the non-experts on our team, that meant introducing the customer to someone who was an expert. 

To ensure a proper handoff to the department expert in this little dance, I coached my team to talk up the expertise of the person they’re handing off to so that the customer will have confidence in their recommendation. The CS employee builds trust with the customer through conversation as they walk to the appropriate department, they explain the expertise of the other employee (building on that trust), and then make the introduction.

Smooth handoff!

Make warm introductions a part of on-boarding.

So how does that translate to team-building generally? This is the same concept as offering a warm introduction at a networking event. Imagine if, as a new employee, a manager had not only introduced you to your coworkers but told you that Suzy just closed a deal no one thought would happen, and Brain is a forecasting wizard. Not only do Suzy and Brian get some extra recognition for their skills, but you now have the foundation to begin your working relationship with them based on their areas of expertise. Additionally, it creates a precedent that great work should be recognized.

You’re laying the groundwork for an interactive and collaborative team culture.

Spread the word about your team members’ skills. Talk about their triumphs. If you’re a good manager, you already have an open dialog with your employees about their performance. You know what they’re good at, and they receive recognition for going above and beyond. I encourage you to take it further. Tell other people what your team members excel at. Help them build their reputations. Help them establish trust.

You’re laying the groundwork for an interactive and collaborative team culture. If you’re actively looking for subject areas in which to recognize your employees, they will feel encouraged to stretch and try new things. If Brian is great at forecasting and I’m pretty good at it too, maybe Brian hasn’t yet tried to automate his forecasts with Smartsheet. Maybe that’s something I can bring to the table. Maybe that’s something Brian and I can work on together.

The next step is to make sure the members of your team want to see each other succeed; that Suzy’s success doesn’t mean my failure and that her recognition doesn’t mean my invisibility. The way to do this is A. by using the strategies mentioned in the beginning of this article (yes, I do believe in team-based rewards) and B. by placing all successes in the context of the bigger picture company goals.

Her success doesn’t mean my failure and her recognition doesn’t mean my invisibility.

If your company mission is to provide affordable and accessible “Product ABC” to lower-income families in America, make it clear how Suzy and Brian’s individual efforts have contributed to this higher purpose and how that contribution reflects on the team as a whole. Even if the successes aren’t direct business initiatives they can usually be tied back to the company’s mission, vision, and values. For instance, an employee who has just completed their first marathon after a year of hard work and training has ambition, drive, and perseverance that can be of great benefit to the team. It doesn’t take much of a stretch, does it?

Cohesive, supportive, and steering toward the same mission.

The point is that your team will be working together collaboratively, and with the bigger picture in mind. They’ll be able to recognize and appreciate the individual contributions each person brings to the group and know who turn to when they need an expert. Or to look at it from the customer service perspective: If you wish to provide the best customer service possible, your team needs to be cohesive, supportive, and all steering toward the same mission.

—Written by Nina Ottman

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