By Frank Buonanotte
80% of consumers say that the experience is just as important as the products or services. Yet customer satisfaction has dropped down to 73.1 out of 100, the largest drop in decades, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
It’s no secret that today’s employees are overworked, but that is especially true in customer-facing industries like retail and restaurants. More hospitality and retail workers quit in 2022 than any other industry, outpacing the national average by 70%, and almost half of all frontline retail employees are thinking about quitting this year.
Add this to the fact that Americans are still learning how to interact with one another again post-pandemic and we’re seeing a perfect storm of customer service decline. So how can CEOs make sure their companies provide exceptional customer services, even despite recent challenges such as talent shortages?
I believe that despite these challenges, companies can and should continue to deliver a consistent, high-quality customer experience. Here are the five steps to do just that:
1. Build customer service into your company culture
A customer service mindset starts with you. As CEO, you’re the primary steward of your company’s mission, values, and culture. Customer service has to be baked into every element of what you do.
When I served as CEO of Party City Atlanta, I used to say that we weren’t in the party supplies business. We were in the memories business. Our purpose was to help people celebrate the most important moments, milestones, and events in their life. Thinking about your company’s purpose in this way changes how employees engage with the work.
Today’s employees seek out purpose-driven organizations. They want to feel like they’re working for a company that is doing more than just generating profit. It’s imperative for your purpose to include the customer or the client.
2. Prioritize soft skills when hiring customer-facing positions
Employees today, especially in retail and hospitality, are tasked with doing more than just working with customers. They might be taking calls, managing vendors, sorting and restocking shelves, planning events, and more, depending on the nature of your business. While those technical skills are important, you have to prioritize soft skills first.
Some examples include:
- Positive attitude and friendliness
- Active listening
- Conversation and communication skills
- Responsibility and dependability
- Calm under pressure
- Attention to detail
If your employees can’t manage the customer service side of their role, they won’t be successful. Remember, you can teach anyone how to use Excel or manage inventory. But you can’t teach these core soft skills as easily.
As a coach, I often recommend employees go through a TTI Success Insights Assessment. This two-part assessment measures motivational and behavioral styles, which helps employees understand how they handle interpersonal interactions and conflict resolution — both critical skills in customer support.
3. Technology can fill the gaps
Today’s customer expects their digital experience of a brand to be just as exceptional as their in-person one, if not more so. According to McKinsey, organizations plan to increase digital interactions by 1.5x by 2024, and 77% have built a digital platform to manage customer support:
Increasing self-service options and shifting more manual, repetitive tasks from customer service agents to digital tools can make a difference in improving customer satisfaction.
4. Customer service comes down to your people
…but even the best technology can’t compete with people when it comes to customer service. You can’t optimize your way out of this issue. The best customer service experiences come down to giving your team the tools they need to be successful.
Take, for example, this heartwarming story of a lost stuffed giraffe at a Ritz-Carlton Florida hotel. Staff went above and beyond not just to return the lost item to its rightful owner, but playfully sending snapshots of the giraffe “enjoying” its extended stay by the pool, at the spa, and so on. The staff didn’t have to do this — but by doing so, they delivered an exceptional customer service experience (and one that went viral back in 2012.)
We’ve discussed how to improve the quality of your team’s skills and approach, but quantity matters too. If not enough people work at your business, or they’re not staffed correctly for the amount of customers you have during a shift, you won’t be able to provide great customer service. We’re at a challenging time with staffing shortages, but good people are out there — it’s up to you to find and retain them.
5. Invest in training for your entire team
Making customer service a priority for your business means continuing to invest in training for your team. That means making sure every team member understands your products and services, but more importantly, they have the right customer service mindset.
Training can include:
- How to write professionally, if using chat or email platforms
- Objection handling and de-escalation techniques in person and online
- Role-playing and scenario planning for different challenging situations
- Store maps and inventory
- What to do if you don’t know the answer to a question
But that also means investing in training for yourself and your management team. Customer service starts with you as CEO — and it’s something I often explore as a coach. At CEO Coaching International, we work with teams on a customer service mindset across the entire company, often coaching the entire management suite to keep them aligned, accountable, and future-focused.
Our coaches are former CEOs, presidents, and executives who have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging from startups to over $10 billion. Many of the CEO Coaching International coaches are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. They’ve been through it all, and they’re here to help you look to the future — and meet whatever challenges your business comes up against. Meet our expert coaches >