Authentic Customer Service: Leadership Through Authenticity (Part II)

This is Part II of a two-part collaboration between Eric Sessoms at MyCustomerCloud & Nicole Radziwill.

(You might want to read Part I first, if you haven’t already.)

Let’s say you’re the Leader of a Customer Service Intensive Environment or a Customer Service Rep working in one those environments. How can you be authentic – and promote authenticity – in your customer service interactions? That’s the motivation for our post: we’ve brainstormed some actionable ideas for how these Leaders and Customer Service Reps can achieve authenticity by using the 10 Commitments devised by leadership researchers Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

Commitment #6: Leaders strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks, and offering visible support.

Leaders & Senior management: The mindful leader provides opportunities for his or her staff to co-create an organization that can be considerate of, and attentive to, customer needs. To become mindful, leaders need to become comfortable with uncertainty, trusting that a sense of shared values will lead to outcomes in customer service situations that may not only meet but regularly exceed their expectations.

If a manager is confident but uncertain – confident that the job will get done but without being certain of exactly the best way of doing it – employees are likely to have more room to be creative, alert, and self-starting. When working for confident but uncertain leaders, we are less likely to feign knowledge or hide mistakes, practices that can be costly to a company… admission of uncertainty leads to a search for more information, and with more information there may be more options.
– Ellen Langer, Mindfulness

In the trenches: When managers provide you with power, use it wisely! Apply your best judgment, based on the values you share with the leaders of your company, and share lessons you learn with them regarding how to better handle customers’ issues. The knowledge you gain and share can help future customers, can help your leaders better craft customer-centric strategies, and can build trust between all parties involved. It’s a win-win-win-win-win (and maybe more).

Commitment #7: Leaders set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values.

Kouzes and Posner embody the importance of authenticity within this commitment. Both leaders & senior management as well as those in the trenches must consistently demonstrate authentic behavior and by doing so, set an example for others that encourages and demonstrates the value of authentic behavior in customer service. Put simply, if leaders within an organization want to talk the talk, they need to walk the walk. Authenticity is not present when words and actions are incongruent. So if you commit to a certain value or behavior – DO IT and BE IT! Otherwise you’ll be demonstrating authentithesis, and that’s way not cool.

Commitment #8: Leaders achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment.

Leaders & Senior management: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an organization devoted to authenticity in customer service. In fact, there is a lot of trial and error that goes into the quest to achieve authenticity. Leaders need to create and execute a long-term plan for providing excellent customer service that focuses on a tangible end result while incorporating lessons learned along the way. By appropriately setting milestones as part of this campaign, leaders have ample opportunity to fine-tune progress and promote continued buy-in from CSRs.

In the trenches: CSRs need to remember that every day brings new opportunities to achieve authenticity. Setbacks one day can vanish thanks to the successes of the next – and vice versa. A focus on important values, such as authenticity, eases the lows and celebrates the highs of our daily interactions with customers. To borrow a sports phrase, keep your eye on the ball. By doing so, you’ll blaze the trail of progress. Who knows, you might even inspire someone else along the way!

Commitment #9: Leaders recognize individual contributions to the success of every project.

Leaders & Senior management: First of all, leaders, it’s important to recognize that any great accomplishment is not achieved in a vacuum. Behind any wonderful idea or fantastic success, there’s a network of people who have cooperated and co-conspired to generate greatness. When you become aware of a great customer service story, remember that there are always hidden players and seek to find them all. Then celebrate their successes (see Commitment #10). Caveat: to be authentic, you’ve really got to appreciate the contributions – or at least the customer should. (Ideally, both of you should be delighted.) Don’t just recognize a success because you have an award you’ve got to give out this month, or this quarter.

In the trenches: Well, you’re not off the hook here CSRs – everyone is a leader. And sharing in the responsibility of that leadership means that you should appreciate others’ contributions to the efforts that you are involved in – whether it’s new strategies for helping customers, or process improvements that will help everyone do their job more effectively, or just a coworker who makes sure everyone’s having a good day. After you appreciate these contributions, let everyone else know you appreciate them. Good vibes are infectious.

Commitment #10: Leaders celebrate team accomplishments regularly.

Leaders & Senior management: Now leaders, don’t get too excited here. We’re not talking about those rah-rah parties where you eat cake that’s been inscribed with “Great Job, Team!” in blue frosting. Authentically celebrating team accomplishments means 1) you’re always on the lookout for truly remarkable examples of where customer service has been stellar, 2) everyone else is always on the lookout for the same, and knows how to get the word to those of you in leadership, and 3) you use those opportunities to demonstrate to one another that you really do exemplify your shared values and customers are happy with the help you provide them. Celebrations should provide opportunities to share knowledge and reaffirm core values. Not just eat cake with blue frosting (although that never hurts, especially if it’s with good coffee).

In the trenches: Any time one customer service rep experiences success, everyone experiences success – because the customer’s image of the company will be enhanced, trust will be forged, and you may be able to learn a good strategy for servicing a particular kind of need as a result. If you are a CSR, you’ll benefit from easier and more friendly calls from that satisfied customer in the future. Be happy for your fellow CSR’s successes, because with each one, they have just earned you “happiness equity” in case you have to deal with that particular customer’s problem in the future. Be thankful!

Go back to Part I, covering the first 5 Commitments from Kouzes and Posner.


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