Tag Archives: authentic

Authentic Customer Service: Leadership Through Authenticity (Part I)

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

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.

First and foremost, everyone in the organization must converge upon shared or core values – those principles or beliefs that everyone feels are important and worthy of merit. Usually, these values are determined by the leaders of a company, but in some progressive organizations and start-ups, core values emerge more organically as everyone collectively defines the organization.

There are lots of examples of core values, if you need to get some ideas:

Once you know what your core values are, and know that everyone is solidly committed to those values, it’s time to start exploring authenticity in customer service. This initial article explores the first 5 of Kouzes & Posner’s Commitments; Part 2 will discuss the remaining 5 Commitments.

Commitment #1: Leaders search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, and improve.

The search for challenging opportunities to change, grow, and improve coupled with an authentic desire to do what is best for the customer creates an environment ripe for customer-driven development. In a customer-driven development environment, the concerns and ideas of customers are carefully examined and any insight gained is folded back into company policies. As a result, the customers actively participate in defining the organization they want to serve them. Customer-driven development can occur at all levels of a company.

Leaders & Senior Management: Generate an atmosphere of proactive customer contact. And we don’t mean contacting customers with the primary goal being to sell them more stuff. Proactive customer contact done in an authentic way means finding out what (if anything) the customer needs or will need. Sometimes your product meets those needs. Sometimes it doesn’t. If it does, help your customer leverage your product to meet their needs. If it doesn’t, do a quick gap analysis and fold that amazingly valuable information back into your product development plans.

In the trenches: Ask customers directly how your company or products can be more responsive and useful to them. Then listen to what they have to say! Highlight how your product fits their needs now. Resist the urge to shoehorn their needs into the bounds of your product’s current capabilities. If higher management has done their job, there should be mechanisms in place for you to feed back what you learn into ongoing product development plans.

Commitment #2: Leaders experiment, take risks, and learn from the accompanying mistakes.

Leadership is fearless and daring – and simultaneously a practical endeavor that’s infused with a solid vision of where to go. That vision, however, can and should change in response to prototyping and tinkering with new ideas.

Leaders & Senior Management: If your CSRs have new and innovative ideas for how to make customers happier – set aside a period of time to pilot new approaches and techniques, even in they seem crazy. You never know what customers might really respond to, and appreciate. For example, try one of Kate’s Seven Kid Secrets from Tom Kelley’s book The Ten Faces of Innovation. According to Kate, the way to make anyone comfortable sharing their ideas is to use techniques that make kids comfortable sharing ideas. How do you do this? Ask them about their shoes (or something personally important to them). Offer information about yourself. Ask them to invite their best friend along to chat. Remind them you’re working on a “top secret” project. Ask them to describe their house or surroundings. Ask what they would buy with ten dollars (or half an hour of your company’s time). Make them laugh.

In the trenches: CSRs can be leaders too! Use your customer service script for ideas, but don’t be afraid to diverge from the plan to make your customers feel like they’re valued friends. One of the best customer service experiences I’ve ever had was on a two hour call waiting for engineers to fix my DSL service. Turns out the CSR was a retired homicide detective who told me all about how customer service is – and isn’t – like solving murders. It was the best two hours I ever spent waiting for anything. He probably violated his script quite a bit by telling me about murders, but I really felt like he was being compassionate about my ungodly two hour wait. It gave me wonderful fuzzy feelings about my telephone company… can you imagine?

Commitment #3: Leaders envision an uplifting and ennobling future.

Leaders & Senior Management: Positive attitudes are not only important, but infectious. If leaders don’t believe that their organization’s efforts can help make the individual worlds of their customers better places to be – then there’s no sense providing the support! If you really don’t think that the service you provide is useful, maybe it’s time to build a better company. The future is bright! If it’s not, change course – your bleak prospects will poison your customers’ experiences with you.

In the trenches: You have an image in your mind of a world where you can – and routinely do – make your customers happy. You share in the joy of solving their problems, and feel a sense of camaraderie and community as you do your job. This Commitment establishes the kind of attitude you should aim to bring to your store or call center.

Commitment #4: Leaders enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes, and dreams.

Leaders & Senior Management: In Allen Schoer’s article, Uncovering alignment with authentic stories, storytelling is promoted as an effective mechanism for creating alignment (or common vision within an organization). In an organization for which customer service is an important component, leaders can create a cohesive culture of authenticity through compelling narratives that inspire Customer Service Reps on the front lines. In order for storytelling to be most effective in creating a common vision, Schoer reminds leaders to encourage employees at all levels to participate in customer service and tell their own customer service stories.

In the trenches: For the customer service reps that interact daily with customers, being leader who enlists others in a common authentic vision can manifest in a couple important ways. First, a customer service rep can appeal to the desires of the customer directly through authentic behavior. By listening to the needs of customers and folding their values, interests, hopes, and dreams, a rep works with the customer to create a truly customer-oriented solution. Second, a customer service rep can build a common vision with other reps by example. By consistently demonstrating authenticity in customer service, a CSR provides a model for others to follow!

Commitment #5: Leaders foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.

Leaders & Senior Management: In any organization, but particularly within an organization that values authenticity in customer service, leaders need to create an atmosphere of cooperation and trust. This means leaders should actively provide guidance to CSRs, empowering them to shape customer service goals. Sometimes, the best way to refine an approach is to temper it through constructive, third party feedback – and that’s the role a leader can play.  In the end, the overall quality of customer service will benefit from a closed-loop system where guidance comes from the corporate level but is refined through experience.

In the trenches: From a previous blog post, Getting to Great: Authenticity in Customer Service, trust between a customer and the company that a CSR represents results from combining authentic behavior with an authentic desire to do what’s best for the customer. Moving beyond a desire to do what’s best for the customer and into doing what is best for the customer requires a collaborative effort between CSR and customer – combining input from the customer and a sense of empathic understanding from the CSR!

Continue to Part II, where we’ll cover the next 5 Commitments from Kouzes and Posner.

XKCD on Secret Customer Service

I love the most recent XKCD that takes a swing at the soulless customer service scripts that prevent mere mortal CSRs from actually connecting with their customer and delivering authentic customer service.

This adds a new dimension to “Getting Blocked” – “I’d like to help you, but I just don’t know enough to figure this out for you, so you’re going to have to wait (possibly forever) for advice from one of our (possibly nonexistent) technology ninjas”.

However, I’d like to enthusiastically support the notion of Expert Easter Eggs so that people with challenging problems can connect to CSRs with great skills whose mouths are watering for those challenges! Great idea, XKCD.

You’re Not Your Own Authenticity

In yesterday’s post defining authentithesis, I remarked about how easy it is to observe lack of authenticity in others, but difficult to be objective in self-assessment. Today, I discovered that the Harvard Business Review’s December 2005 issue has some light to shed:

While the expression of an authentic self is necessary for great leadership, the concept of authenticity is often misunderstood, not least by leaders themselves. They often assume that authenticity is an innate quality—that a person is either authentic or not. In fact, authenticity is a quality that others must attribute to you. No leader can look into a mirror and say, “I am authentic.” A person cannot be authentic on his or her own. Authenticity is largely defined by what other people see in you and, as such, can to a great extent be controlled by you. If authenticity were purely an innate quality, there would be little you could do to manage it and, therefore, little you could do to make yourself more effective as a leader.

Indeed, managers who exercise no control over the expression of their authentic selves get into trouble very quickly when they move into leadership roles.

— http://hbr.org/2005/12/managing-authenticity/ar/1

Someone also asked me the question “so what’s the difference between authentithesis and plain old hypocrisy?” Hypocrisy is about claiming to have some trait or character or believe a certain thing (usually something virtuous, desirable, or publicly “good”) and then acting in a totally different way. Authentithesis covers hypocrisy plus the other end of the spectrum too: say you have a horribly undesirable or publicly reprehensible trait, opinion, or behavior, and yet you try to cover it up. And then you try convince other people (and yourself) you don’t have that trait, or behavior, or problem. The circular paths dance around dealing with the issues directly, and using even the most negative traits or behaviors as positive opportunities for growth.