How to Build Extreme Customer Service from the Inside Out

“How to Build Extreme Customer Service from the Inside Out”

Marilyn Manning, Ph.D., Speaker

“Always do right. This will surprise some and astonish the rest”, Mark Twain

“Thousands of businesses will be shaken and even shattered by their inability to render effective customer service,” say Davidow and Uttal, authors of Total Customer Service, The Ultimate Weapon. Quality service is defined as, “building customer loyalty and goodwill by exceeding expectations and needs”.

From my observation, organizations that consistently deliver outstanding service practice the same level of service with employees. Inside customer service is a critical foundation often neglected. And, building employee loyalty can pay big dividends. A recent MCI-Gallup poll of CEO’s said they named the most important sources for a competitive advantage is quality, service and responsiveness. Why not begin on the inside to insure employee and customer loyalty?

It is surprising how easy it is to take other employees for granted. Do you and your staff always apply common courtesies to each other? Does your team or organization have clear behavioral expectations or an effective “code of conduct”?

At Brook Furniture Rental’s annual leadership conference, we set the team code of conduct based on our core values: Service, Value, Speed, and Integrity. Our team ground rules include: Always give feedback directly to the person; never speak negatively about another team member behind his or her back.

When employees treat each other with respect, courtesy and goodwill, studies show that productivity and positive morale increase. An organization working together more effectively internally, is more skilled and consistent in external service.

When I design customer service programs for my clients, I recommend certain steps. First identify your core values like the leadership of Brook did. Next, have employees define customer-centered behaviors. What behaviors do they associate with exceptional service? For example: “listening without interrupting,” “offering to help,” “asking enough questions to identify the real needs and concerns.” These should be the same behaviors we expect co-workers to use with each other.

Bob Crawford, CEO of Brook, models and coaches core values. One value is “integrity.“ Managers and employees avoid negativity, fix problems immediately, deliver what they promise, and follow through. All staff spend time discussing values and expected behaviors.

Building employee loyalty can be challenging when we have a “difficult” person on board, someone who seems cold and uncaring. The tendency is to treat him in an impersonal way since he seldom responds. What if we could adjust our thinking and see him as a customer? We’d likely be more patient and accepting. We might see him as shy and insecure rather than aloof. With this new frame of reference, we would probably have more compassion.

Changing our attitude changes our response. In turn, this could change the “difficult” person’s responses toward us. Why not give co-workers the same consideration we give an external customer, thus building loyalty both inside and out.

Brit ? of Arden Realty, Los Angeles, says to capture the customer’s interest at the right time. Anticipate what they need before they do. How powerful this would be if we also applied this to our employees. Meet their needs and build loyalty.

In every transaction, actions happen on two levels simultaneously. The Procedural Level, is what we do; the mechanics of the service or the measurable objective. The Personal Level is how we provide the service, the inter-personal, subjective interaction. We always react to the quality of personal treatment. Are we being seen as a valuable person? Do we feel adequately listened to? Are we being treated fairly? We remember the way we are treated far longer than the mechanics of the interaction.

If we approach a counter for service, and are greeted with “Fill this out and go over there”, we feel unwelcome. On the other hand, if the person looks us in the eye, smiles, and says, “Good morning. May I help you?....You will need to fill out this form and then hand it in over there. Let me know if you have any questions”, we feel valued. The procedure is the same, but adding the personal touch changes our perception and makes it a positive experience.

When our current personal needs are not recognized, the transaction can lead to conflict. I recommend that you enter the conversation on a personal level before doing business. This could just be a friendly greeting or smile.

During the transaction, you can use something personal to diffuse anger. Karis Wuerth, VP Sales in Northern CA for Brook shows real concern if a piece of furniture arrives broken. She might ask: “Was anyone hurt? I hope you are OK.”
This allows the customer re-focus their attention and usually diffuse any anger.

When the business is complete, there are effective ways to exit through the personal level. The personal level is the one we have the most control over. Practicing these skills increases overall service consistency and team communication.

In presenting this material to hundreds of audiences, I have witnessed a powerful change of mindsets. Employees begin to realize they have a big impact and they have choices. They also realize that providing extreme service not only benefits the organization, but also themselves. Giving service makes us feel appreciated, satisfied, energized, and renewed. When employees actually see the benefits of extreme service, they are motivated to go the extra mile.

Henry Luebbert, Partner of Synergy Relocations in San Ramon, CA, advises us to come up with innovative solutions and to encourage our employees to be creative.

Impact can happen in every point of contact. This concept, “Moment of Truth,” was first coined by Jan Carlzon of Scandinavia Airline Systems. At the time Carlzon became president of SAS, it was losing $17 million per year. With his leadership, SAS was earning $54 million within a year. He made quality customer service paramount. He decided customer service wasn’t just a smiling attendant, but was the culmination of every single encounter the traveler had with the airline. He called each encounter a “Moment of Truth”. Challenge your staff to treat each interaction as the most important one for the customer.

Bob Crawford says: “We intend to give that personal touch of extreme service at every point of contact.”

Every contact has a compounding and cumulative effect. It could be the initial phone call, or having a friendly employee at the counter, or the service at the time of delivery. We have no way of knowing if we are providing the critical moment of truth for our customer.

Cherie Turner, Director of corporate housing for the Irvine Company says: “Extreme service is a process. It’s a lot of small things. It’s the way Brook treats me as a special individual by meeting my unique needs.”

To make your customer service programs unique and more effective, begin by addressing internal service and loyalty. Seeing employees as internal customers, improving both the procedural and personal levels of service, applying Jan Carlzon’s “Moment of Truth”, and pointing out the benefits that quality service has to offer employees, all increase awareness and insure that our organizations model consistent high levels of service and loyalty both inside and out. Keep your competitive edge.

About the Author

Dr. Marilyn Manning is an organizational consultant specializing in Customer Service presentations, trainings, and management coaching. To see her articles on “Effective Meetings,” “Teamwork”, and “Resolving conflict,” visit: or email her for copies:

Marilyn Manning, Ph.D.