Would you like to help your employees improve their customer service skills? While additional training could certainly enhance the way they interact with your clients, cultivating a consumer-focused mentality is the key to building stronger relationships with your existing clientele. In episode #94, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks offer several strategies for creating a customer-centric mindset within your small business.

Executive Summary

2:16—Today’s Topic: How Do I Establish a Customer-Centric Culture Within My Small Business?

2:47—Fostering a customer-centric culture starts from the top down, so it’s important for individuals with higher positions to lead by example.

3:43—Business owners should take advantage of the newest service management devices and apps because these encourage more frequent interactions between their employees and clients.

5:17—Providing your employees with feedback, not only gives them a better understanding of the clients’ needs, but also a clearer sense of which customer-oriented skills they need to improve upon.

5:46—In B2B businesses, pairing each client with the appropriate employee leads to stronger relationships.

11:19—Gene suggests that many team-building experiences tend to focus more on the relationship-building component.


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Elizabeth: Gene.

Gene: Elizabeth. Are we live? Are we live? Hello? Hello?

Elizabeth: Yeah, we started. We started. So, you know what’s the life blood of a company, but it’s very hard to teach is customer service.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: And how do you do that with your employees?

Gene: You do it by example. The term comes from the top. That is in my company, there’s only 10 of us, so listen to your big organization people like to send you on team meetings and training. It’s all very well and good, but your kids are always watching how you behave. Your employees are always watching how you behave. So, I know that that’s the case. It’s funny you say that, because I complain about clients all the time to my employees. I know they complain about us …

Elizabeth: Oh, yeah.

Gene: I don’t mind doing that, but I do think one thing that I do pretty good is I do get it across that everything we do is all about the client. What’s the best for the client? What’s in the best interest for the client? That comes with like if we have a billing issue or if we have a dispute or we have a problem, whether they disagree on something we want to do. When I have these conversations with people at my company, it’s very easy to take a step back and say guys, forget about our … you know what I mean? Our agenda. In the end, what is gonna be best for the client? I think I get that across pretty good. People get that, so I’m kinda proud of myself for that.

Elizabeth: Okay. When we come back, we’re gonna talk about just that and creating a customer-centric mindset and how to get that to become part of your business’ culture.

Gene: Oh, is this a teaser? I like it.

Elizabeth: That was a little teaser.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: We’ll be right back after we hear from our sponsor.

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QUESTION: How Do I Make a Customer-Centric Mindset Part of My Company’s Culture?

Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back and our question is from Mariam in Spearfish, South Dakota. She does not say what kind of business she runs. Well anyway, here we go.

Gene: I would love to, Spearfish. I don’t even know where that is. I’m gonna look that up, okay.

Elizabeth: I know. So, here is her question:

“I feel like some of my employees really struggle with the concept of customer service. I’m not saying that the customer is always right, but I am saying that we should make every effort to help them resolve complaints. How do I make a customer-centric mindset part of my company’s culture?”

So, you already answered part of this question, that it does start from the top down.

Gene: I think I did. Yeah, yeah. I don’t know how many employees she has. I mean, I think it’s really a challenge to do it at an organization as big as The Hartford, for example, where you’ve got tens of thousands of employees versus a small business. I get the impression it’s not that big.

Elizabeth: Well, let’s say she has 20 employees.

Gene: Yeah, the more employees, the harder it gets because you’re supposed to be showing it as an example and getting that message through makes it that much harder. To me, I just think you’re demonstrating it by your actions. I think you have to at the very least, if Mariam is growing, she’s got 20 employees I’m assuming, and a company even that size she probably has two or three key managers that work for her who then supervise the remainder of those employees, and those key people need to know what her value system is when it comes to customer service, and that they do that.

Now, I think there are some technologies out there, Elizabeth, that I think can really help provide really good customer service as well, because I think at this day and age, there’s face to face if you’re dealing with a customer, but then if you’re an online business or if you’re just selling B2B, people want responses a lot quicker so you want to be leaning on your service management applications, your social media …

Elizabeth: So, what would some of those be?

Gene: Oh, for example, if you have a help desk system, or a service system, if somebody has a problem they can open up a ticket and then you get notified about it so you can respond back to them very quickly. If you have chat on your website is very, very important. If you’re sending out surveys so that people can give you feedback to know where you can improve on. If you have a good … we sell, so this is sort of self promoting, but customer relationship management systems are all about nurturing your customers’ community with consistent communications to find out if there’s any issues or more things you could be doing for them. Being proactive … a lot of those technologies will help you be proactive with your customers and there’s nothing better service than solving whatever problems they have, really in advance.

Elizabeth: So, in order to make that part of your company’s culture, because there’s two separate questions here. It’s how to do great customer service. We’ve talked about this before. I’m gonna link a bunch of our articles including a really, really long how-to guide on how to do good customer service at a small business. The separate question is how to make it more part of the culture. I think if you were to do those reports, like you have your customer service reports that you do, that you actually wrote about this. I’m going to link the article. It’s called “Four Key Reports That Will Help You Deliver Better Customer Service.” If you were to tie those reports, like how they’re doing to people’s goals, I know you said goals for your employees every three months. That’s a way to kind of make it more tangible.

Gene: It is, and also to be giving your employees feedback along the way. When clients are unhappy, and by the way I mean, we have clients who are unhappy all the time in our business. We sell technology, so things go wrong. Whenever I hear from people who are like oh no, everybody’s happy with my business, I just never believe that. I get feedback from clients. The customer’s not always right, don’t get me wrong. I mean, sometimes clients don’t realize why they’re unhappy or and sometimes, it’s not …

Elizabeth: You’re the expert, they’re coming to you, so …

Gene: Yeah, that’s correct. It’s not like the customer’s always right, but if they’re unhappy with any of the people in my company, the people in my company get immediate feedback about that. I’m also pretty good at laying it out for them when they’re … I have clients that just do not like me. People in my company say, I don’t think you really want to interact with this guy, he’s not a big fan …

Elizabeth: So, what do you do? You send Cory to them or something?

Gene: Yeah, I mean I have other people in my company that work and engage mostly face to face with clients. I don’t know what it is. Who can not like me, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth: It’s not like you’re opinionated or outspoken at all.

Gene: How is that possible? Right, exactly. It’s not even the opinionated and outspoken. I’ll just say the wrong thing or email the wrong thing, whatever. When that happens though. I can’t be loved by everyone, so I want to make sure I match them with somebody in my business that they do get along with. I’ll stay out. That’s completely fine. I think it is just making sure that your employees are getting good feedback, that they understand that not everybody’s gonna love them, but then they should also understand if they’re making any mistakes but what they could be doing better. I think that’s also a very key way to improve customer service.

In a service business like mine, it’s different if you’re in retail. You can’t match customers with your employees. Somebody comes in, wants a cup of coffee, whoever’s next to serve them is just gonna serve them. In a B2B business though, if you have a customer service department or if you have people providing services, field services, whatever it is, you can be flexible and sometimes personalities just don’t jive. Then, you have clients that are unhappy because they don’t like the person that you’ve assigned to work with them. Change it.

Elizabeth: So, do you tell your employees that?

Gene: I do. I’m pretty brutal about it. Whenever I tell them, I’m like hey listen. This guy, he doesn’t like you. You did this, he has a problem with … but then again, there’s 15 people that love you. You know what I mean? By the way, here’s another 25 people that don’t like me. We’re all big men and women here. We can accept this guy. He doesn’t like you, so you gotta step back and have somebody else work with this person. You go and work with people that love you. Why would you even want to work with somebody that doesn’t like you? I just think matching people to … well you can, again. It depends on the business. If you can match the right people to do the work for your clients and customers, that also goes a long way to good customer service.

Elizabeth: Okay. To summarize this, we’re talking about tying people’s goals to good customer service, and then setting your employees up for success by not making them work with people that already don’t like them.

Gene: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I think if you match them, we’re talking about small businesses here, so as you get larger and larger, there’s more room for processes and training and all that kind of stuff, but matching them with the right customers, that two way street, I think it has a huge, huge impact on your customer service. Finally, again, let’s get back to technology. If you are a kind of business where you are B2B and you can leverage help desk technology, chats on your website, it’s customer relationship management obligation where you can proactively surveys. You can actively have an ear to the ground. You can respond fast.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s a big thing, that’s a big part of it is making it really easy for customers to get in contact with you. I know I’ve talked about this before, but it happened to me again last week. Small business, I was trying to get there. I needed to get a holiday gift for someone. Their hours were not on their website, so I looked on Google. Google had the … no, it wasn’t that it was a pharmacy. I needed to go, I had to get a prescription for my dog, of course.

Gene: Of course.

Elizabeth: They didn’t have their hours on their website or their address, phone number, anything.

Gene: Yeah. How frustrating is that?

Elizabeth: And it’s a pharmacy.

Gene: I know, why are you having to do investigatory …

Elizabeth: And it’s a big brand pharmacy, it’s not like a small pharmacy.

Gene: So, that’s not very customer service-centric.

Elizabeth: It’s not. So, make it easy for people to find you, connect with you.

Gene: Give you feedback.

Elizabeth: Making sure you’re getting these reports, you’re getting feedback from them, you’re tying that to your employee’s goals, you’re setting your employees up for success. That’s at least a good start on company culture. And of course, the top down. You’ve gotta be super customer-centric.

Gene: Yep, that’s correct. You’ve gotta be clear as to what your values are. I’m telling you, if you demonstrate that, if you’re in a small business where everybody’s watching you, that message will get across.

Elizabeth: Okay, we’re gonna be right back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance after we hear from our sponsor.


Elizabeth: And we’re back.

Gene: My Word of Brilliance today, Elizabeth, and I have to ask you this question, but let me give you the Word of Brilliance first. It’s two words, of course. Escape room. Have you ever done an escape room?

Elizabeth: Is it a game?

Gene: See, you have not. Now, the reason why I bring up this, and if you’re listening to this and you’ve participated in an escape room exercise, then you’ll find this interesting. If you’ve never heard of an escape room, like Elizabeth here, and like me about two weeks ago, let me tell you what an escape room is.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Gene: It is a room that you go to with a team of people, it’s a business. You are tasked with escaping from the room. You are given clues and then you have to figure something out and it gives you another clue. It’s like a scavenger hunt inside of a room that ultimately leads you to the combination or the key or whatever to unlock and escape out of the room. The only way you can do it is to work together as a team to get out. So, I was talking with a client of mine in New York, and eight of them were being sent to this escape room. It was their third time. They loved it, they loved it, except for one guy.

Elizabeth: So, that’s a good employee, what do you call that?

Gene: It’s a team building exercise.

Elizabeth: Team building exercise, yeah.

Gene: That’s exactly what it is. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this on air, but I’m gonna ask you for permission to write about this, because I think it’s a horrible idea. I absolutely, and it’s funny. When I was talking to these people, this client of mine, it’s a larger company. The employees love it, but I don’t know if team building exercises like this really … you hear about companies all the time sending their employees …

Elizabeth: You don’t like team building.

Gene: I do not. I hear companies that send away their employees to excursions or they go paintball and they do all these things. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong. I just am not convinced that those people come back from these things like an escape room, and they’re just better team players with each other. I just don’t know.

Elizabeth: That’s not really the point of team building, though.

Gene: Have you done any of this with The Hartford? Have you as a group ever had to go on a team building thing? If your boss were to say to you, Elizabeth, we’re gonna take our group on this team building, to an escape room or to paintball or we’re gonna, as a team go against the public relations team here at The Hartford or something like that, what would your reaction be to that?

Elizabeth: We don’t do that. We do a lot of volunteer activities. We do that as a team.

Gene: So, let’s talk about that. When you come out of that volunteer … first of all, it’s a wonderful thing to do. It’s communities with Hartford, it’s great. HartMobs, surely. That’s great that Hartford does that. As a team building thing, do you think that that …

Elizabeth: I think it does do something. I don’t know if this would be classified as team building, but a lot of times, I end up getting paired with someone on a volunteer project that I kinda know in the office, but I don’t know that well, and then we get to know each other really well. The next time I’m working on a project, I don’t feel weird about going to them and saying, “Can you point me in the right direction for this?”

Gene: So then, maybe it does help. Maybe that’s what it is.

Elizabeth: It’s more relationship building I think than team building.

Gene: It is. So, maybe that’s the whole point of these programs. I really have not done many of these.

Elizabeth: You invited your employees over to your 4th of July barbecue thinking they would not come …

Gene: Yes, yes. They came, sure.

Elizabeth: … but at least you got the invitation.

Gene: A few came and it was good.

Elizabeth: Did you actually talk to them?

Gene: Of course.

Elizabeth: Or were you just like, oh god.

Gene: Oh no, of course, of course. I wonder if I were to take my employees to like a team, like an escape room. That’s the word of the day here. Would it improve my business? Would it improve how we interact with each other? Would it improve client service?

Elizabeth: Are your employees already really close? Do they work so …

Gene: No. They do in the sense that they work together on projects.

Elizabeth: Yes, so they already know each other.

Gene: Oh, absolutely. Everybody does know each other well. They talk to each other all the time. They overlap each other with clients, some more than others. I just raise that issue as the word of the day for you if you’re listening to this and you’re thinking of doing a team building … I’m not sold on them. I’m curious to hear what your thoughts are and if you have any good experiences …

Elizabeth: Yeah, leave us a comment. Gene, for 2018 then, I think I want to challenge you to just do it one time.

Gene: You think I should do this? I should do this? You think I should do that?

Elizabeth: See what happens.

Gene: Yeah.

Elizabeth: The thing is, you gotta choose something that people will actually like, because …

Gene: Well, an escape room.

Elizabeth: That sounds fun. Do an escape room.

Gene: Yeah, we’re a project company, and I was thinking …

Elizabeth: A bunch of nerds.

Gene: A bunch of nerds of us and we all had to go in there. It would be hugely awkward, but then at the end, would it benefit my company? I don’t know the answer to that. I am up in the air, so let’s leave that open for discussion.

Elizabeth: I want to say one more thing though. I think it would be interesting for your company because you mostly interact with each other via Slack and …

Gene: CRM, conference calls and all that.

Elizabeth: You know how weird it is when you’re emailing with someone and you get to know each other over email. I’m talking about in a work setting, and then all of a sudden, you’re face-to-face? It’s totally different.

Gene: It is.

Elizabeth: So, I think it might actually be really interesting for you guys.

Gene: It might, it really might. It really might.

Elizabeth: Is it gonna bring you more business? I don’t know.

Gene: Well, more importantly, will it also provide better client service? I don’t know. I don’t know.

Elizabeth: Yeah, yeah. Well, do an experiment, 2018.

Gene: We’ll leave that out there for debate, but I’m curious to hear other people’s thoughts.

Elizabeth: Okay, so you’re gonna book the escape room and then come back and tell us about it.

Gene: Sure. Sure.

Elizabeth: Okay, we’ll be back in a couple days with our next episode. This is about the latest and greatest small business technology, volume four.

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