By Shep Hyken
Chief Amazement Officer
There are many great companies that are considered “rock stars” in customer service, winning awards and accolades – Amazon, Southwest Airlines and Zappos.com for example. But for me, one company stands out above the rest, and that shining star of customer service is Ace Hardware.
It’s no secret that Ace Hardware offers outstanding, helpful customer service – the JD Power award is very public recognition for a job well done. But if you look at Ace Hardware stores and then compare them to the competition, you realize that it is a different kind of success story. It’s David vs. Goliath. Ace competes against “Big Box” stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot with larger stores, more inventory and bigger advertising budgets, and Ace is still able to compete and prosper in the market. The secret is in the customer service. Ace Hardware relies on its special brand of helpful customer service – and that service starts from within.
I have talked and written a lot about how to create a customer-centric culture. My basic premise is that you must start on the inside, with the employees. To be the best place to shop, you must first be the best place to work. It comes down to this:
Treat your employees the way you want your customers to be treated – maybe even better!
I call this the Employee Golden Rule, and it is the key to creating a company that is customer-focused. Ace Hardware understands this and lives it every day. Before Ace retailers expect their employees to deliver helpful customer service, they embody that same type of engagement for the employees. Managers are encouraged to get to know their employees and find out what’s going on in their lives and offer support and assistance. In turn, that is exactly what the employee is to do for each customer who walks through the door.
There are some other steps to follow to complete the process of creating a customer-centric culture. Here are some of the basics:
- Define the culture. Ace strives to be helpful. What type of service do you want to offer? It could be a word or a phrase, but you need to put into words what kind of experience you want to deliver to the customer before you can begin to make it happen.
- Hire the right people. You have to look at more than education and skills if you want employees who will embody a customer-focused culture. Attitude and personality have to be the right fit as well.
- Communicate and train. Translate your ideal customer experience into simple terms. Formulate a simple, memorable statement that everyone will understand, and then share it with your employees. Your employees come to you with varied skills and experience, and it’s up to you to train them in your core values and customer service expectations. And this means everyone – management included.
- Be an example. Everyone – but leaders in particular – should step up their customer service and be role models for those around them. Management should treat the employees with the same respect and dignity that should be afforded to the customer, and employees should serve each other as well.
- Empower employees to succeed. You have hired the right people and trained them in your customer service expectations. Once they have the tools, trust them and give them the freedom to meet your expectations in their own individual style. Don’t overburden them with rules that get in the way.
- Celebrate success. Let your employees know when they are doing well, both individually and as a group. Everyone loves appreciation. It could come in the form of an awards dinner, recognition in the company newsletter, or – do this one often – simply by saying “thank you”. Recognition is a great motivator and will encourage employees to continue doing a great job or even step it up to a higher level.
Remember, what gets rewarded and reinforced becomes part of the company’s culture. The internal culture of a company is the secret to delivering customer service. You can have all of the tools and techniques in the world, but they won’t make a difference if customer service isn’t deeply rooted in the company culture.