Insightly Insider presents: How to Get Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service


How to Get Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service

When the phone system went down at Rackspace, a lone support agent leapt into action. He tweeted his personal phone number and let customers know they could use it to call him for support. Other agents soon joined him and tweeted their numbers too.

Nobody told them to do it. It wasn't part of a scripted procedure. They didn't even ask permission. They just did it.

This story shows the type of service that's possible when you have a customer-focused culture. The kind where employees are absolutely obsessed with service.

Hi everyone! My name is Jeff Toister. I'm an author, consultant, and trainer who has appeared in ten customer service training videos on In 2016, I was named one of the Top 30 Customer Service Professionals in the World by Global Gurus, one of ICMI's Top 50 Thought Leaders to Follow on Twitter, and one of HDI's Top 25 Thought Leaders in Technical Support and Service Management.

Today, it's my pleasure to share some secrets that elite companies use to encourage employees to do amazing things.

These secrets are from my new book, The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service. It's due out April 4, 2017, but you can read the rest of the Rackspace story by downloading the first chapter.

Over the next 60 minutes, I'm going to share three steps you can take to get your employees obsessed with customer service, too!

For now, I have a question for you. What is one company known for outstanding customer service? Please leave a comment with the first company that comes to mind and tell me why.


Part 1: Create a Customer Service Vision

The first step to getting your employees obsessed with customer service is to create a customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that acts like a compass to point everyone in the same direction.

Let's look at the sporting goods retailer REI as an example.

REI's customer service vision does double duty as its mission statement: "We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship."

When my wife and I went to REI to purchase camping equipment for a backpacking trip, we were assisted by an associate who was passionate about backpacking and was eager to share his knowledge. He understood he wasn't there to sell us camping gear; he was there to help us enjoy the outdoors!

Contrast this with another sporting goods retailer, where a disinterested employee had virtually no knowledge of camping equipment. All she did was point towards the camping equipment aisle and suggest "you might find something over there."

Do you see the difference?

REI's employees are obsessed with service in part because they have a customer service vision that gives them a shared purpose. To the employee at the other store, her job was just a paycheck.

You can develop a customer service vision for your organization, department, or team, too. This handy guide will take you through the process step-by-step, but the final product should have three characteristics:

  • Simple and easily understood. (I prefer one sentence.)
  • Customer-focused.
  • Reflects both who we are now and who we want to be.

Pro-Tip: Companies struggle to write a customer service vision because they overthink the process and create something that doesn't feel genuine. Think of the customer service vision as a clear and accurate description of the service you deliver on your best day. The vision can inspire employees to hit that mark more consistently. 


Part 2: Engage Your Employees

Let's take a moment to define employee engagement. Here's my definition:

An engaged employee is someone who deliberately contributes to organizational success.

Notice there are two keys to getting an employee engaged under this definition:

  1. The employee must understand what makes the organization successful.
  2. The employee must be committed to helping.

The first key starts with creating the customer service vision we discussed in Part 1. But it's not enough just to have one — employees need to know about it!

JetBlue has a great customer service vision: Inspire Humanity. They've led the J.D. Power North American Airline rankings for 12 consecutive years in part because of their highly engaged employees.

How do they do it?

They constantly talk about inspiring humanity with their crewmembers (i.e. employees). New crewmembers attend an orientation where they learn about the organizational culture. Each JetBlue location receives a quarterly visit from an executive who discusses the company culture with crewmembers. Leaders are expected to talk about inspiring humanity in team and one-on-one meetings.

Customer-focused companies get their employees obsessed with service because they talk about it all the time.

You can do the same thing by building an employee engagement plan. This step-by-step guide can help you, but the goal should be to ensure that every single employee can give a consistent answer to these three questions:

  1. What is our customer service vision?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. How do I personally contribute?

The first two questions get at organizational success. An engaged employee knows what it takes to make the organization succeed.

The last question gets at commitment. Employees who can answer question three understand the link between their job and the overall customer service vision.

Pro-Tip: Many leaders struggle with employee engagement because they mistake it for a rewards and incentives plan. Unfortunately, rewards and incentives don't help employees make a deep commitment to service. I've spoken with thousands of customer service employees, and one of the most consistent themes I hear is customer service professionals want to help their customers. You'll find they're very motivated if you can help them do just that.


Part 3: Set Good Goals

Companies often use goals and metrics to drive employee behavior. Unfortunately, some goals wind up encouraging the wrong behavior.

Here's an example from a technical support team:

Anyone who averages a 95 percent rating on the customer satisfaction survey will receive a $100 bonus at the end of the month.

Can you guess what happened?

Support agents stopped worrying about helping customers and started focusing on earning the cash! One common trick was cherry picking easy cases while transferring upset customers to the company's Tier 2 support team so they didn't risk getting a low survey score.

Another support team approached it much differently. The team had an average customer satisfaction rating of 80 percent across all support tiers, so they set this goal that was shared by the entire team:

We will achieve an 85 percent average rating on the customer satisfaction survey by the end of the month.

This team easily achieved their goal by working together to solve customer issues as quickly as possible.

These two teams highlight the difference between good and bad goals. Here are three keys:

  1. Good goals focus attention on the customer. Bad goals divert attention.
  2. Good goals promote teamwork. Bad goals reward selfishness.
  3. Good goals rely on internal motivation. Bad goals rely on rewards.

Employees at customer-focused companies are obsessed with service in part because they have goals that point them in the right direction, rather than distract them from customer-focus.

You can use this approach to create your own goals by following the same three good goal criteria.

Pro-Tip: Just like the wheels on your car need to be aligned to keep it pointed in the right direction, your customer service operation needs to be aligned, too! Setting good goals is just one point of alignment. The others are hiring, training, empowerment, and leadership. You can use this short assessment to test your organization's customer service alignment.


In conclusion

Sometimes, people look at these steps and feel there's something missing. To many customer service leaders, it just seems too simple:

  1. Create a customer service vision
  2. Engage your employees
  3. Set good goals

There's got to be something more, right?

Yes, there's always more to do. For example, many customer service leaders get everyone on their team to sign up for the Customer Service Tip of the Week email. It's one tip, via one email, once per week. I created it because a client asked me for an easy way to help her continuously reinforce outstanding service with her employees.

That's the real secret that leaders in customer-focused companies understand. Getting your employees obsessed with customer service isn't a one-time project. It's a never-ending journey that you're always working on.

                                                        #  #  #




  • I am obsessed with customer do I know when I am calling or emailing TOO MUCH?

    If I don't hear back, I will call or email again. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.  At what point am I suppose to back off?

  • I would like to participate in the webinar.  No questions at this time.

  • Hi Diane! I know what you mean -- I'm obsessed too! :-) And with Jeff's experience, he's really the perfect person to learn from. I guarantee he'll have great stuff to share next Tuesday so definitely take advantage of his being here by attending and posting your questions in this comments area. btw: Jeff has a "Customer Service Tip of the Week" that you can sign up for here. See you on the 21st!


  • Hi Fletcher - So happy to hear you'll joining us on the 21st! It's super easy to participate. Just use this comment's area when you're ready to ask Jeff a question. I'll be posting Jeff's full article, "How to get your employees obsessed with customer service" in the space above. Every question earns you an entry to win a copy of his new book. :-)

    Just a final note that this is an online discussion and there will not be a webinar component. Thanks!

  • The timing is not good as I am in New Zealand, will I be able to watch it at another time?

  • Sorry to hear you can't join us live Richard. The good news is this discussion will be saved on this page and you can always find past Insightly Insiders archived here under Discussions & Best Practices.

    If you have any questions now, you can post them and Jeff will reply when he's here tomorrow. :)


  • Is being obsessed with Customer service something akin to "The Customer is always right" ? :)

  • We typically contact our customers by email as we are a virtual type company.  I stress to my staff that personal phone calls are extremely important in building relationships with your customers.  What recommendations can you give regarding how often to call vs email?

  • Hi everyone! Our Insightly Insider online discussion with author and nationally recognized employee training expert, Jeff Toister will be starting at 10:00 AM PT - in approximately 5 minutes. :-)

    We’ll be posting Jeff’s article, How to Get Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service, throughout the hour and Jeff will be with us LIVE to take your questions. Please make sure you can log in to our Help Center in advance of the discussion (you’ll need to be logged in to leave Jeff a comment). Every question asked will be automatically entered to win a copy of Jeff’s new book,The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service, due out April 4, 2017. See you soon!

  • Welcome to our Insightly Insider online discussion! Today’s guest host is Jeff Toister - nationally recognized employee training expert and a sought after speaker with more than 20 years of experience. Jeff will be with us live throughout the hour, sharing his best practices and taking your customer service questions.

    Hi Jeff - Thank you for being with us today! :-)  

  • Our company is breaking sales records every month.  We  are under staffed and our service is slipping.  Your insights please? 

  • *Just a friendly reminder to refresh your browser page periodically. This will allow the newest parts of Jeff’s article to appear above, and allow the latest questions and answers to appear in the comments area below.

  • Hi Diane! Thanks for posting your question about when to call or email a customer. 

    It's very situational, but here's what I generally do:

    1. Contact them in the same channel they used to reach out to me (phone, email, etc.)
    2. Contact them again the next day if no response. Try another channel if possible (so phone + email)
    3. Contact them again the next week if no response.

    I want to make sure they received my message (emails sometimes go to spam), but I also want them to get back to me on their own time without feeling pestered.

  • Hi Melissa! It's funny you should mention "the customer is always right." I did some research to find out who originally said that. It turns out that the original quote has been changed!

    Nobody really agrees on the origin, but there are a couple of possibilities:

    Cesar Ritz (The Ritz-Carlton) is credited with saying, "The customer is never wrong." What he meant was you shouldn't argue. You should just try to help the customer become right.

    Marshall Field is credited with saying, "Right or wrong, the customer is always right." Same meaning: don't argue. Just help the customer be right!

    It takes a pretty obsessed person to help some customers get there!

  • Hi Jeff, Really excited to learn from you. Was wondering how Customer Service became your passion and what was your path to becoming a thought leaders in this area?

  • Hi Pam! Diane asked a similar question, which I answered above

    Part of building relationships is learning your customers' preferences. 

    • Do your customers prefer to schedule calls?
    • Do your customers prefer to be called (vs. emailed)?
    • Do your customers use the phone only as a last resort?

    I try to contact my clients in one of two situations:

    • When they contact me and I need to respond. 
    • When I have something of value to share.

    So there's not a specific limit on how often because its much more situational. I also try to read how quickly my clients respond. A long time to respond generally indicates a lack of interest, thought it sometimes just means they're too busy right now. 

  • Congratulations on breaking all of those sales records, David!

    While that's exciting, I also know what its like for customer service to get short-changed on staffing. Here's one possible reason why it's not getting funding: executives here the request as a request to spend more money.

    That means the challenge is to put a business case together. Show how being understaffed is causing some financial problems in terms of overtime, lost customers, or unnecessary repeat contacts. Make a clear business case to show how adding staff with save money in the long run.

    If you can do this, you'll have a better chance of getting your executives' attention. 

  • Part I of Jeff's article has been posted! Please refresh your browser page to see Jeff's tips on "How to Create a Customer Service Vision".

  • Hi Wendy! Thanks for asking about how I became passionate about customer service. (And thanks for thinking of me as a thought leader!)

    Two parts:

    My very first customer at my very first job was a service failure. It was my fault, but it was also a challenge because I was 16 years old, hadn't been trained, and the person who was supposed to be training me went on her break.

    From that day forward, I decided I never wanted that to happen again. So I learned all I can. And kept learning. It turned out I loved helping people, but I also really enjoy the learning process.

    I suppose being a thought leader means getting your message out there. I've spent many years listening, learning, and sharing. I think (I hope!) that's what brings credibility. The work I do and lessons I share are based on extensive experience, lots of research, and conversations with thousands of customer service professionals over the years.

  • Thanks for having me here today, Brenda! My fingers are flying fast trying to keep up with these great questions!

  • Thanks, Jeff! Love your determination and desire to continue learning. It's very inspiring!

  • Hi Jeff, in addition to the REI vision statement, do you have any others to share to get my wheels churning? Thanks.

  • Hi Jamie! I do. Here are just a few from my book:

    Shake Shack: Stand for Something Good

    Publix: Where Shopping is a Pleasure

    Safelite AutoGlass: Achieve extraordinary results by looking at our business through the eyes of our customers and making it easy for them to do business with us and ensuring their experience is memorable.

    And of course, Rackspace (mentioned at the start of this event):

    We cannot promise that hardware won't break, that software won't fail, or that we will always be perfect. What we can promise is that if something goes wrong, we will rise to the occasion, take action, and help resolve the issue.

  • Thank you again for being here, Jeff. We're honored to have you guest host and letting us pick your brain today! :-)

    Everyone -- Part II of Jeff's article has just been posted. Please refresh your browser page to read how to "Engage your Employees".

  • When writing a customer service vision statement, do you recommend our managers to create one themselves, or should it be a shared team effort?

  • Hi Thomas. In my experience, it works best when it's a shared team effort. I like to give everyone a chance to give input via a survey and interviews with key stakeholders, but only have 7-10 people actually writing it.

    This includes a mix of people representing various elements of the organization. Having a few people from the front lines allows for their perspective and always results in some key point managers didn't think of:

    Here's my complete step-by-step guide:

  • Ah. Those definitely help. :-)

  • I'm curious to learn from those tuning in. What companies do you feel are obsessed with customer service? What do they do that makes them special?

  • Hi Jeff...any tips on how best to help clients feel comfortable/confident with new contacts/CSR?

  • If I may ask a followup question -- 

    Like your JetBlue example, how can I talk about customer service all the time and not make it sound like "homework" or that I'm harping?

Post is closed for comments.