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Insightly Insider presents: Managing for Exceptional Service - 5 Skills Your Team Needs Now to Create Strong Customer Connections


Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest, the co-authors of Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan and “Taming Gladys! The Busy Leaders Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty” present five techniques for leading your team to create strong customer relationships.

Based on their personal experiences and interviews with companies that set the bar for service excellence, Suttle and Vest will share what you can do right now to give your staff the skills they need to keep customers coming back and referring their colleagues and friends.


Part One – Is Your Team Customer Focused? 

Does your team know how to keep the customer in mind when making each and every daily decision? This strength not only leads to stellar service, it increases your organization’s sales, as customers realize they get the best of everything when they work with your company.

Our research has told us that companies that have stellar service regularly communicate and discuss their customer service strategies with their teams. From daily “morning huddles” to end-of-day debriefs, taking the time to discuss daily happenings with customers as a team pays off.

In Chapter 6 of “Who’s Your Gladys?”, The Green Companies shared how they hold regular meetings with their entire staff, including the most junior and more senior members, so that the less experienced staffers hear stories of situations handled well that result in customer loyalty. These meetings also become a way to deconstruct crises, too, so that the team can ideate ways to solve recurring problems. And finally, consistent customer-focused conversations help employees understand the company’s service excellence culture and how it functions.

PRO TIP: You may think you and your team “don't have time” to have regular meetings to focus on customer service. You do. Even 15 minutes a day can have a huge impact on customer focus.


Part Two - Team Work is Everything

When Nykki Yeager, former customer care manager at ipsy, an online cosmetics subscription service that serves millions of customers, helped us pilot our “Taming Gladys!” content with her team, we loved her focus on employee engagement.

Nykki supported and motivated her team in ways that had them looking forward to coming to work. “I generally take an amiable and relatively humanist approach to management, and I put a large emphasis on positive reinforcement,” she told us.

She also encouraged the team members to get to know each other personally. “To onboard new staff members, we ask them to build a profile for our internal site and tell their coworkers a little about themselves,” Nykki explained.

Every quarter, the ipsy team gets together for a weekend day retreat, which, in the past, has included bowling and potluck dinners, while they also take time to do some brainstorming of goals and overall service philosophy. “It’s great bonding outside of work,” she said. They also make time for “planned fun” by way of a monthly lunch that everybody attends, taking turns picking the restaurant, as well as a weekly themed Thursday, like bold lipstick day or statement jewelry day.

Employees that have strong relationships with each other are more apt to work together to discover new and better ways to serve their customers.

Look for opportunities to create connection among your employees. Bring in lunch once a month and do icebreakers with the team. Give employees a few ways to recognize their fellow staffers who go “above and beyond” in caring for customers or coworkers. Consider a monthly award – it can be silly – that goes from one team member to another every month based on who most embodies service excellence.

PRO TIP: Come up with a monthly  or quarterly special event for your team, and rotate who gets to select the outing’s destination. Teams that consider each other friends are more likely to work together well.


Part Three - Putting Service Principles into Practice

Giving a Consistent High-Quality Performance Takes Practice

Walking through the doors of Preston Wynne Spa, customers feel an instant sense of tranquility. The soothing earthy decor, with soft ambient lighting, sets the mood for the warm greeting each guest receives within five seconds.

Former owner and CEO Peggy Wynne Borgman has known that lasting impressions are made from the moment customers first arrive. She developed stringent standards for greeting guests. ‘‘It has to be friendly, and it has to be fast, so that the client doesn’t feel neglected,’’ she explained. ‘‘There has to be eye contact and a smile.’’

Make your place of business a “continuous learning” environment by setting up book clubs where staff members read customer service and other business books together. Encourage your team to bring industry events and workshops to your attention so they can attend. Ask them to bring back the lessons they’ve learned for a company-wide presentation to help keep your team’s knowledge relevant to the needs of today’s customers.

At Preston Wynne Spa, employees learn positive approaches to challenging situations by role-playing. This portion of their training helps them gain both competency and confidence.

In our “Who’s Your Gladys?” trainings, we sometimes ask participants to “play” the customer in front of the group, so they get to experience first-hand how different customer service responses make them feel.

PRO TIP: Recognize successful problem resolution! When someone takes on a difficult customer situation and brings it to a positive end, ask them to share the story in the next team meeting. What were they thinking when they decided what to do? How did they discover the solution? Peer-to-peer storytelling is an exceptional tool for sharing knowledge.


Part Four - Keeping a Consistent Winning Attitude

How your staff members think about and look at the world around them influences what happens in their lives. If they’re optimistic, odds are they move through life with a happy exterior, too. They may expect good things, find it easier to recover from setbacks and feel good about their lives.   

Research shows that optimistic people perform better at school, work and sports; recover quicker from surgeries; and even live longer than pessimists. If you’re a pessimist, you most likely expect to be treated poorly and probably present a grouchy face to the world. As a result of your crabby exterior, people aren’t as kind to you as they might otherwise be.

Expectations Influence Performance

Service goes much deeper than just “how someone acts.” It’s how they think that will determine success with customers. When they believe they’re a challenge, customers will probably be more difficult. They’ll push buttons and generally give your staffer a hard time.

If you encourage your staff members to become “learned optimists” - focused on staying in a positive mindset when they’re at work, no matter what happens around them  ̶  you’ll inevitably get better results. Your customers will come back again and again.

PRO TIP: To turn around a bad attitude focus on gratitude. Share this exercise with your team.

Start by thinking of three things for which you’re grateful. Do you have close friends? Is your family healthy? Does your car run well? Do you love your dog? Find something small that makes you feel good and think about it for a minute or two. Then think of something else that is going well for you for another few minutes. By the time you’ve thought of three or four, you’ll be in a much more positive state of mind. It’s quick and easy, and you can do it any time of day.


Part Five - Creative Problem-Solving

Every dilemma has at least three or four possible solutions. When customers know that your team is committed to solving any issues that arise, you become a customer’s first and best choice. One way to ensure that your staff is being creative is to ask them to come up with at least three possible solutions to every problem, even if the last one is a bit ridiculous. You may be surprised by the creative answers they uncover.

Here are a few examples to share with your team to get their thoughts moving in a creative direction:

Problem: During Chicken Soup for the Soul founder Jack Canfield’s full day training sessions, people’s cell phones go off, interrupting the points he makes from the stage, and distracting audience members.

Creative Problem Solving: Jack tells his audiences, “If your cell phone goes off during the training, I will expect you to hand over twenty dollars.” Then he tells people that the money will be donated to charity. When the inevitable happens and someone’s cell phone rings, the designated collector of the donations comes running to collect the money and everyone smiles. AND the number of cell phones going off during the week decreases dramatically.

Problem: Employees are afraid to take responsibility to solve a customer problem on the spot without asking management for help.

Creative Problem Solving: Frank Delfina at PRS Guitars told his employees, “You don’t have to come to me. Just make decisions as if you owned the company and 99 percent of the time you’ll make the right decision.’’ The 1% of the time they don’t, he considers it tuition toward their education, which takes away the threat of “getting in trouble.”

PRO TIP: Ask your team to take on one recurring customer issue a quarter and create a process that prevents the issue. Making problem resolution and service quality a measurable goal helps the team to stay focused.


Part Six - Our Parting Words

We could go on and on about service excellence, obviously! And as a manager, you owe it to your team to keep pushing forward to improve your service scores and customer loyalty.

Ensure your team has these skills and your customers will thank you!

  • Customer focus
  • Working as a team
  • Using service principles consistently
  • Maintaining a consistent winning attitude
  • Creative problem-solving

We invite you to sign up for our monthly customer service emails, where we share tips, valuable articles and special offers.  Enjoy watching an entire video module of our online Customer Service Roadmap Program too.

Thank you for joining us today!


  • 0

    Hi everyone! We’ll be starting our Insider event at 8:00 AM PT, in approximately 10 minutes :-)

    We’ll be posting Marilyn and Lori Jo’s article, Managing for Exceptional Service, throughout the hour, and they’ll be with us LIVE to take your questions. Please make sure you can log into our Help Center in advance of the discussion (you’ll need to be logged in to leave a comment for Marilyn and Lori Jo). See you soon!

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    Welcome to our Insightly Insider online discussion! Today’s guest hosts are Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest - the co-authors of Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan and “Taming Gladys! The Busy Leaders Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty” present five techniques for leading your team to create strong customer relationships. They’ll be with us live throughout the hour, sharing their best practices and taking your customer service questions.

    Hi Marilyn and Lori Jo - thank you for being with us today! :-)

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    Hi Marilyn and Lori Jo, thanks for being here!

    I received a question from a ticket that I think our Insightly community would love to hear your answer to, "What’s the best way to handle getting meetings back on topic, when they continue to circle back to a previous topic?" 

    PS, love your post so far! :)

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    Part 1 of Marilyn and Lori Jo’s article has been posted! And as a reminder, Marilyn and Lori Jo are with us live for the next hour or so, so don’t be shy! You can post your questions here for them :-)

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    Marilyn here. One way I'd suggest to get a meeting back on track is to say "For the sake of time, let's table this discussion and move on to the next item on the agenda, so we stay on track. Then, if we have time at the end of this meeting, we can get back to this topic. Otherwise, let's set up another meeting for further discussion." 

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    And thank you for your compliment, Alyssa! 

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    I'm logged in. How do I view the presentation?


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    Hi Rick - thanks for joining us today! This is a live discussion, so all you have to do is refresh your page periodically to see the latest section that's been posted, and the new questions and answers. Hope that helps :)

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    Hi folks - Part 2 has been posted! Just a quick reminder to refresh your browser page periodically, This will allow the latest parts of Marilyn and Lori Jo’s article to appear above, and allow the latest questions and answers to appear in the comments below.

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    What's your best suggestions for dealing with unhappy customers?

    When to go against policy?

    When to stand firm?


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    Hi ladies! I have another questions submitted from an avid customer who is moving into a customer support management position " If you find that someone isn’t focusing on the customer, what are some tips to get them to put themselves in the customer’s shoes?"

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    Sorry for being can I get to the articles?


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    Lori here! 

    We always suggest that you consider your customer a human being first. No matter how they're acting, they're simply trying to get what they want. Even if they're upset or unhappy, if you can see past their anger, and show compassion and your authentic to desire to help, you'll get further with them. You can even say, "Tell me more" and "I'm here to help." 

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    Not a dumb question at all, Kathy!

    We're adding new sections to the article every few minutes, so if you refresh your page, you should see the latest and greatest from Marilyn and Lori Jo (as well as the new questions and answers). 

    Thanks for joining us today :-)

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    Most unhappy customers really want to be heard, so let them vent their frustration, while you listen for the details to help you craft a solution. 


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    It also helps if you can soothe yourself - breathe, count to ten, etc. - so you stay calm. 


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    As far as policies, if it doesn't make sense for the particular situation and your team leader allows you to, it's okay to bend the rules now and again, in most situations. When you need to stick to policy, I often say "I really wish I could do that and here's what I can do." 

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    Marilyn here!

    Thank you for your question, Alyssa!

    Why not have them do some role-playing, so they can actually feel what it's like to be in the customer's shoes?

    Another option is to ask them to secret shop a competitor (or your own organization, if that makes sense) to see what it feels like.

    Create a "day in the life" of a customer. Paint a picture for your staff. What is the customer's life like? Are they dealing with their own frustrations in life and you're simply on the receiving end of those frustrations?

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    Everyone - Part 3: “Putting Service Principles into Practice” has been posted! Please refresh your page to see it. And don’t forget to share your questions for Marilyn and Lori Jo in the comments here!

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     Love love love post 3! You mention having your team share what they have learned from a company-wide meeting. Often in support roles, it may not be realistic for the whole team to attend such events. Would you recommend designating a team member to attend these meetings or doing a round-robin approach allowing each member of the team to attend a company-wide meeting at least once then sharing their feedback at a later time?

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    Hi Alyssa! We like the idea of the round-robin approach, so everyone gets their chance to participate and shine. 

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    We're all about the "team huddle" approach. Even if you only have 10 minutes, it's helpful. 

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    Hi all! Part 4 “Keeping a Consistent Winning Attitude” has been posted, and it includes a great idea for a team exercise.

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    I work for a business that handles their interaction mostly via written responses (public forum). How do I stay positive in my response but avoid sounding sarcastic or insensitive?

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    Love it, thoughts become things! Mental gratitude is everything!


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    Hi Thomas! Lori here. It can help to read your response out loud to ensure it can't be misconstrued. And if you have any concerns, and you're dealing with an angry customer, what I usually do is have someone else read it, too, just to be safe. 

    It can also be helpful to use phrases like, "Thank you for telling me, so I can get this managed for you" and "I'm here to help." 



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    Hi folks - Part 5 has been posted! You may need to refresh the page in order to read it. And please don’t be shy with those questions - Marilyn and Lori Jo are here live to answer them :-)

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    Hi Blukas! We always say that your mindset is more important than your skill set. When you see yourself as someone who can make a difference for someone else, you're more effective! 

  • 2

    That's so true - you can teach someone the skills they need to support a product, but you can't teach them to care - they've got to bring that to the table themselves :-)

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