Creating Customer Service Values That Create Value

Just as values can guide an organization, they can guide its separate parts. The value of a “growth mindset” applies as much to a service rep as to a developer. But the value “customer is king” clearly applies more to one than to the other.

That’s why it makes sense to explicitly state your customer service values. They prepare your team for the job's specific challenges. Also, whenever values guide actions, culture is created. Employees move on, culture persists. It’s reliable.

Here are 5 tips to find your own customer service values.

Base values on the past

Follow the principle of basing actions on values and review your past successes and failures in customer service. They serve as a compass for how well you’ve met your standards. Adjusting to experiences of the past means adjusting to your business reality.

First look at what has worked consistently over time, the compliments you received from important customers or in the aftermath of challenging situations.

So, if things go well, don’t just absorb the praise. Analyze them just as much as you would analyze your errors. The values that describe your actions in these situations are already in place. It’s easier to sustain something than create it anew.

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Only then look back at your biggest singular fails and series of common shortcomings. What was the mindset behind the actions that led to them? Find values that would have prevented such mistakes if acted upon.

Our review shows that many things went wrong that day, but the headline is clear: our policies got in the way of our values and procedures interfered in doing what's right.

United Airlines

In a reverse scenario, United Airlines already had values in place but their policy wasn’t aligned with it. In the wake of the forced removal of a passenger from a flight , they had to publicly admitted to betraying their values and changed policy so this wouldn’t happen again .

Make it customer-centric

Michael, one of our Customer Success Managers at Userlike has seen the “dark” call center reality in person and has few good things to say about how many big enterprises handle support. In short: their overarching objective is to limit damage. Which is above all a self-centered approach.

The majority of the working world is cold and customer support is the shit show of the company.

Michael Morella, Customer Success at Userlike

A company that truly cares about customer service will develop values from the customer’s perspective. Customer service isn't about how you deal with customers. It’s about how they deal with you.

As it applies to customer service, core values may be the reason a customer decides to do business with you. They may also be the reason that your employees enjoy working at your company and are motivated and committed to doing their best work.

Shep Hyken

At the same time, values are supposed to guide your actions. Ideally, your values cover both. For instance, “take responsibility” nicely emphasizes how you make the customer’s issues yours instead of offering mere assistance.

Nevertheless, this value puts you first. You’re responsible, the customer comes second. Switched to her perspective, “responsibility” translates to “reliability”.

American retailers Nordstrom and Amazon are known to consumers as true customer-centricists because they’ve been following firm values and focusing on customer experience since their early days, Amanda L. Nelson claims .

Make it actionable

Practice values, don’t worship slogans. Nobody likes empty promises, yet most service departments are full of them.

If you’ve decided to incorporate customer service values, make sure they're practical. Use terms that connect to the activities that define service quality : communication and organization.

infographic of values in the applicability vs generality curve
Find customer service values at the peak of applicability.

Daily attainable, actionable values carry the danger of crossing from generality to vagueness. Verizon’s slick customer service values might let you get the idea:

  • Speak human.
  • Keep our word.
  • Deliver digital first.
  • Better matters for our customers.

Take the term “friendliness” as another warning example. Advise your staff to be nice in customer communication and they will be.

But while that’s easily realized, it’s too universal to define a unique service approach. Sure you’re friendly in service – everyone is. Customers take this for granted and staff will rather shrug than be inspired.

On the other end of the scale you’ll find values that are specific but not practicable. Like “speak laymen terms, never technical jargon”.

While the majority of your customers might welcome the ELI5 (explain it like I’m five) version, others with a technical background will feel infantilized by it. Values should apply to every employee in any customer interaction.

Finally, think of concrete customer service situations to check every value’s actionability. Find exemplary answers that describe an action, verbal or nonverbal, that speak to at least one of your values without compromising the others. Put your values to a hard test by sketching out difficult scenarios, like the ones we suggest in our post on difficult service scenarios:

  • A customer displays racism or sexism
  • A customer hits on you
  • A customer is right and your policy is wrong
  • A customer shouldn’t be using a computer
  • A customer is trolling
  • A customer is aggressive

KLM shows us how to follow up on strong company values with actionable service standards. Their core values are safety, security, reliability, punctuality, and sustainability. In a service environment, these translate to KLM’s seven service standards:

  • Be willing to help customers and be attentive to their needs
  • Be involved and proactive
  • Be courteous and friendly
  • Be impeccably dressed and well mannered
  • Deliver a high level of expertise
  • Provide relevant information regularly
  • Create a welcoming environment

If you struggle finding a small set of values that sufficiently summarizes your mission, don’t just expand the list. founder Jonathan Azoulay and his team set the maximum of company values at three . Rightly so, too many values dilute the meaning of each.

infographic showing decline in meaning of values with higher amount

Guide, don't script

View your values as a supportive framework for your agents, not as handcuffs for getting them in line. Some companies misuse values to limit their employees flexibility.

Quite the contrary, the purpose of values is to empower them to make own decisions. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of empowerment, read this insightful post by Heather McGough .

When setting up customer service values for your agents to fall back on, follow a ‘never leave them guessing’ approach. Your employees should be be able to look at your values in any situation to deduct the best course of action.

Make it happen

Review and repeat – as dull as it sounds, these are the central preconditions to walk the talk. Don’t just write your values on chalkboards and hope for employees to notice them when shuffling towards the coffee machine at 8am.

Instead, actively repeat the values in moments when other important information is communicated. Integrate them in team meetings, debriefings, 1on1 talks, blog posts, at retreats, during quarterly reviews, in your Christmas speech etc.

If you’re not comfortable with that, stick to this quote by our CEO Timoor from his post on creating company core values :

If you feel awkward speaking out loud about your company core values, that's a hint that they're either not actionable enough or don't relate to everyone.

Timoor Taufig, Userlike’s CEO

As a reminder, hand out printed versions of the examples developed in point 3 of this post. Review real customer service situations with your agents that they've recently encountered and analyze them upon your values.

Use this as training but also to evaluate your values from the unique perspective of those at the front line. Consequently, as think-tank PSFK puts it in this post , “management acquires a more in-depth knowledge of the processes of their business that they might otherwise be unaware of.”

If possible with your selection of values, use acronyms, they make memorizing much easier. For instance, you could summarize the customer service principles developed in this post in the acronym “SAFETEA”:

  • S peed
  • A ccuracy
  • F riendliness
  • E mpowerment
  • T ransparency
  • E fficiency
  • A ccessiblity