The 8 Roots of a Great Customer Service Culture

I was 20 minutes late to work today. It wasn’t my fault; my train came to a sudden halt while underground. Why? I don’t know. There were no announcements. No updates. Just silence.

In this situation, the other passengers and I aren’t the only victims of a poor service culture; the train driver equally is too.

Service culture is the way a company views, interacts with and serves its customers. It’s closely connected to the company’s goals and creates a communal sense of responsibility.

It begins with the way you lead your service team. Do you all share a common goal, vision and language when serving customers? Or does your customer service team just exist out of necessity?

This post will explore the characteristics of service culture, and which elements you can employ to satisfy customers on a global scale.

What is your service culture philosophy?

Service culture is approached differently business to business, country to country. Because it’s a philosophy rather than a set of rules or policies, your customer culture vision may be radically different from others in the same industry.

cartoon of balancing scale

For example, my German train experience would likely never happen in Japan. The Japanese rail system is incredibly punctual, so when a train is delayed for more than five minutes, the train conductor makes an announcement . Passengers are even given a certificate of delay.

Not to say German rail conductors never alert their passengers of any delays. But consistency creates clearer expectations.

Cultural differences aside, a business’s product or service may also impact its customer service approach. A company where the service is the product, like Userlike or even Disneyland , may have a totally different service culture philosophy compared to fashion retail or banks.

So where do the lines meet?

  • First, start by putting the customer first.
    It not only has financial benefits , but it can influence the way your team speaks to customers and the decisions they make on your company’s behalf. If you see customers as a burden, then this is likely to translate into your team’s service style.
  • Second, stop trying to copy existing service cultures.
    Customer service books love to focus on the success of big names like Starbucks, Amazon, Nordstrom or Apple. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired, but copying the same decisions of successful enterprises may not have a long-lasting effect . The principles and ideas found in these books were created from years of development and commitment. The key takeaway should be to find what works for you even if it takes a while.
  • And third, consider incorporating these eight characteristics.
    Individual cultures may define a company’s service approach, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have traits in common. Whether you’re building a service team from scratch or looking to improve your current culture, here are a few behavioral traits your team will likely respond well to.

Characteristics of a healthy service culture

Making your company a great place to work and interact with takes time, but the following traits and actions can help you find your groove.

1
Respect

Leaders have a contagious effect on their employees. The way you speak and the behavior you exhibit strongly impacts your team’s work performance .

Respect in the workplace can be broken down into two types : owed respect and earned respect. Owed respect should be given to all regardless of status or performance. It’s basic human civility. Earned respect recognizes the employee’s valued qualities, behaviors and achievements.

Because people’s jobs are often central to who they are and how they perceive themselves, respectful cues in a professional setting are important signals of social worth.

Harvard Business Review

Show owed respect by listening and not talking over others, making eye contact, avoiding using insults or belittling, giving constructive feedback, saying “thank you” and treating everyone equally.

Give earned respect by recognizing a colleague’s achievements, trusting certain team members with important tasks and welcoming and engaging with their opposing views.

If you want your customers to feel valued and respected, it has to start with you and the way you interact with your team.

2
Empowerment

A powerful sign of respect is letting people think for themselves. If service reps have the space and freedom to make educated judgement calls and occasionally bend the rules , customers are more likely to walk away satisfied.

cartoon of rubik's cube

Empowerment begins with a thorough employee and customer onboarding. The easiest way to make someone feel right at home with your company is by putting power, resources and trust in their hands .

Whether it’s through an online wiki, a knowledge base or FAQ section, employees and customers should have the wiggle room to solve issues without your help. This creates a culture that fosters confidence, trust and clever problem solving.

3
Ritualism

Habits and rituals unite your team’s service approach so customers know what to expect when contacting your company.

Customers remember how they were treated at the beginning and end of an interaction, a result of the serial-position effect . Use this to your advantage by creating rituals of how your team welcomes and ends conversations with customers.

Warm hellos, wishing the customer well and thanking them for their time or input are simple yet effective.

Also, try defaulting you and your team’s answers to “yes.” It doesn’t have to be the word, but rather the mindset. This common improv principle helps push the interaction further. Saying “no” or “no, but” makes you sound less competent and can kill the customer’s motivation.

Of course, sometimes what a customer wants is just not possible. Your team may have to get creative with softening the blow, but their positive effort will help build your culture.

In the office, have weekly meetings with your team to discuss topics such as software changes, technical issues, team inquiries and other relevant topics. Regular one-on-ones are also a great way to grow trust and understanding.

4
Common language

If you use live chat , you’re probably already familiar with the relaxed, casual flow of customer messaging. It mirrors how we speak to friends and family in real life instead of relying on phrases and scripts.

cartoon of heart connected to brain

Combining this approach with positivity and empathy creates a feeling of authentic individualized service.

Plenty of blogs will feed you phrases that you can use in conversations, but you’re not a chatbot Instead, create a common language for your service team to use.

In addition to the “yes” mindset, have your team avoid any negativity or doubt in their responses by focusing on what can be done. When responses are positive and certain, the customer may feel more confident in your brand.

For example, if a customer wants to exchange a product for a color that’s sold out, relay all possibilities:

“You have great taste. The item you want is sold out. We have a similar more expensive model in the color you’re looking for. I’d be happy to order it for you free of charge in exchange for your old device.”

More expensive? The right color? No extra costs? Yes, PLEASE.

A common language makes it easier for your team to keep the conversation friendly and concise, which may lead to quicker resolutions. As a result, your service culture will appear productive and proactive.

5
Friendliness

Friendliness is one of the core principles of good customer service , but the culture of the country you work in may affect how nice you are toward customers.

The Netherlands has an egalitarian society, which means customers are no better than service reps . Chances are high that a Dutch shop assistant will be direct, argue back and immediately deny requests.

This is a stark contrast to U.S. norms. American customer service employees often work on commission and tips and have to bend over backwards for customers to meet monthly goals and get paid. As a result, their friendliness feels fake and forced, especially to foreigners .

Research shows that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience, so it does pay to be kind. Smiling, making eye contact and being easily available is a good basis for friendly customer service.

The rituals mentioned before in this post will also help you and your team have warmer interactions.

6
Celebrations

If your agents continuously receive five-star reviews, positive feedback from customers and break monthly goals, celebrate those achievements!

In a study published by Harvard Medical School , researchers found that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Managers who thank employees for their performance may notice their team working harder in return.

At Userlike , we celebrate our customer service agents by rewarding the person with the most “great chats” of the month with a trophy full of treats, a free lunch and a certificate.

image of trophy on desk
The sign of a true chat champion

Unhappy service reps can cost your business, and 66% of employees in the U.S. said they would likely leave their job if they felt underappreciated.

In addition to a compensation strategy and learning opportunities, little performance acknowledgements will help you hold on to your team.

Looking for better customer relationships?

Test Userlike for free and chat with your customers on your website, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram.

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7
Continuous feedback

Workplaces today are taking a more honest and ethical approach to their business practices. Many businesses claim to promote honesty, transparency and trustworthiness.

Requesting feedback from customers is helpful for growth; you learn in which areas your business can improve and it lets customers feel like they have a say.

But it’s also important to talk to your service reps to let them know what is and isn’t working. If your company culture touts honesty and transparency as its core values, then your service culture should reflect that as well.

Clear communication nips rumors, negativity and dishonesty in the bud. Ask your employees for direct feedback to earn trust and build a better relationship. Their customer experiences could even help you improve your service strategy.

8
Shared responsibility

In a positive service culture environment, there are no “not my job” attitudes. For your philosophy to work, everyone needs to be on board and willing to commit to the same common goal.

cartoon of telephone

If your service team is overloaded, shared responsibility inspires other employees to jump in to help regardless of job titles.

Companies like Zapier , Slack and Basecamp use the all-hands-support method so everyone in the company gets a chance to work support shifts. According to Zapier, this method helps make roadmapping easier since everyone gets a taste of the problems customers face.

Get your team on board

Working in customer service isn’t for everyone. For a culture to remain consistent and really stick, your team has to be on the same page.

When hiring for your service team, assess if the candidate is socially adept and will get along with your team. It’s important to know that full-time employees are more likely to be loyal to your company and get on board with your service culture. Part-time employees may be less engaged and put your company second.

For existing employees, change starts at the top. If you make yourself an example of the culture you want for your company, your team may adjust. Especially if there’s something in it for them, like rewards and being given a stronger voice.

What’s your company’s service culture like? What would you like to change? Let us know on Twitter or hit us up on Facebook !