Top customer service strategies – No.4 Lead from the top

Paul Cooper continues with our series looking at the Top 10 Customer Service Strategies, and shares the reasons why the long-term commitment to customer service needs to come from the top.  Last Month he looked at Recognising the importance of customer loyalty.

Tom Peters once said that the problem with staff is that they DO listen to you, not that they don’t. So, if all of the messages coming out from the top are about how important great customer service is, but all of the KPIs, and issues of staff and management style clearly demonstrate that the real focus of attention is sales and profits, staff will notice.

Staff always see through the spin.

In a recent study by Temkin Group Insight (2010):

  • 66% of organisations said they wanted to be industry leaders in customer experience/service (why isn’t that 100% by the way?!)
  • And, it’s nearly always in their mission statements/ vision.


  • When it comes to making decisions on a day-to-day basis, it is NOWHERE TO BE SEEN
  • And, it plays NO ROLE in how the organisation is actually run.

Put another way, Mori picked up this excellent quote a few years ago from a CEO who DID get the point:

“As chief executive you have to be aware that you’re communicating all the time, whether you mean to or not.  Everything you do and don’t do will be interpreted and you need to be aware of that.”

One of the main problems is that some boardrooms seem to be full of people who think that they can just proclaim that their company will give excellent service and it will somehow happen, by magic, the following week. In particular, there is a lack of understanding about how important the employee is in the whole service-profit chain. If any actions are taken at all, too often they are directed straight at the end customer without solving the service and process issues in between, inside the company.

I am often amazed at the vast differences that exist in senior management and boardrooms across the largest organisations in the UK today.

I can honestly say that never in the last 15 years of talking to leaders of organisations, in both the private and public sector, have I ever had anyone say to me “Giving great service is just stupid” or similar. On the contrary, everyone agrees it’s a good thing. However, the dichotomy starts when the subject of costs comes up.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there is still a belief out there, perhaps perpetuated by the Finance Department, who still haven’t had the exposure to the benefits of service they should, that to give great service will cost more money.

These organisations just don’t understand that actions taken to improve customer service normally REDUCE costs, not increase them, and there are certainly enough examples of that about.

In healthy contrast, I remember one major organisation I worked closely with at the Institute of Customer Service where the Finance Director was actually the lead member of the customer service improvement team! And this was in the building industry!

Perhaps the oldest (and most forgotten) rule of business is that the real business issue is long-term survival, not short-term quarterly results.

The best way to get long-term “shareholder value” is to concentrate on “employee value” and long-term reputation in the market. If I had any money, I know whose shares I’d invest in!

Another issue of the failure to lead from the top is the image that senior management often have of their team.

This is best summarised in a real quote from a senior manager who was complaining that his organisation’s reputation for good service rested in the hands of staff who were in the “least important jobs”!

Now there’s a man who has never done service in a “back to the floor” programme!

Leadership in business is not the same as management, and doesn’t always have to come from the top. But for maximum inspiration from people that can make a difference, it is a tough job to get great service unless this is the key goal of the board and the senior directors.

In his superb book, “Leadership – The Inner Side of Greatness”, written way back in 1991, Peter Koesterbaum listed the key responsibilities of the leader.

Paul Cooper

Paul Cooper

Organisational effectiveness, not efficiency:

  • Morale
  • Communication
  • Innovative Thinking
  • Use of Systems
  • Ownership of Culture
  • Long Term, Strategic Future Thinking
  • Quality Decisions at Lower Levels
  • Development/Retention of Good, Talented People

Great leaders not only would agree with the list, they do them naturally.

Click here to read the next article in the series.

Paul Cooper is a Director at Customer Plus ( )

Paul won the Lifetime Achievement award at the European Call Centre Awards 2011.

Published On: 20th Jun 2012 - Last modified: 10th Nov 2017
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , ,

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