Top Customer Service Strategies – No.4 Lead from the Top


This article highlights the value of good customer service leadership and pinpoints how to achieve just that. It is the fourth strategy presented in our article: The Top 10 Customer Service Strategies

The late, great customer service and contact centre expert Paul Cooper wrote this article for us and it contains ageless lessons for how to be a great leader.

What Makes a Great Contact Centre Leader?

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 study by Temkin Group Insight:

  • 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.”

If you are looking for how you can inspire leadership across the contact centre, read our article: How to Develop Leadership in the Contact Centre

What Hold Us Back from Being Great Leaders?

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.

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 decades 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.

Find out how to overcome common leadership problems in our article: 5 Mistakes Every Team Leader Should Avoid

Removing the Cost Problem

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.

Actions taken to improve customer service normally REDUCE costs, not increase them…

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!

Final Thoughts

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.

Organisational effectiveness, not efficiency:

Paul Cooper

Paul Cooper

  • 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.

This article was written for us by Paul Cooper a valued and not-forgotten member of customer service and contact centre industries.

Read the next three articles in the series by following any of the links below:

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 20th Jun 2012 - Last modified: 25th Mar 2020
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , ,

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