Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service

 Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service

Authors: Chip R. Bell, Ron Zemke
Pub Date: May 2013
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814432044
Page Count: 256
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Third Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814432051

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1 Recruit Creatively and Hire Carefully

Development can help great people be even better—

but if I had a dollar to spend, I’d spend 70 cents getting

the right person in the door.

—Paul Russell, Director of Leadership and

Development, Google

On Interstate 4 southwest of Orlando, Florida, a striking cream

and tan building fronts the freeway. A big—very big—sign

defines it in one eloquently simple word: casting. It’s the Walt

Disney World personnel office. That one word says a lot about

not just Disney but all companies that are focused on becoming

known for Knock Your Socks Off Service. They don’t

“hire” people for “jobs” in an organization; they “cast” people

for a “role” in a service performance.

In service-focused companies, customer service jobs are

thought of less like factory work and much more like theater.

At a play, the audience files in, the curtain goes up, the actors

make their entrances and speak their lines, and—if each and

every cast member, not to mention the writer, director, stagehands,

costumers, makeup artists, and lighting technicians,

has prepared themselves and the theater well—the audience

enjoys the show and tells others about it. Then again, the

whole production can be a magnificent flop if just one person

fails to do a job on which everyone else depends.

In today’s service-driven business world, you are more

director than boss, more choreographer than administrator.

Your frontline people are the actors, and your customers are

the audience for whom they must perform. Everyone else is

support crew, charged with making sure the theater is right,

the sets ready, and the actors are primed and prepared. You

have to prepare your cast to know their cues, hit their marks,

deliver their lines, and improvise when another cast member

or someone in the audience disrupts the carefully plotted flow

of the performance. And, of course, once the curtain goes up,

all you can do is watch and whisper from the wings. You’re

not allowed on stage. You’d just get in the way!

Balancing Efficiency and Effectiveness

Given all the currents flowing under and around the hiring

process today, the last thing you want to do is rush into a

decision that can make or break how the critics—your

customers—rate the quality of your service performances.

Once the casting decision has been made, your entire production’s

reviews are going to depend on the person you’ve chosen

for the role. It’s as easy to be taken in by an attractive

external facade as by a well-proportioned résumé. Neither

may be truly indicative of whether someone can play the part

the way you need it to be played.

Yes, the show must go on. But if you’ve been building a

good, versatile cast, you should have understudies ready to fill

in while you look for new additions to your service repertory

crew. Despite the pressures for output or scarcity of talent, don’t

rush the process. Invest the time and effort needed to get the

right person. When you do, you’ll find you’re in good company.

In our research of companies with exemplary service

practices, we found painstaking thoroughness built into every

step of their selection process for service employees. Rather

than focusing only on metrics like cost-per-hire or time-to-fill

open jobs, these organizations were just as concerned with

finding the right fit—in both an applicant’s technical skills as

well as hard-wired attributes like personality and values—for

customer contact jobs. Customer-centric companies understand

that success in service roles is as much about having the

right temperament or the desire and emotional fortitude to

deal with customers day in and out, as it is about product

knowledge or mastering new technologies. While plenty of job

prospects are blessed with good social skills, not all have a

high level of tolerance for contact—the ability to engage in

many successive short bursts of interaction with customers

without becoming overstressed, robotic, or unempathetic.

Casting a Role, Not Filling a Job

Filling out your service cast with people who can star in their

roles is the key to success. But casting your customer service

play is far more involved and difficult than hiring “somebody—

anybody” to sit in a chair and answer a phone or stand

at a counter and take orders. Consider the following three key

differences between merely filling a slot and finding someone

capable of playing a part.

1. Great service performers must be able to create a relationship

with the audience. From the customer’s standpoint,

every performance is “live” and hence unique. It earns the best

reviews when it appears genuine, perhaps even spontaneous.

And it should never be rigidly scripted—certainly not canned.

• Implication: Customer service cast members must have

good person-to-person skills; their speaking, listening,

and interacting styles should seem natural and friendly

and appropriate to the situation—neither stiff and

formal nor overly familiar. As Jim von Maur, president

of Iowa-based Von Maur department stores, says of his

own company’s hiring philosophy, “My Dad had a theory:

We can train them to sell. We can’t train them to be

nice—that was their parents’ job.”3

2. Great service performers must be able to handle

pressure. There are many kinds of pressure—pressure of the

Recruit Creatively and Hire Carefully 5

clock, pressure from customers, pressure from other players in

the service cast, and pressure from the desire to do a good job

for both customer and company even though the two may be

in conflict.

• Implication: Members of the customer service cast

must be good at handling their own emotions, be calm

under fire, and not be susceptible to “catching the

stress virus” from upset customers. At the same time,

they have to acknowledge and support their customers’

upsets and problems and demonstrate a desire to help

resolve the situation in the best way possible.

3. Great service performers must be able to learn new

scripts. They have to be flexible enough to adjust to changes in

the cast and conditions surrounding them, make changes in

their own performance as conditions warrant, and still seem

natural and knowledgeable.

• Implication: Customer service cast members need to be

lifelong learners—curious enough to learn from the

environment, comfortable enough to be constantly

looking for new ways to enhance their performance,

and confident enough to indulge the natural curiosity

to ask, “Why is that?” and poke around the organization

to learn how things really work. Those who are

comfortable with change and handle it well can be the

most helpful to customers and need minimal hand

holding from their managers.

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