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How to Build a Strong Customer Service Culture (Without Copying Disney)

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Customer service culture should be built, not copied.

Cultivating a good company culture is hard. Doing the same for your customer service culture is not any easier.

What do we do when we’ve got a difficult task at hand? We look outside of ourselves for information, advice, and inspiration.

There are tons of business books, seminars, training programs, and other resources out there that analyze and aim to teach you the ways of great customer service cultures in a bunch of well-known places.

The Disney Way

The Virgin Way

The Nordstrom Way

The Ritz-Carlton Way

...

What better place to start than with the companies and people who have made it to the top, and are now sharing their invaluable experience with everyone else?

The problem is that a lot of people use these resources as actual instructions. Blueprints. That’s not what they’re for.

As an example, let’s talk about Disney. Besides being the happiest place on Earth, Disney is broadly well-known for their heavy concentration on providing amazing customer service.

The Disney Institute provides regular development courses and business solutions to illustrate their philosophy on service, and is constantly referred to as the perfect example of good leadership, culture and guest experience.

However, It’s easy to forget that the principles that are described in all of those sources are the highlights of years of commitment, development, and incredibly hard work.

“I want us to be like Disney/Nordstrom/Apple/whatever” is one of the most dangerously flippant thoughts you can have when kickstarting your customer service culture building.

Trying to adopt the ideas and techniques from someone else will not magically work for you. Culture is not something you can fake.

Today, we’re going to talk about why culture is something you should think about customer service to begin with, why copying someone else’s doesn’t work, and what you can do instead.

Why Culture In Customer Service Matters

Shep Hyken, one of the main opinion leaders in the customer service area, sums it up nicely:

The reason an organization can deliver good or bad customer service comes down to one thing; what is happening on the inside of that organization. To sum it up in one word: culture.

The thing about customer service culture is that if you don’t cultivate it, it’ll affect your customers. If your customers are negatively affected, they’ll leave you. If they leave, your customer satisfaction levels will go down the drain, which will affect the rest of your business.

On average, happy customers tell nine friends. Angry customers, on average, tell sixteen.

Point is, you don’t want any of your customers unhappy.

This is where culture comes in. A strong culture—in which all of your team members agree upon and care intensely about your values when it comes to customer service—will motivate everyone to work towards that common vision.

When you can achieve this, it benefits both your company and your customers in the long term.

If your company culture (customer service included) is amazing, if your employees love working for you, and everyone has the same exact level of enthusiasm for providing the absolute best customer service experience out there, your customers will feel that. And they’ll stay.

Building a strong culture is a challenge in any company, but that’s the charm—if you do it right, it’s a challenge that everyone will embrace and work hard every day to achieve.

Why You Should Stop Trying To Be Like Disney

Here’s the thing: no company ever is 100% comparable to you.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s one that operates in a completely different area than yours or a direct competitor.

Every single company has their own employees with their own skills and personalities, their own processes, their own goals, their own history and track record, and most importantly—they all have their own customers.

Great customer service at a retail store is very different from what it is at a software company, which is very different from what it is at a grocery store. You need something unique to you.

Think of it as copying someone’s homework—it’s in their writing, their voice, their logic, their process. It’s not going to work for you. No teacher is that dumb, and neither are your customers.

You’ll get asked questions that you don’t know the answers to, you’ll not learn anything, and you’re missing out on valuable experience. You’ll get in trouble.

If you find another company with a customer service culture that you like, you’ll most likely want to find out how they’ve cultivated it. A lot of companies share these experiences, which is great, but the issue is that they only highlight some of what goes into it. The greatest hits of what actually amounts to years and years of work.

Company culture, whether in customer service or in general, is developed by doing all of the work.

When you’re only looking at the things that are talked about publicly and then try to implement only one or two ideas, it’s like trying to bake a cake with just half the ingredients. You’re going to be very disappointed.

The companies that succeed in building a great (customer service) culture work hard every day to take what they have and turn it into a culture that is great from both the inside as well as the outside—and you’ll have to do the same.

A single book, seminar, speech, quote, or whatever other public resource will not change your entire customer service culture.

It will inspire you, and motivate you, and give you awesome ideas you can bounce off your team, but you should not treat it as an instruction manual. It’s not magic.

You are still the one who needs to put in the work, dedication, sweat and tears that will make these ideas that you get from other people and companies come to life in the right way in your company.

What To Do Instead

It’s pretty simple—don’t blindly copy what others are trying to do. Easier said than done, right?

Bottom line is that in order to build a unified vision, your team needs direction, to know what is expected of them, and what the team wants to achieve as a whole. Your team—consisting of all the people that literally no other company in the world matches 100%.

So, what you need to do is to make this an open discussion. For you to succeed on this, everyone in your team must be on the same page.

This process is not to be taken lightly. Your customer service culture is incredibly important and it should be an ongoing discussion, with everyone involved.

So, before you take advice from anyone else, sit your entire team down and ask for their input on at least the following points:

  • How would you define outstanding customer service?
  • What is the ultimate goal that you want to achieve with your customer service—the thing that every initiative you pursue will strive for?
  • What is the one clear message about how you serve your customers that everyone in the company agrees on?
  • How dedicated is your entire team to improving customer service in your company?
  • What do you want our customers to feel first when they think about the service we provide?

There are a few other questions like this—we’ve added a downloadable Google Doc with a bunch of discussion points for your team to this post in case you want to borrow the ones we use for your team, so make sure you take a look at that.

Talk to your team. Establish how the individuals you’re working with think about customer service in general, how they see their role in customer service whether they’re actually in a customer facing position or not, and what they want your customer service to be.

Write all of this down. Create your own customer service philosophy document, and come back to it regularly. Hire people to work in your customer service team based on these values.

Then, and only then—when you have figured out how your team thinks, feels and operates—is when you can move on to the philosophies and approaches from other companies.

Take all of the examples you and your team members can find of great customer service culture, and ask yourselves: “What is it about X company that I want our team to emulate? And, maybe more importantly, why.”

Pick the general characteristics of what you like about someone else’s customer service culture, and then reformulate them to fit your team and your already existing culture.

Succeed By Finding What’s Unique To You

Others’ experience is priceless. We all need guidance, advice and inspiration.

However, applying someone else’s experiences to ourselves doesn’t work in any aspect of life or business, and customer service isn’t an exception.

Building a great customer service culture is hard. But if you work on it every day, hire the right people, and take steps to ensure everyone on your team is aligned towards your values, it's a rewarding challenge that will only make your company stronger.

Make sure you grab the doc with the extra points to discuss with your team by clicking here, and get cracking on building your original customer service culture.

What are some companies that have a customer service culture you take as an example for your own? How often do you chat to your team about it? Let us know in the comments!

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About the Author

Elen Veenpere is part of the marketing team at Groove. She’s passionate about writing and building marketing strategies based on in-depth analytics and lots of coffee.

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