Role of Leadership in Customer Service

“The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in doing so will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.” – Eugene B. Habecker

Customer service is usually the ‘job’ of particular teams – the monitoring, coaching, and sustaining of it is left to the managers and team leaders. The top leaders of the company probably never deal with external customers or do so on rare occasions. This is probably one of the reasons that most companies still do not have a customer-focused culture. Without the involvement of leadership in customer service, making it part of the overall culture would be near impossible. In any case building a culture is not a one-time, overnight, or training kind of activity. The role of leadership in customer service should be one of ensuring that it is an on-going and relentless activity that gets ingrained completely in the fabric of the organization. We all know that in the daily tasks of customer service teams, there are several times when customers complain or express their irritation about the company, its offerings, and the service. The managers and team leaders, often would keep this ‘information’ from the top leaders, not just to save themselves from the ire of top leadership but also may be because the culture of the company dictates that the top leadership must be ‘protected’ from such ‘bad news’.

It is essential that these barriers are removed. There must be an active role of top leadership in customer service such that they can help fix some of the more daunting challenges the teams may face. There can be no shortcuts to service excellence and an active role of leadership in customer service would ensure that everyone in the company understands this and does their bit to enhance consistently the standards of service. The other advantage of having the involvement of leadership in customer service is that employees have someone to emulate and there is a heightened sense of belonging and ownership, making it easier to care genuinely for the customer.

We have mentioned several times that research has repeatedly proven that one of the top reasons for customer churn is poor service from a company. Customer service is a challenging realm of business as it is and hence consistently enhancing service levels to meet customer demands would be a herculean task for any company. This is where an active role of leadership in customer service is required – to ensure that the company lives and breathes customer service and is constantly geared towards service excellence. Without effective leadership, attaining this to keep pace with customer demands would be impossible. A company cannot achieve top levels of service by hanging service quotes on the office walls or any other such surface level actions. The role of leadership in customer service would ensure that a service culture is embedded firmly into the organization and in everyone working there.

The role leaders of the company would essay in making customer service a success, would be to help the teams address any tough issues and secondly to emphasize and reiterate the importance of positive customer experiences. Of course, leaders need to allow room for the employees to do their job and do not require to ‘spoon feed’ them in the daily tasks. Leaders must display openness and honesty such that employees remain encouraged to speak to them and share their concerns in a spirit of trust. The role of leadership in customer service is therefore manifold – one of the main tasks would be to inspire trust and dependability in both external and internal customers. By treating the company’s employees well and being there when they need their leaders, would encourage the employees to pass on this positivity to the external customers, thereby raising the trust quotient and reputation of the company.

The task of the leaders of a company is not easy. While employees could be allowed outbursts occasionally, leaders need to conduct themselves with discipline and ensure their behaviour is exemplary. If they want employees to let them in on the truth at all times, leaders must have a reputation of listening patiently and making fair decisions. The role of leadership in customer service then would be to help their employees to respond and act logically even in the face of crisis and demanding customers. For the success of any organization, the role of leadership in customer service must go beyond advice – it must be participative. It would be highly recommended that leaders mingle with the front-line staff, and be part of the service to get a first-hand experience of the kind of service the company provides and how customers view it.

Leaders must step out of their ‘abodes’ and move around with the employees on the office floor – this would give the employees a sense of being cared for and would make them more engaged. Employees must be empowered to make spot decisions for customers – this not only makes customers happier, but also saves huge amounts of time and energy for the company. Some autonomy to employees makes them feel trusted and valued – they would in turn, take the initiative to pass on these feelings when serving customers. This is the indirect role of leadership in customer service. Employees look up to their leaders and tend to follow any behaviour they exhibit – it is therefore extremely vital that leaders display model behaviour at all times. Their behaviour – both good and bad, would most definitely pass on to customers through the service employees impart.

We now know that customer service is the responsibility of everyone in an organization and this begins with the role of leadership in this realm. Simply providing lip service to this important and crucial aspect of the company does not suffice – leaders must show how to serve customers through example and begin with internal customers. Leaders of a company cannot ask their employees to work with high standards and serve customers at all times, unless they do so themselves. The role of leadership in customer service and in every other realm is to understand their employees and the customers first, before they expect others to do so. The leaders of a company must be able to create cohesion and a sense of purpose for the employees – they should be able to communicate a clear vision of the company and the role of customer service in achieving that vision.

The role of leadership in customer service would also be to communicate effectively, solve problems, and manage conflict such that the workforce is able to deliver on their tasks stress-free and with enthusiasm. However, the leaders treat the employees, would be the way employees treat the external customers. Hence, even if leaders may not directly deal with external customers regularly, what they do with the workforce would directly affect the quality of customer service the company provides.

The quality of customer service teams in any organization could either make or break it. It is therefore, imperative for the top brass to provide leadership in customer service and remain involved with how it is functioning. This does not mean policing – it just means that they are genuinely interested in and care for the company’s customers – external and internal.

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