Friday, January 16, 2009

Leadership and customer service - is there a link?

Author: Derek Williams

It's your first day in a new job.

This is the job that you really wanted. The one that you saw advertised and immediately knew was for you. The one that you spent hours crafting an application letter for. The one that required you to beat all the other applicants at interview. The one where you anxiously awaited the postman to see if you'd been successful.

New suit. Clean shirt and your favourite tie. Shoes freshly polished. Hair cut just the way your Mum would like it.

You're keen. You arrive early. You greet each new person with a warm smile. Trying hard to build rapport without seeming to be over confident. You go out of your way for customers. There's a spring in your step and a friendly ring to your voice.

Now look around. No matter what job you're in and no matter how long you've been there. Does everyone around you have the energy and enthusiasm of new starters? Or has their energy and enthusiasm dwindled? Are they still there because they love what they do or are they simply there because they haven't been able to escape yet?

Is there a link between leadership, customer service and business success? Absolutely! Research by the Strategic Planning Institute found that businesses which gave good service grew twice as fast as those with poor service. And, in all my years of researching customer service, I've yet to find a business with weak leadership giving great service.

So what are the qualities that I've observed?

Leaders need to have a vision of what they want to achieve. How will anyone ever sign up to a cause if there is no cause to sign up to?

The vision needs to be communicated. Let everyone share in it. Let them see what is in it for them by becoming a follower.

Great leaders have passion. The strength and the energy to work against the odds to achieve their vision.

Great leaders delegate and empower. That doesn't mean that they simply dump on their people. But they create structure, they allocate responsibility, they help to create systems, they provide support and training and resources. And they empower their people to make decisions. This is part of what makes people feel significant.

There's respect. Great leaders sometimes have to take tough decisions but there's always respect for their people. They treat their employees as customers - internal customers.

More communication. How are we doing? What are we doing? What new is happening? Successful business leaders are masters at keeping their people informed. Notice boards are up to date and informative. Key performance indicators are understood and displayed. Targets are set and success is celebrated. This is how leaders create a sense of community.

People are motivated to do what's important. If you believe that customer service is important to your business what are you doing to motivate your people to deliver great service? Bonuses based purely on profits are not the answer.

Great leaders stick to principles. In my previous article I told the story of Pret A Manger and what great service they give their customers. I once wrote to their Chief Executive, Julian Metcalfe, and asked if I could spend time in his business researching what they do and how they do it. I promised that I was only looking to report a positive view and that Julian would have the final say on anything that I wanted to publish.

The next day, Julian called me up to thank me for my interest but explained that he would decline my offer. He went on to explain that he is incredibly proud of his people and what they achieve but he could not collaborate on any project that might be seen to praise his business. Julian told me of an old Chinese proverb - ""The higher that the monkey climbs the tree the more that you can see of it's backside"". I understood what he meant and admired his principle.

Great leaders walk the walk and talk the talk.

There's a famous story about a group of visitors to Disney. They were walking in the Magic Kingdom when they saw a grey haired man walk out of his way to pick up a piece of litter. One of the group approached the man and asked, ""How many custodians are there here?"" The man replied, ""45,000"". The guest was surprised at so many.

The next day the group attended a Traditions meeting and the same grey haired man was there. His name was Michael Eisner, Chairman and CEO of Disney.

And great leaders keep the energy going.

I have been fortunate enough to spend some time at Richer Sounds. Richer Sounds is a hi-fi store that has been in the Guinness Book of Records six years running for the highest retail sales per square foot of any retail business anywhere in the world.

Throughout my day at Richer Sounds, members of the Team were regularly checking their performance against target. They kept reminding each other about hitting target and getting together for a drink at the end of the week. There was a buzz and the Team was loving it.

How would I sum up leadership in one sentence? It's simply creating a Team of people with the skills and experience of older employees but the energy and enthusiasm of new employees. If you're the boss, does this describe the people who work in your business?

About the author: Derek Williams is creator of The WOW! Awards™ an International Professional Speaker and Chief Executive for the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Europe.

For more information about Derek Williams visit For The WOW! Awards (including access to a FREE customer service newsletter) visit


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