A couple of weeks ago, I was at my local gym in San Francisco and I found myself needing to use the ladies room. As I left the ladies' room, one of the gym trainers sprung on me like a 6-foot ravenous vulture. She’d been eagerly awaiting my exit and immediately demanded to see my ID before abruptly escorting me to the front desk. I opted to keep rather quiet about the incident because I have better things to think about and do, mentioning it only to one of my fellow gym-goers. Nonetheless, the experience spread like an epidemic. Before long, the Member Services department was up in arms, the Front Desk staff members were nothing short of flabbergasted, and the Trainers were appalled, eventually isolating the ill-mannered trainer who didn’t know her place. The culture self-corrected and management didn’t need to intervene.
We’re officially living in the Age of the Customer. No longer can customer service be treated as a “nice to have.” Regardless of its shape or size, businesses must live and breathe their customers. One poor customer experience can dispatch potentially fatal toxic vibes throughout an entire organization. As Kate Zabriskie, founder of Business Training Works, notes, “Although your customers won't love you if you give bad service, your competitors will."
Bad experiences spread more quickly than good ones. As an executive, it’s crucial that you recognize and appreciate the perils associated with negative customer experiences. Negative word of mouth spreads like wildfire. A study by Zendesk found that more than half of consumers (54%) share their negative experiences with more than five people, whereas only 33% share their good experiences with more than five people. In our increasingly interconnected world, negative customers experiences have become more and more viral. 58% of consumers are more likely to share their customer services experiences with others today as compared to five years ago.
People remember bad experiences more vividly than good ones. Not only are we more likely to share negative experiences, but we’re also more likely to implant them in our brains and memories firmly. Clifford Nass, a former professor of communication at Stanford University and author of “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships” explains, “The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres.” Because negative emotions typically give rise to more thinking, rumination, and processing as compared to positive emotions, we tend to remember them more vividly. The most effective means of recovering from a poor customer experience is to develop an auto-correcting culture. In a 1993 seminal Harvard Business Review article, James Moore defined the concept of a “business ecosystem.” Much like biological ecosystems, business ecosystems are comprised of a series of interconnected entities, including customers, suppliers, distribution channels, and employees. In the presence of a strong culture that espouses customer service, negative experiences tend to be swiftly auto-corrected as a means of maintaining homeostasis. It’s critical to note that it’s not always company leaders who are responsible for imposing structure and instigating the auto-correction process. Frequently, customers and employees, due to their sheer strength in numbers, are most effective at inciting the auto-correction process. As an executive, it’s essential that you devote sufficient time to building an auto-correcting culture. It's impossible to prevent all negative customer experiences. Especially as your company scales, it will become increasingly challenging to avoid negative customer experiences. By developing an auto-correcting culture, you’ll ensure that the negative fallout is minimized.
Lack of internal communication augments poor experiences. Negative customer experiences prove especially ruinous when internal communication channels are weak or non-existent. In this case, strong internal communication (between member services, front desk, and training staff members, for example) would have increased the likelihood of another staff member alerting the ill-mannered trainer that her actions were not only inappropriate but also outside her span of responsibilities. Such corrective course would have proved more impactful and less cumbersome than the heated conversation between the trainer and gym manager that ultimately unfolded.
As an executive, it’s your responsibility to ensure that well-established communication channels exist between teams. Internal communication has a direct impact on the bottom line. According to research spearheaded by Siemens, a 100-employee business spends an average of 17 hours each week clarifying communication, representing an annual cost of more than half a million dollars! Strengthening internal communication pays enormous dividends. A study by Towers Watson found that companies that exhibited highly effective communication practices boasted 47% higher five-year total returns as compared to companies showing ineffective communication practices.
Businesses can’t afford to think of customer service as an afterthought. As an executive coach, I want you to remember that your customers are the lifeblood of your business. The most effective executives infuse customer service into their organizational DNA, in the same way, this self-correcting gym works. As Robert Half, founder of human resources consulting firm Robert Half International once remarked, “When the customer comes first, the customer will last.” By recognizing the perils associated with subpar customer services and forging a strong auto-correcting culture, you’ll prime yourself for long-term growth and prosperity.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner