Work

How a Book Discussion Shaped Our Business Culture (Part 1)

And how it can transform yours

Photo by Claudia on Unsplash

Leaders are readers, the saying goes. I believe that.

Reading books and articles, as well as listening to podcasts, are just a few of the vital ways we expand our horizons, cultivate empathy and compassion, gain competencies, and develop personally and professionally. Basically, these are formative ways that we become better humans. 

It’s also the case that most of our reading, listening, and learning has to be done on our own time. Development and personal growth is good and all, but not on company time. At least that’s how some employers might view it. 

I led countless book discussions and small groups when I was a lead pastor for 10 years. I never imagined I’d lead groups like that in the business world, especially not at a global parts manufacturer.

But the opportunity arose last year when the president and CEO of the company I worked for determined that he wanted everyone in the organization to read John DiJulius’ book The Customer Service Revolution.

Hmm, I thought. Here’s an interesting and innovative opportunity. 

I pitched the idea to my bosses of leading a Customer Service Revolution book discussion at the contact center where I worked in customer service development. They were skeptical at first, but to their credit, they heard me out and took a chance.

“Look, it’s really cool to give people a copy of this book and say we want them to read it,” I said. “And if people actually do read it, even better. But what might it be like if we intentionally got together in smaller groups and talked about what we were reading? What if we could process the key concepts together and have a series of conversations that would create a shared learning experience?”

My bosses were intrigued and they let me go for it. 

A colleague and I led over 100 frontline team members and also the team supervisors through weekly small group book discussions. The small groups of six to eight people met on a specific day, one group per day, Tuesday through Friday, for one hour. We covered the entire book with each group over a period of about four weeks (three chapters per week). It took us about six months to complete the discussions for all the team members.

I know what you’re thinking. “How could you pull frontline team members in a contact center away from their phones, email, and live chat for one hour per week just to discuss a book? That’s crazy!”

Great question. And if the conversations hadn’t been led in a specific way, there could have been a danger of lost productivity.

But we saw the discussions as an opportunity and investment in the development of team members that would ultimately lead to providing exceptional customer experiences and doing so with increased efficiency and greater awareness of what it takes to consistently deliver them.

We weren’t wrong. In fact, we were blown away.

The results included tangible, measurable deliverables such as the development of a new quality program, increased communication, and the creation and adoption of an Always and Never list to guide interactions with customers and one-on-one coaching conversations with supervisors, among other things.

There were also intangible benefits such as increased team member engagement, camaraderie, and creativity.

Most importantly, the book discussions cultivated a customer-centric and people-focused mindset that continues to shape the culture of that contact center in important ways. Even the words people used (or didn’t use) began changing. And both our internal and external customers noticed. 

In this article, I’ll explain how DiJulius defines a customer service revolution and how unpacking that in the book discussions shaped our business culture. In an upcoming part 2 article, I’ll explain how we executed the book discussions and touch on some of our key takeaways.

What is the Customer Service Revolution?

DiJulius is the founder of John Robert’s Spa, a collection of upscale day spas in northeast Ohio, and also the president of The DiJulius Group, a customer service consulting firm that has worked with companies like Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, the Ritz-Carlton, Lexus, and many others.

DiJulius has also written two other books on customer experience aside from The Customer Service Revolution. Some consider him a leading thinker and practitioner in customer service.

But what would a day spa owner and customer service consultant have to say to a global manufacturer of parts and components for RV, marine, and adjacent industries? Or any other industry for that matter?

It turns out quite a lot.

Let’s begin with the whole concept of a “customer service revolution.” What is it?

DiJulius says the purpose of his consulting firm is “to change the world by creating a Customer service revolution.” He then goes on to define a customer service revolution this way:

“A radical overthrow of conventional business mentality designed to transform what employees and Customers experience. This shift produces a culture that permeates into people’s personal lives, at home, and in the community, which in turn provides the business with higher sales, morale, and brand loyalty — making price irrelevant.”

The Customer Service Revolution, p. 2

That strikes me as compelling regardless of what kind of business or organization you’re part of. And the disrupters among us may really resonate with the “radical overthrow of conventional business mentality” part. I know I did. 

Rethinking Metrics

How does your business measure success? How do metrics inform strategic decisions and planning? If you’re going to ignite a customer service revolution in your business or organization, rethinking what success looks like and the key performance indicators that gauge progress and inform decisions are vital. 

Throughout the book, DiJulius challenges some traditional KPIs — particularly as they relate to call center metrics — but also challenges conventional assumptions regarding ROIs, KPIs, and other practices that truly matter in consistently delivering exceptional customer service.

For example, DiJulius asserts that if Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Average Call Time (ACT), and Time to Resolution (TTR) are the determinative metrics driving decisions in your customer service contact center, you’re missing something important. These kinds of metrics, DiJulius says, are “dinosaur drivers that management needs to move away from” because “They are anti-service friendly” (155).

DiJulius suggests that these kinds of traditional contact center metrics tend to dehumanize frontline team members, making them task-oriented cogs within a call center factory philosophy that’s all about answering as many customer inquiries as possible as quickly as possible.

That’s hardly a recipe for high employee morale, productivity, and providing attentive, exceptional customer service.

On the other hand, 45-minute hold times don’t inspire exceptional customer experiences either. As DiJulius also notes, customer time is valuable. And in our Amazon Prime and on-demand world, customers expect quick resolutions and fast turn arounds. 

So perhaps the traditional metrics have a place. They can help us monitor trends and trajectories. But they can’t be the only determinative factor in measuring success and making necessary adjustments. They’re part of a larger picture. 

In the industry and context in which I was working, we believed that helping customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, while at the same time not rushing to get them off the phone or live chat and on to the next customer, was an important and delicate balance.

We regularly talked about living in the tension between speed and efficiency and substantive, empathetic interactions with customers during our book discussions.

How could we be fast and thorough? How could we be efficient and compassionate? 

This is a daily challenge, regardless of your industry. Especially during peak seasons or peak times of the day.

But being friendly, caring, expressing empathy and compassion, and discovering solutions to customer issues and complaints are non-negotiable keys to providing exceptional customer experiences, regardless of how busy you may or what industry you’re serving customers in. 

It’s All About Internal and External Customers

Second, notice that the revolution impacts both what “employees and Customers” experience. And here’s an important distinction: 

Your customers include internal customers — coworkers, colleagues, and teammates within your business unit and company as a whole — as well as external customers — the customers from outside of your organization to whom you sell your products and provide services.

This was something I hadn’t really considered before. But having come through to the other side of the book discussions, it makes a lot of sense to me and I’m convinced it’s an important insight.

Your business or organization has both internal and external customers. And there’s a reciprocal relationship between them. What one experiences, the other will too.

One of our biggest takeaways was DiJulius’ insistence that your external customers will never be any happier than your internal customers (i.e. employees). Indeed, DiJulius asserts, your external customers will experience whatever internal customers do.

Think about that. 

Is the culture of your workplace fun, positive, engaging, and energizing? Are team members trained sufficiently in your products, systems, and services, and are they equipped, encouraged, and empowered to be creative and make real decisions? Are team members rewarded and celebrated for their innovations and jobs well done? 

If so, your customers will notice and likely be delighted. They’ll sense the positive energy, feel valued and cared for, and have a great experience. You’ll also be creating brand ambassadors and cultivating customer loyalty.

On the flipside, if the culture and ethos of your organization are negative and stifling, if your team members aren’t trained well, aren’t friendly and kind to each other — let alone external customers — and they’re not equipped, encouraged, and empowered to make decisions and help customers, your customers will notice that as well. And they’ll likely go elsewhere.

Here’s what hit home with us. 

How we treat each other and work together as coworkers, colleagues, and teammates have profound implications for the kind of customer experience we provide.

So an important question for any business or organization to consider is, what are we doing to intentionally and strategically cultivate a great work environment where our internal customers are trained, equipped, and empowered to flourish and also regularly celebrated for their accomplishments?

Great Customer Service isn’t Just Something You Do at Work

Finally, notice that a customer service revolution transcends the workplace and becomes transformative not only in your business but also in people’s lives and in your community. As DiJulius says, a customer service revolution “produces a culture that permeates into people’s personal lives, at home, and in the community.”

A customer service revolution isn’t just something you do at work, it’s something you live out every day, wherever you find yourself. It’s really a way of being, a way of seeing the world, and a way of interacting with others. DiJulius makes this point powerfully near the end of the book:

“You can’t just deliver world-class service at work; it has to be something that is in you, in all areas of your life. It is who you are; it is the way you treat your family, neighbors, coworkers, Customers, and strangers.”

The Customer Service Revolution, p. 174

We asked frontline team members in our final book discussion together, “How has the experience of reading this book and discussing it together impacted your life? How has it shaped your understanding of customer service and your role on the team?”

Overwhelmingly our team members responded with some version of how the book discussions have made them more mindful of how they interact with their family and friends, coworkers and teammates, and also external customers, and also how all of those different interactions impact relationships and their well-being. 

And further, team members shared that they were far more conscious about being kind and treating others the way they’d want to be treated. 

Or to raise the bar even higher, some team members said the book discussion challenged them to treat others the way those people wanted to be treated. After all, what I want and what satisfies me as a customer, may not be what you want and what satisfies you. 

That mindset will not only transform one’s perspective at work but also one’s entire life. It’s about attending to the needs of others. 

So What About You?

In The Customer Service Revolution DiJulius delivers relevant and practical advice for any organization looking to up their customer service game and leverage excellent customer service as a competitive advantage.

The revolution has the power to transform the lives of your internal and external customers, create brand ambassadors and build customer loyalty through meaningful customer experiences, and ultimately change your business and community.

What might it look like to create a customer service revolution in your business or organization? How might it impact your internal and external customers and shape your culture to be human-centric?

Please leave your comments below to continue the conversation. I’d love to learn from you. And stay tuned for part 2! 

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