Values-driven approach to customer service: changing the paradigm

We were recently asked by a client whether a values-driven approach was applicable in sales / customer service environment. It reminded us about an article we had already written so here it is, as it first appeared in Dear Workforce a few years back.


To anyone seeking to “change the paradigm for customer service” we suggest you not only concentrate on those employees who are in direct contact with the customer. Vineet Nayar,  vice chairman of HCL Technologies, an India-based global information technology services company, refers to those employees as being in the “value zone.” In his book Employees First, Customers Second, he describes how he changed his company’s culture by turning the traditional management pyramid on its head.

“In traditional companies, the value zone is often buried deep inside the hierarchy and the people who create the most value for the company work there. Paradoxically, these value creators are almost always accountable to bosses and managers – typically located at the top of the pyramid or in so-called ‘enabling functions’ – who do not directly contribute to the value zone. ….So, to shift our focus on the value zone, we turned the organization upside down and made management and managers, including those enabling functions (such as human resources, finance, training and others), accountable to those who create value, not just the other way around.”

Nayar created an elaborate system of tracking the support given to the front line workers who dealt with customers. And, as the support from the organization increased, so did customer satisfaction.

Just as you must concentrate on those internal relationships you also must remember that you must build a relationships with your customers. One of the most important aspects of a relationship (in life or in business) is trust. There is a bicycle shop in New England that offers potential customers test rides. When a customer offers a deposit or to leave his identification as surety for the bicycle he is politely turned down. The company is demonstrating that it trusts the customer. In return the customer is more inclined to return that trust. Sales are brisk and there are very few instances where a bicycle is not returned.

Trust relationships within the organization are demonstrated by transparency and communication.  If those employees who deal with customer service are to shine they must in turn, trust that they have the information needed to do the job and are able to make decisions based on that knowledge. Some of the most frustrating customer service phone calls we can experience are when the person at the other end of the line is obviously reading from a script and seems immune to the callers logic or frustration. Retailers like Neiman Marcus and LL Bean have made a reputation of throwing out policy manuals and allowing customer service employees to use their best judgement when dealing with customers.

So in short, yes. A values-driven approach does belong in a customer service and sales environment. We are biased enough to say that it belong in every single organization. Don’t increase your number of policies every time something goes wrong. Review your values, look at whether they are clearly understood and consistently applied.