Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > great customer service starts from the top

great customer service starts from the top

Customer service has been prominent in my thoughts this week, especially as I have experienced some really good service, together with someone trying to put right something that had gone wrong.

Many years ago I came up with something that I called the Ghent Agenda, named in honour of some really good service I had experienced from hotel people first in Brussels and then in Ghent. It was a blueprint for our facilities management team to raise our game, and it did make a difference, but it is how you make these things happen that intrigues me.

It is the leader that sets the tone for the way their team will work, and various old and new adages describe this; setting the tone, leading by example, walking the talk and so on, and these are, like all such sayings, very true. More so than many realise, because the way a leader acts and behaves will have a huge influence on their team (very much in the way that children are influenced by their parents).

It is all very well to try and influence your team towards providing a high level of service, but how do you yourself behave? Is the example that you set one that you would like your team to follow as they deal with your customers? For example, how do you treat people? You may be good with your team, but how about others?

My premise here is that leading by example, or whatever we want to call it, comes from setting a personal standard first. If you truly want to be a role model then you have to become that model and apply the standard. There is a wonderful quote attributed to Sir Laurence Olivier during the making of the 1976 film Marathon Man. Dustin Hoffman’s character had to portray levels of exhaustion commensurate with having being awake for 24 hours or so, and kept himself up to experience the effects. When Olivier asked him what he was doing Hoffman explained his need for accuracy in portrayal, only for the former to suggest “Why not try acting, dear boy, it’s much easier”.

And that is the issue, acting is much easier, but leadership is not acting. If all you are portraying to your team is an act then you will be found out at some point, so you do need to live the role.

If your team here you tell them about the importance of giving good customer service, of treating people with respect, but then see you behave poorly towards others then how can they truly believe in the message when the person delivering it lets them down? And if you do not strive to apply the standards to yourself in everything that you do, are you not applying double standards?

We can’t be perfect. We are, after all, only human, but if we are going to try to achieve the highest standards then we have to raise our game. A record of continuous success does not come without constantly pushing yourself and your team, and that is what the better leaders do, and they push themselves hardest.

If you want to be that great role model for your people then try to apply the highest levels of behaviour in everything that you do; be polite and show respect to others, regardless of who they are. If you treat the ticket collector on the train or the barista in the coffee shop the way you want your people to treat your customers then you are setting the right tone for them. Lead from the front.

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