Many home builders invest in customer service training for their staff with the goal of providing an outstanding experience at every phase of the home-building process. As commendable as these efforts are, they will always fall short if the company's leadership doesn't model attitudes and behavior. Great leadership can translate into great customer service throughout the organization, but what constitutes great leadership?
Douglas Lipp, an expert on customer service who once headed the training program at Disney Studio's Walt Disney University, emphasizes the importance of leadership while addressing customer service issues. During his keynote address at this year's NRS Satisfaction 1 conference, he told the nation's top home builders that they need leaders who believe in a customer-centric approach to everything they do — even if that means making certain sacrifices to support the team's ability to deliver on the promises made to customers.
Everything that characterizes a company — from its mission to the way it handles mistakes — emanates from the leadership branch. Look at any company that excels in service recovery and is able to adapt to meet new challenges in a changing marketplace and you'll find strong leadership.
Lipp notes a good leader is someone who can outwit, outplay and outlast the competition, especially when it comes to providing and inspiring outstanding customer service for both internal and external customers. Leaders are smarter, quicker to respond and better at sustaining their stronghold in the marketplace.
Because they have these skills, great leaders are better able to overcome stumbling blocks and exploit opportunities.
Some common mistakes in leadership that lead to poor customer service include:
Meanwhile, good leaders also know how to improve the customer's experience. The following are obvious yet merit mentioning:
Lipp fondly points out that even monkeys fall from trees. This old Japanese proverb means regardless of how capable or skilled we are, sooner or later, we all lose our balance and make mistakes — especially if we're not adapting to changes around us. It is important to learn from our successes and mistakes and to apply that learning to the area of customer service, whether it is service to our employees or our customers.
Change is not difficult, Lipp says. "The challenge is in sustaining the change and weaving it into the corporate culture." He maintains that change requires two things: confidence that the change is the right course of action and a support system with people in place to give the change a chance to succeed. Larry Webb, CEO of John Laing Homes, says, "Leading in our industry is all about attracting the best and the brightest. Recruiting, growing and retaining great people is the difference between companies. My role as CEO is to place these people in an environment that is exciting, challenging and loving (yes loving)."
Lipp offers this simple exercise to help you make changes for the better. Create a table with three columns labeled Start, Stop and Continue. With the customer's experience in mind, look at your leadership style and list behaviors and activities that you should start, stop and continue. You can break these into short-term and long-term actions. Then do the same thing for your team, listing behaviors and activities you would like your employees to start, stop or continue, both immediately and in the long-term. This proactive approach to managing change is much easier and more profitable than having change forced upon you by the marketplace.
Ultimately, company leaders are responsible for customer satisfaction. And those who are the best at modeling, inspiring and rewarding great customer service will always be the most successful. Larry Webb as well as several others in the home building industry exemplify this type of leadership and serve as role models for the rest of us trying to take companies to the next level in this great industry.
|Paul Cardis is CEO of NRS Corp., a research and consulting firm specializing in customer satisfaction for the home-building industry. He can be reached at email@example.com .|