Honestly, Customer Service Starts at “Home”

An image of a Family Feud-style board with survey answers on it.

Whether or not we consciously think about it, our social interactions -- both online and off -- colour our perspectives of the companies and brands with which we interact. You need to look no further than the feeling you get when you go into a retail store and are met with an apathetic or rude salesperson.

Sure, there are toxic people out there, but more often than not, that person is a symptom, rather than the problem. Good customer service means asking the hard questions and getting to the root of the issue.

And it’s not enough to ask those questions. You not only have to be willing to hear things you don’t like, but be willing to foster an environment where that honesty can flourish.

We’re all in the customer service business. Whether you’re selling clothes, running for political office, or, as in our case, building websites and digital solutions, our role is to provide superior quality service to our customers -- and, by extension, their customers. But if your staff interactions leave much to be desired, that can negatively impact your clients and affect their opinion of you.

Externally, we use a survey to get feedback from our clients post-launch. We ask a number of questions to determine how effective the various processes, tools, and deliverables we have are. As part of that, we also use a Net Promoter Score to capture that “moment-in-time” opinion of our clients -- effectively asking them how likely they would be to recommend us to their peers.

Recently, we asked that question of ourselves.

Today, Andrew presented our quarterly ‘State of the Echidna' address. It’s an incredibly in-depth look at the company, from financials to future plans. I’ve worked at a few places over the years and I’ve never had the pleasure of working for a company that’s so transparent. And I love it. Why? Because you don’t feel anything is being kept from you and that makes you feel more aligned with the team.

As part of today’s review, Andrew released some preliminary results from an internal employee survey we conducted. It was an anonymous survey designed to gauge true feedback. Overall the results were great. Our internal NPS was off the charts -- well above the industry average. And a question around employee pride regarding working for Echidna was extremely promising as well. A vast majority of people indicated they were proud to work here. There were a minority of neutrals -- which is always to be expected. And there was one who said he or she wasn’t proud.

How that was handled says a lot about how this company values feedback.

There was no attempt to identify the person. There was no sense of resentment. Instead, there was a review on the venues available to all of us here on how to address and improve the workplace. I hope this will give that person the confidence to talk to his or her manager or human resources, and try to address the issues. Sure, anonymity may be frustrating at times, but it’s also essential to ensure you’re getting valuable feedback.

I’ve been in the opposite situation. And it was awful.

In a former life, I worked for a company that paid lip service to employee engagement. This was highlighted by the response to a global employee survey, which was alleged to have been anonymous. Sure, we had to include some demographic information, which in retrospect made it pretty easy to identify what country and department you worked in. But overall we were encouraged to be open and honest.

Until the results came in.

Our department had a number of valid concerns and issues. We tried going through regular channels but were consistently roadblocked. We voiced our concerns in the survey, scoring our environment in a tough but fair manner. So when the results came in and our collective satisfaction metrics were poor, our manager sat us around a table and demanded to know who said what and why. A few of us spoke up; others sat meekly and said nothing. The issues didn’t get addressed. Instead, we were chastised for having the audacity to say less-than-flattering things. We were punished for honesty.

So guess what happened the next time that survey came around?

Right. Crickets.

Many said what was desired to be heard. Not the truth.Things didn’t improve, attitude soured. And any value from this survey was lost.

I am a strong advocate for anonymity. It’s all too easy for people to say, “If you have an opinion, you should put your name on it.” But that’s a position of extreme privilege. I sign everything I write and keep it published in perpetuity. I'm comfortable enough to do that. Other people have reasons why anonymity may be preferable -- they're worried about repercussions; they don't want to risk their next paycheque because they're solely responsible for taking care of their families; they don't want to be targetted or ostracized. For many, if there’s even the hint of potential repercussions, they’ll understandably protect their own.

Which brings us back to Echidna. Surveys are only as good as the results you get. And if you intentionally or unintentionally create barriers to honesty, then you’re going to only get what you want -- not what you actually need.

When employees can feel heard and believe their concerns can be addressed, that increases satisfaction, alignment, and retention. It shows in the quality of their work and the quality of their interactions. If they feel, “why bother?” or “I’m just a cog in this machine” then that’s how they’re going to interact with your clients. But if they feel cared about and invested in the process -- no matter where on the org chart they lie -- then they’ll go the extra mile for you and your customers.

That level of customer engagement can only be built upon a foundation of trust. And that trust is hard to earn and quick to lose. Once it’s gone, you likely can’t get it back. But once you have it, it can make all the difference to your company’s success.

Questions Answered

How do I improve customer service?

Should I make my survey anonymous?

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