Find Ways to Delight Your Customers Without Breaking Any Rules or Budgets

Let's face it: leading a small team within a large and not-so-nimble organization can be really demoralizing sometimes.  You may see clearly how certain changes or additional resources could make a huge difference, but it takes so much time and effort to make those things happen that it hardly seems worth it.  It can also be difficult to keep your team motivated and engaged if there are frustrating bureaucratic issues hindering them from doing their best work.  
Rather than throw up your hands, though, you can take this as an opportunity to be slightly rebellious and make changes that improve the work environment just a bit, and also increase your customers' satisfaction.  

Customer service doesn't have to be expensive (or complicated).

Big companies spend tons of money trying to figure out how to "game" customer service - provide what they need to at the lowest cost.  You've probably experienced the results of this as a customer yourself, especially if you have cable or have flown recently.  At the core, though, customer service isn't that complicated, and it's not that expensive, either, at least not at your vantage point.  

Customer service is about treating people like (gasp!) individuals, and making a concerted effort to understand and meet their needs.  When you read the legendary stories of customer service from Nordstrom or Zappos, the focus is often on how ridiculous the request is and how amazing it is that the company was willing to pay for it.  

The real take-away from the story, though, is that a front-line employee really listened to what the customer was asking for and found a creative way to give it to them.  And while it's true that companies built on a core value of customer service have budgets and policies to make extravagant gestures possible, good customer service doesn't really require anything extreme.  

Think about some of the most pleasant experiences you've had as a customer.  Some of them might not have even involved you getting something extra - these days, it's surprising just to have a conversation with a cheerful and helpful service provider who seems like he or she enjoys the job.  Here are some ways you can improve your team's customer service, without having to break any rules or any budgets.

Note: This approach applies regardless of whether your customers are external or internal, and the idea is to find ways to work this into existing routines, not add additional work. 

Preparation: Schedule the meeting and set expectations

Set aside an hour with your team to have this discussion.  An hour and a half would be even better, but work with what you have.  This could be a separate meeting, part of a team meeting, or even part of your annual planning or goal-setting process.

Preface the meeting by explaining that the purpose of the discussion is to identify small, easy ways to make customer interactions more pleasant for both the customers and employees, and to find ways to delight customers within the existing budgetary and policy constraints.  

Emphasize that this is about empowering them (the employees) more and making their job more rewarding.

Part 1: Get clear on who your customers are

Ask the team: Who are our customers, the people who depend on our work in some way?  Make a list in a visible part of the room, such as on a whiteboard or a flipchart page that can be referenced throughout the discussion.

Encourage them to think broadly about this list, and make sure it includes your boss as well as any teams or departments your team interacts with.
Once you've got a comprehensive list of customers, move on to the brainstorming portion.

Part 2: Brainstorming

With your team, brainstorm a list of answers to the following questions.  If you have a large team and/or a mix of extroverts and introverts, it might be good to have everyone write down their answers first and then share.

If we had unlimited time and budget, what extravagant, ridiculous things could we do to delight our customers in our current processes/interactions with them?  

Example to get you started (if needed): Wrap the report up in a beautiful box, complete with ribbons, and send a limo to deliver it to their office.

What are small ways we could create the same experience of the extravagant gestures, without going to quite such an extreme?

Example for the limo-delivered box: We could call the day after the report is e-mailed to see if it met their needs.  Even smaller: we could have a follow-up e-mail that looks customized but is based on a template.

Based on our ideas above and what we know of our customers, what are five small, easy, inexpensive things we can incorporate into our current operations that would surprise and delight our customers?  

Think small!  For example, frame statements as positive opportunities whenever possible.  "We can get you in as early as Friday at 10 AM" rather than "We don't have anything available until Friday at the earliest."  This doesn't require any extra work or policy changes, and it makes the employee look (and hopefully feel) like a hero instead of a gatekeeper.

Part 3: Implementation and action planning

Now it's time to figure out what to do with all these great ideas.  Discuss the list of five items with your team and identify:

What actions do we need to take, if any, to incorporate these ideas into our operations?

How will we know if these things are working?

The key is to make the changes as small and easy as possible, so that they're not increasing the burden on your already-busy employees (or yourself, for that matter - it's not like you have a lot of time, either).  By having your employees come up with the list, the items are more likely to be things that actually matter to the people they interact with every day, and they are going to be more motivated to actually make the changes.  They may even implement more than five, once they're in the mindset of small changes that can make interactions more fun for everyone involved.

Take action on the not-so-easy ideas, too.

If the team comes up with ideas that would make a significant difference but are not currently possible due to policies, budget, or other organizational constraints, that doesn't mean that the ideas should be thrown out.  Get them to focus on what they can control for now, but start thinking about what it might take to make it possible.  Your employees might have ideas on this, and your boss is probably also a good resource.

In the short term, though, help the employees see just how much opportunity they already have, even in a limited situation, to delight their customers and enjoy their work.  

Related resources

  • Short list of ideas from Buffer on how to "wow" customers
  • Interesting comments from a wide variety of small business owners on how they delight their customers  
  • And of course, no list of items about delighting customers would be incomplete without Zappos' Tony Hsieh's book, Delivering Happiness 

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