Translating Military Skill Sets For Better Customer Service
The ferocious, barking drill sergeant that R. Lee Ermey so masterfully played in “Full Metal Jacket” standing across the counter helping pick out bananas is not what we have it mind when combining military skill sets and customer service. Rather, military methods seek to improve employee engagement, discover new ways to do old tasks, ensure safety, and ensure that employees equally fulfill the goals and desires of customers and store owners.
The challenge for retail and customer facing positions is how do we engage teams, serve customers, and bring about a customer experience that makes the customers want to return. These six military techniques help make this customer value a reality.
Military to Customer Service Technique #1 — Connect the Team to the Ultimate Mission. In every organization, it is very, very easy for the junior members to lose sight and understanding of what the company is trying to achieve. In some cases, there can be over ten levels of leadership (or more) from the CEO to the lowest level of worker. In all these instances, a great business leader works hard every day to constantly and consistently connects the team’s activities, performance, and successes to the company’s mission and strategy. Everyone works harder and works better when they know how their actions directly contribute to the company’s goals. Be sure to identify the “why” behind even the most mundane tasks and activities — it helps everyone work harder when they understand.
Military to Customer Service Technique #2 — Great Training and Rehearsals Make a Successful Team. Training and challenging rehearsals will make a truly successful holiday season. In the military, individual Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen are all rigorously trained so that they know how to do their job, but also how fulfill the critical responsibilities of their comrades. More importantly, military formations of large groups of different specialties rehearse day and night, so vital functions of resupply, vehicle repair and casualty evacuation could be accomplished together flawlessly. The business lesson is that training and rehearsals that show how business can do things safer, more cost effective, and with high levels of customer satisfaction will make the business great.
Military to Customer Service Technique #3 — The Importance of Coaching and Teaching. Leaders think of themselves as responsible for setting strategy or making decisions, but they seldom think of themselves as coaches and teachers. If you’ve ever been to a military marksmanship range, you’ve seen this leader coaching in action. At a military range, the senior military personnel work the hardest coaching, teaching, and setting higher standards for junior personnel how to shoot correctly. I remember at one of my last military drills before I retired helping coach a Private how to shoot correctly — there was literally over 20 years of experience between us, and I was the one dusty and dirty from crawling on the ground. Every interaction between a leader and their team is a time to coach, teach, and train to higher standards of performance.
Military to Customer Service Technique #4 — The After Action Review. The purpose of the After Action Review (AAR) is to have an organization discover how to maintain what they did well and how to discover ways to improve what did not go well. The AAR is used after every major and minor training and operational activity at all levels. Additionally, all leaders are trained how to conduct an AAR. In the AAR, the unit allows every member to participate regardless of rank and the team discusses: (1) What happened, (2) What went well, (3) What did not go well, and (4) What is the plan to fix what did not go well. The AAR is a universal, all encompassing team improvement process to identify areas that need to be improved and how to improve them.
Military to Customer Service Technique #5 — Acting Safely and Preventing Accidents is Part of Everyone’s Job. When the US Army start their daily missions, whether it is a ground convoy or a shooting range, the day begins with a safety briefing, medical evacuation procedures, and a rehearsal of the day’s most dangerous activities. Anyone, from the newest Private to the seasoned Sergeant, can call a safety halt if they fell there is a danger to anyone. This adoption of safety as integral to everyone’s job is vital. When everyone has a role in safety, then everyone is looking to create a safe environment — no one is sitting on the side lines.
Military to Customer Service Technique #6 — Always Lead by Example at Every Level. Leadership by Example is one of the central tenants of military leadership. Leadership by example means that the leader sets a strong and undisputed personal example for every activity, no matter how small, that the organization does. From dealing with an angry customer to restocking shelves, a leadership style that embraces leadership by example always sets the correct standard for the organization. Additionally, this style must also embrace personal passion, humility, and courage to guide the organization. Finally, leadership by example must set and enforce high levels of organizational performance.
Adapting these military techniques to customer service will make stores, employees, and the customer’s experience better for a service interaction that will make the customer want to return. Remember to:
- Connect employees to the mission.
- Ensure effective training and rehearsals to meet standards.
- Teach and coach employees to higher performance levels.
- Hold After Action Review’s to identify problems & improve performance.
- Enforce safety and accident prevention as part of everyone’s job.
- Lead by example in all tasks, even the most mundane.
Military skills work for retail, customer facing, and customer service positions because they value customer experience, employees, and improving the customer experience as an activity that must be accomplished consistently and credibly.