How you treat your team is how you treat your customers

A quick tweet made me pause and think about a simple reality of customer service. Something that seems to be missing sometimes from the growing field of Customer Experience (CE/CX). Does this resonate with you?

Given I’m flying a lot in this phase of our company’s development, this certainly hit home with me. The business of getting humans from one spot to another isn’t easy, and airports aren’t always a pleasant place. For many people — especially families — this middleware of travel is stressful.

And that also goes for the staff. I’m sure every airline talks about high levels of customer service. I assume bonuses are tied to the various polls out there. But these “delightful experiences” still seem rare enough that frequent flyers tweet about them. I can certainly attest to that with a recent tweet about Helsinki airport too.

Maxime continues:

At first glance this might seem pretty obvious, but this is kind of profound. At least, it made me think so in a tweeted reply.

It occurs to me more than ever that roles with a customer experience element are subject to an inconvenient truth. Or maybe it’s already obvious to you? Either way it is worth repeating.

How you treat your staff is how you treat your customers.

Maxime is totally right in pointing out what is so easily forgotten. A startup rarely has a chance to stray from this reality, as founders are usually epically enthusiastic about solving pain points that they’ve personally felt. I can attest to this whenever I meet with technical writers — there’s nobody in the world trying as hard as we are at Corilla to make technical writing awesome again.

But how does that scale? Especially at the scale of such a complicated beast as an airline?

Helsinki airport. The birdsong in the bathrooms might not be functional, but it WILL make you smile.

You can’t buy customer experience

How much do airlines spend on external communication of their aspirations towards positive customer experiences? Is it money well spent? Does anyone really think “flying reimagined” is “spinning, eating steak, and more spinning”? Probably not the 6'3" Australian startup CEO that can barely fit into the economy fare seat.

You know what makes that guy happy? A friendly smile from the flight attendant when she brings him an extra bread roll with dinner. Or better yet, a second meal. What can I say, I’m a hungry startup.

That’s the external budget, but what about internal spend? How much do they spend on internal training or management efforts? Please post a comment if you know those KPIs or strategies, I’d be interested to know.

Maxime’s tweets above highlight how pointless that investment is without first investing in a happy and engaged workforce. An unhappy flight attendant is unlikely to feel positive about some annoying Australian guy asking for more food right after dinner. No matter how nice his accent is.

Both obvious and profound

What’s great about this is how obvious it is. What’s worth exploring is how subtle it is. Even extending down to the product level.

Of course the way companies treat their staff sets the mood for how they treat the customers. As I tweeted this is transitive, and why recruiting is such a challenge. It only takes one bad node between the executive suite and the customer facing team to break the critical path. Some call this “middle management”. Ouch.

But in the above flight attendant example, imagine if getting that extra meal was just the result of pushing a button? How easy would it be to delight the customer when it’s just that easy?

Now imagine it meant they had to pull out boxes, unlock cases, navigate a difficult microwave oven and jump over crocodiles. The friction is so great that the chance of delighting the customer is radically reduced. No amount of customer service pamphlets will help.

Making your customer support team happier with better tools makes your customers happier by lowering the bar for opportunities to delight.

Want the quickest hack to improve your customer experience metrics?

Treat your team well and give them the best tools to do their jobs. And then give them permission to delight your customers in turn. You don’t need to go “full Zappos” to get those smiles (or tweets). Maybe it’s as simple as an extra bread roll.


Thanks for reading — I’m David Ryan. I’m the cofounder of Corilla, a collaborative authoring and publishing tool for technical writers. Corilla is on a mission to make technical writing awesome (and you’re invited). If you enjoyed this post, hit the Recommend button or drop me a line on Twitter.

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