Service Spotlight: 1-on-1 with Jeff Toister

Gladly Team

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6 minute read

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How to Create a Customer Service Culture

Every company wants to build a customer service team that is passionate and even obsessed about delivering amazing service to its customers. But what companies are now beginning to realize is that for such a team to flourish, it cannot exist in a vacuum. Instead, it requires a company-wide effort, from the C-suite level down, to inculcate a culture that truly puts the customer first, and that empowers every member of the organization to go that extra mile to deliver those outstanding experiences.

For this month’s Service Spotlight One-on-One, I got the chance to sit with acclaimed author, speaker and employee training expert, Jeff Toister, to discuss how companies can help agents provide outstanding customer service to their customers by embracing and building a customer focused culture within the organization.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, and where your passion for customer service started?

My first interaction with the customer service world was when I was 16, and I’d just started a new job at a clothing store. I remember I was given just about 15 minutes of training before being set loose onto the service floor.

So when a customer came up to me and asked if we sold any Dockers, my mouth said just what my mind was saying, which was: “I don’t know”, and before I had a chance to do anything else, the customer had stormed off!

Obviously I felt partly responsible for losing the customer, but another part of me knew that I hadn’t been put in a position to succeed in the first place.

And that’s where my passion for customer service springs from—in the intersection between the two worlds of customer service, and employee training. Today, I work with companies to ensure their employees are performing at their best, and to help these employees unlock their hidden potential when it comes to delivering exceptional service.

You bring up great points about providing people with the right training to set them up for success. Do you think a person can be trained to become great at customer service, or is it simply an innate skill?

I’d say the answer lies somewhere in between. I look at it like a normal distribution, or bell curve.

On the right, you have the amazing customer service folks who will do great at anything you throw at them—they’re the ones with the innate skills at customer service. On the left, are those who are probably not meant to be in the customer service field, and just shouldn’t be in these jobs.

In the middle, however, lies the majority of people who, if you provide the right culture, and give them the proper training, will be able to succeed. But the culture and training are integral here—without them, this group will fail.

How would you advise companies go about providing that culture and training?

Well, first of all, companies need to define what great service looks like for them—there’s no one-size-fits-all here. What great service looks like for Shake Shack, for example, will be very different from what it should look like for The Ritz-Carlton.

Once a clear vision for customer service is established, the next step is to hire someone suited to make that vision a reality and who understands the importance of empowering their employees.

And when I say empowering, I don’t just mean authorizing your employees to do what’s needed to serve your customers.

True empowerment is so much more than that. It involves not only the authority to provide outstanding service, but the tools and resources, the procedures and the best known processes to do it.

For example, my wife and I recently went furniture shopping. When we were ready to order, the store’s computer system indicated that the piece we wanted would take 5.5 months to arrive. This was contrary to the 4 weeks that the salesperson had promised us earlier. The reason for the conflicting lead times was that the computer system at the store level wasn’t able to talk to the enterprise system, so the salesperson wasn’t able to see a clear picture of the store’s inventory system.

In this case, while the salesperson was given the authority to help, they just didn’t have the right resources to do it.

Companies should also have regular, even daily discussions with their teams to set a clear vision on what outstanding customer service looks like.

The elite companies (those with outstanding customer service reputations) have daily sessions with their employees, even if it’s a 5 or 10 minute meeting, where they talk about their priorities for each day, run through examples of customer service challenges faced by the team the day before, and review customer comments.

This kind of regular feedback and training is critical to setting the right expectations. Your employees will only understand what’s important based on how often you talk about it.

What are some of the things that elite companies are doing right when it comes to fostering a customer service culture amongst their employees?

At a high level, I’d say there are 3 main modern customer experience areas.

  1. Elite companies have a clear vision of what outstanding customer service looks like for them, and they make sure this vision is shared across all their employees. JetBlue’s mission is to ‘inspire humanity’. But while many companies may have a similar vision or mission statement, the difference is that JetBlue takes pains to ensure that this vision is shared throughout the organization, from the employees up to the C-suite. It’s something that’s talked about and brought up often. Once a quarter, a JetBlue executive will go to every location and talk to employees about results, and about service, so it’s not just the same thing that they’re hearing every time—the employees are hearing about service from multiple different leaders in multiple ways.
  2. Great companies approach employee engagement differently. For most companies, employee engagement involves an annual survey of employees, but there’s no understanding or follow-through as to how this will drive performance. In the case of elite companies, however, the aim is to ensure that employees know how to, and are in fact encouraged, to contribute positively to the organization. It’s not just about a survey, it’s about making sure employees know what the company’s vision of organizational success looks like, and how this vision connects to their daily responsibilities.
  3. The best companies operationalize their customer service vision. Elite companies work hard to make it easy for employees to deliver exceptional service. They make sure that they incorporate the right processes, procedures and resources into the business so that employees are empowered to provide customers with the highest levels of service. It’s like the alignment on a car. If your car is out of alignment, it takes a lot of work to get it where you want it to go. Once it’s aligned properly though, you can take your hands off the wheel and it will naturally go wherever you point it towards.

The most fundamental difference between the elite companies who are driving a customer service culture and the rest lies in the attitude of its leaders.

The leaders who are really successful are patient. They understand that building a customer service culture in an organization isn’t a side project, but a long-term commitment that requires a fundamental shift, such that service becomes a way of doing business and becomes integrated into everything the company does.

About Jeff Toister

Jeff Toister is the founder of Toister Performance Solutions, a company that helps customer service teams unlock their hidden potential through culture development, surveys, and employee training. In addition to that, he is also an author of two books, The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Service and Service Failure: The Real Reasons Employees Struggle with Customer Service and What You Can Do About It, and has published several customer service courses on