8 Steps to Lead & Inspire Your Customer Service Team in 2022
Leadership. The sixth President of the United States put it best.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
Isn’t this what we look for from our leaders? Whether they are the President, our manager, our coach, or our corporate senior staff, we look for leadership and inspiration.
For someone out there, you may be that person who is expected to provide inspirational leadership. It can be a heavy burden when others expect more from you than perhaps you believe you can provide. Hey, no one ever said being a leader was easy! In the pandemic world we live in today, demonstrating inspirational leadership has never been so hard, or so necessary.
You see, if you cannot inspire others, you simply cannot lead. If you cannot lead, it is unlikely you will succeed.
“The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity…out of discord, harmony…and out of difficulty, opportunity.” - Albert Einstein
Here are 8 things you can do to be the inspiring leader that your team is looking for, and the leader that you aspire to be.
1. Listen to understand and not just to reply
2. Be transparent
3. Lead by example
4. Empower your team
5. Foster a culture of open and regular communications
6. Enable your team with the support and tools they need to succeed
7. Hold team members accountable for actions and results
8. Show empathy
I. Listen to understand and not just to reply
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen Covey
Listening to understand is a skill. It does not come naturally to a lot of people. It takes concentration and practice. It can be hard to really listen, to hold back the urge to reply, to understand what the person speaking is trying to communicate and why. Instead of giving our full attention to listening and understanding what is being said, we often are thinking about how we are going to respond. This lack of focus on the part of the listener can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and confusion. The first, most basic quality that an inspirational leader needs are good listening skills, with the ability to listen to understand and not just to reply.
II. Be transparent
"Trust happens when leaders are transparent." - Jack Welch
Transparency means openly and honestly providing important information to stakeholders. This is a key ingredient to inspirational leadership. A leader’s responsibility is to motivate people to follow them, to get behind their vision and goals, to trust them. When a leader is transparent their team will become more engaged and more comfortable openly asking questions. Transparency results in increased employee retention. In the era of the “Great Resignation”, where employees are quitting their jobs at a record pace, being transparent can help a leader to retain their most valuable people.
Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia is a great example of a leader who had embraced transparency and the importance of leading by example. In her article 8 examples of transparent leaders to follow, Laura MacPherson writes,
“Patagonia's Founder Yvon Choinard ran the company for more than 40 years and held firm to the importance of leading by example. Transparent leaders are willing to go first in order to enact real change. One of his key business tenets is to do what you hope others would do first.”
III. Lead by example
“The three most important ways to lead people are… by example… by example… by example.” - Albert Schweitzer
Leading by example validates your vision and beliefs through your actions and behavior. It creates a path that your team can follow to work on common goals and purpose. You inspire others to emulate you, which is a core tenet of inspirational leadership. There is no faster way to earn a team’s respect and trust than to lead by example. History is filled with examples of leaders who led by example. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Bill Gates and Michael Jordan to name a few.
Leading by example can happen anywhere within an organization. A supervisor or manager facing a fast-approaching deadline who “roll up their sleeves” and work side-by-side with their team to get the job done on time is one example. Listening to understand and not just reply sends a powerful message to your team that this is how you expect them to behave. Empowering your team to do what’s required to be successful encourages them to do the same with those they depend on.
IV. Empower your team
"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." - General George S. Patton
A true leader establishes a work environment that empowers people to take responsibility and do the right thing. Running a highly efficient, highly controlled customer service team does not necessarily result in high Net Promoter Score (NPS) and customer satisfaction scores (CSAT). Requiring customer service teams to get approval from their manager for routine customer requests adds a time delay to the customer transaction and demeans the ability of a representative, making them feel less trusted to make the right decision, less empowered, less engaged, and less effectual in their mission to deliver a positive customer experience. Measuring a customer service team only by time efficiency, internally focused metrics, and not by customer focused metrics such as customer effort (CE) and customer satisfaction (CSAT) demotivates customer service teams, making them feel more like cogs in a wheel rather than customer advocates. To make customer service feel accountable for their actions they must first be empowered and have more control over their world. That is what inspiring leaders do.
V. Foster a culture of open and regular communication
“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” - Lee Iacocca
Open and clear communication flow is essential for a team to feel empowered. It starts with leadership. When leaders are transparent, unencumbered communication is a natural byproduct. True leaders have mastered listening to understand and not just to respond. This behavior encourages teams to freely communicate amongst themselves and to leadership. It is important for the team to be heard without fear of judgement.
Leaders should facilitate communication of the company’s mission, values, goals, objectives, strategies, and results. This information should flow harmoniously throughout the organization at regular intervals, with status updates. Town hall meetings are a good vehicle to give and receive information and should occur at regular intervals. Leaders should also schedule regular get-togethers with their respective teams, as well as one-on-one meetings with their direct reports. The team get-together provides a forum for collective thinking and sharing of ideas and opinions. The one-on-one meetings are an opportunity for listening, coaching, and showing support.
VI. Enable your team with the support and tools they need to succeed
"Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them." - Steve Jobs
Success is contagious. It inspires individuals and teams. The key is to foster a climate where success is shared. Individuals are successful in part because of the support they receive from their leaders and from the rest of the team. Teams are successful because of the contributions made by everyone on the team. As a leader your primary responsibility is to enable your teams with the support and tools they need to succeed. Success is defined by achieving your collective mission, goals, and objectives. It is your responsibility to assess what your teams need and to convince others in a supporting role of the importance of their contribution to the team’s overall success. As an inspiring leader your role is to be able to sell the team’s story to others.
VII. Hold team members accountable for actions and results
"Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses." - George Washington Carver
As a leader it is critically important to hold team members accountable for their actions and for results. Assigning responsibility and not holding those responsible accountable for results is pointless. There are few things that are more demotivating to a team than this. Holding team members accountable for actions and results is an opportunity for coaching, learning, improvement, and praise.
Risk taking doesn’t always result in success, but without it some of the best ideas in business would never have been realized. On the other hand, making excuses for lack of action and results will not be tolerated by the team. As a leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that praise is delivered when earned and disapproval is communicated when deserved.
So how do you hold people accountable?
Jim Schleckser, CEO of Inc. CEO Project outlines how in an Inc. article entitled 3 Simple Steps To Hold People Accountable. Here are excerpts from his article.
1. “Be clear. Many times the reason you aren't getting the best performance from your people is because you're not crystal clear about what you want them to do. You know what you want them to do inside your head. But until we all have the benefit of ESP-type mind reading, it's your job to communicate exactly what you want your people to do.”
2. “Follow up regularly. While checking in with your people seems like an obvious thing to do, it's amazing how often it gets overlooked when you get busy fighting the daily fires inside your business. What sounds simple to do is actually devilishly hard. But if you want to build accountability then you need to establish a cadence of meetings with your team where you review that printed set of objectives in a regular basis--maybe every two weeks or every month.”
3. “Share the brutal truth--and then coach. One of the things that we all struggle with is realistically assessing how we are performing relative to our goals. We tend to be overly optimistic about what we can achieve. That's why when I hold my update meetings, I take on the mindset of an objective outsider who might be called in to evaluate a project. That way, I can talk in brutally realistic terms about whether something is on time or not--and then talk about what someone might need to get back on schedule.”
VIII. Show empathy
“Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.” - Oprah Winfrey
Leaders that show empathy are leaders that people trust, follow, and admire. Empathy is a quality that can make a positive difference with your team and your customers in times of uncertainty, anxiety, and stress. Those who work for us and with us are looking for empathy. Empathy is a calming, reassuring and compassionate force. Good listening skills are a prerequisite for empathy, which is where this article started. It all comes full circle.
In my long career I have only worked with a few leaders that embody all eight leadership qualities. Sure, I have worked for and with many good leaders. But the truly exceptional leaders, the ones that inspire, the ones that made me want to excel and be better, are the ones that I will tell stories about to those that I want to lead and inspire. They are the ones whose “actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more.”
I am dedicating this article to the late George P. Dannecker, the most inspiring leader that I have had the privilege to know and work for.
To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service experiences that drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue and profit, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.
Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.
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