Be there for your customers when they need you the most–after they go home.
The best businesses are ready to take responsibility for our problems, our needs, and the relationship they have with us. They meet us at the door. They return a text immediately. They answer the phone. They empathize with us, do the job we need to be done, and then follow up to make sure it was done right. All of this conveys that we are important to them, and it goes a long way toward earning our loyalty.
Empathy (the first of the Three Core Loyalty Principles) means understanding other people so they feel valued, while responsibility (the second of the Three Core Loyalty Principles) is taking ownership for the actions that follow that understanding to help people achieve their goals. Showing empathy without demonstrating responsibility is unlikely to earn another’s loyalty—let alone their loyalty.
What Does Responsibility Look Like?
A commitment of the heart means we care about our customer’s problem. A commitment of the head means we know what to do about it. And a commitment of the hands means we are willing to do what’s necessary to solve it. That’s responsibility.
A shrug is the universal sign of indifference, and there are many symbolic ways to convey that indifference: an endless telephone hold, getting no response to an email you’ve sent. A shrug, whether literal or figurative, tells customers they are not valued. It’s the “not my responsibility” mindset that destroys loyalty. Loyalty requires us to shift our thinking from “Not my job” to "It’s all my job!”
Beyond the shrug of indifference, there are two other ways we see organizations miss taking responsibility and, therefore, miss the opportunity to build loyalty. First, they focus on touchpoint metrics; and second, they set up what we call “maze systems.”
It’s common for companies to identify what we call “touchpoints” in the customer relationship—those times when they come in contact with their customers. They measure customer reactions at those touchpoints to arrive at a “customer delight” score. Most of the time, these touchpoint scores are pretty good and, as a result, many companies feel great about their level of customer delight.
Researchers at McKinsey ran into a problem with touchpoint measures. They found that overall customer-experience scores run about 40 percent lower than what touchpoint scores indicate. It turns out that touchpoints are only part of the story. The rest of the story? It’s what happens when the customer leaves the touchpoint and goes home to their new reality.
- The new garden rake loses its head during its first use.
- The new Wi-Fi router only works from inside the closet.
- The cell phone bill is a third higher than it should have been.
When confronted with these “after the fact” situations, some customers just do their own shrug of indifference. They don’t bother to follow up, call for help, or return the item. Perhaps they feel the problem isn’t worth fussing about, but this could also be a reflection of how little faith they have in our willingness to take responsibility for their problem. At these critical moments, taking responsibility for customers’ issues, needs, challenges, or questions is an excellent opportunity to differentiate ourselves.
In addition to a misguided focus on touchpoint customer-service metrics (rather than the customer’s whole journey with your organization to complete a task), many companies create “maze systems” in an effort to increase efficiency. These systems may be set up with the intent to get customers to the right department, but they feel like mazes. And while it’s fun to run through a garden maze, it’s not fun to stumble through the mazes companies create to “help” their customers solve problems. For example, there are policies for deciding when to escalate a problem to a manager who, in turn, is given a checklist before escalating to an even higher manager. We all know firsthand how aggravating this can be. “Why can’t the person I’m now talking to solve my problem?”
While we may not be able to influence our entire organization’s systems, we can individually choose to take responsibility for our customers. Customers need to get what they came to us for. If they don’t, we’re not taking ownership of their problem. Responsibility is one of the most important principles for earning and retaining the loyalty of others. First, take time to empathize, connect with, and listen to your customer. Then take responsibility for their needs.
Leader Application–The Principle of Responsibility
You can create teams of highly responsible people through your leadership, and if you hire new team members, you can look to bring on people who naturally take responsibility.
Leading Your Team
As managers, we are responsible for responsibility. Our own behavior becomes the standard for our team to follow, and when they see us taking responsibility for customer issues, they will find it easier to do it themselves.
Often the more responsibility we give to team members, the more loyal they become to us as leaders. When others trust us, we rise to the occasion. When team members know we trust them with customers, they feel more responsibility to the customer and to us. They become more engaged in their work and in finding solutions.
How far should we trust team members to be responsible for customers? We’re not advocating that you hand new employees the keys to the kingdom and hope they come through for you. We believe that you have to evaluate the circumstance and the employee, set very clear expectations, equip your team with the resources and structure, then let them do their job.
Here are a few tips for creating a culture of responsibility on your team:
Ask yourself, “Am I a responsible person?” We need to reflect on our own performance, both past, and present. Delegation is an important part of any leader’s role; we just need to make sure we are delegating the right things. Are we the kind of leaders who can take the blame when things go wrong and give credit when things go right?
Step up and take responsibility. Team members are more willing to do any job they’re asked to do if they see us doing the same. When they see us clean the floor or carry a customer’s purchases to her car, they notice. It’s important that we truly model the principle of responsibility.
Trust your team. We need to appropriately equip our team with training, resources, systems, and expectations. Trust them to do their jobs. Understand that there might be failures. Make sure the expectations we set were clear enough, that the resources were available, and that the systems in place aren’t sabotaging our team.
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