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Policy Manual Out the WIndowAs I travel the world and work with clients from all types of industries, they all recognize the importance of customer service and the role it plays in marketing, sales, growth and revenue. I continue to push my philosophy:

Customer service is not a department. It’s a philosophy to be embraced by every member of an organization, from the CEO to the most recently hired.

When asked how to do that, the conversation always shifts to creating a customer-focused culture. That means every decision is made with the customer in mind. In addition, everyone in the organization understands their role in the overarching customer service strategy and the entire customer experience (CX). The best companies create policies and procedures that are customer focused. They train their people – all of their people, not just the front line – to the culture. Many times there is a playbook that clearly explains how to handle certain situations, issues, problems and complaints. This is essential to the training. Yet, it is from this point I want to go to a higher level.

Culture is about philosophy, not policy.

We learn a lot in training. Even our onsite trainers and online courses teach the “how to” in many situations. But in the end, it’s not always about what we’ve been taught. It’s not about the specific techniques we learn in role play. No, it’s about simply doing the right thing. Some might think this hard to teach, yet I’ll argue that it may not be as hard as one might think.

Here are the steps for doing the right thing:

  1. You have to have the right people to begin with. Two parts to this. First, the leadership team must create a culture. Second, you must hire people with a mindset that is in alignment with your customer-focused culture.
  2. Everyone must understand the basics. Before you can empower people to do the right thing, they have a base of knowledge to work from. Therefore, everyone must go through basic customer service training that is tied to their specific roles in the company.
  3. Let people do the right thing on their own. You want employees to make their own decisions. Train them in the basics and include guidelines and suggestions. Share stories of how the philosophy of customer service trumps a policy. Prove that the employees don’t have to seek out a manager for approval every time they are making a customer-focused decision.
  4. When employees do the right thing or go too far, both are teachable moments. Take advantage and give feedback to individual employees, and use these examples to teach others.
  5. Consistently praise good decisions. This ties into the feedback just mentioned. Consistently praising good decisions removes employees’ self-imposed boundaries of what they think they can and cannot do.
  6. Stay in alignment. Sustaining a customer-focused culture is not easy. You can’t announce it and expect it to take hold. You can’t train everyone once and expect everything to change on a dime. Various groups within an organization will be trained more often than others, but everyone needs to be reminded on a regular basis.
While this may be an oversimplification of a process to push philosophy over policy, it makes sense. And while I believe that philosophy trumps policy, there are still boundaries, which is why it’s important to hire the right people and train them in the philosophy. And once you’re there, you and your customers will reap the benefit of an organization that roots itself in a customer-focused philosophy.

Shep Hyken is a customer service/CX expert, award-winning keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling author. Learn more about Shep’s customer service and customer experience keynote speeches and his customer service training workshops at Connect with Shep on LinkedIn.

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