Why Every Department Should be the Customer Service Department

I’ve always believed in excellent customer service. In 22 years as founder and CEO running various start-ups, I sensed all along that this was something inherent in me.

But I also had a nagging question: what if that vision isn’t grand enough?

Over the years, I’ve put a lot of time into personal development and counselling because I value the insight it gives. It has helped me to understand my professional and personal side, and how both aspects feed into each other.

Some people might be driven by processes and profit, and so the businesses they lead tend to reflect that mindset. Others might be empathetic, and that ethos is there to see in the organisations they build.

Working on myself has made me realise that I’m a people pleaser; it’s in my DNA. And so I took that approach into all of the businesses I’ve been involved in. I’m passionate in the belief that if you do a good job for a customer, they’ll be with you for life.

But I wasn’t always confident about communicating that obsession about customer service with others.

Two years ago, my chairman Johnny Fortune suggested that I should go on the Timoney Leadership Institute’s Advanced Leadership Programme. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

The importance of core values

A key part of the programme that resonated strongly with me was discussing case studies of other successful businesses. It became clear that those companies had a set of core values that were authentic to them, and would guide them when making important decisions.

Just as importantly, those companies also took the time to communicate the vision and values to the wider team. That part is so important, and yet many companies either overlook this, or else their vision is so complicated that it’s hard to explain easily.

Another thing I learned is that, sometimes, people can work for an organisation and not know what the purpose, vision is, or goals are. But when that happens, how can a business expect its people to live out those values?

Taking part in the Timoney programme reinforced my belief in the vision of Kollect, the business I lead, whose vision is to make it simple for people to get waste collected and recycled globally. The programme underlined the importance of embedding that vision into the business. Our commitment to customer service is right there on the homepage of Kollect’s website: “your happiness is our number one goal”.

And although we have a customer service department at Kollect, it doesn’t just stop there. For us, it’s the backbone of the whole company and a barometer for how we’re performing. It’s the mindset everyone has, whether they work in logistics, sales, or finance.

Communicating the vision

So, every morning, our teams hold a quick meeting where we talk about the vision and the values, so that everyone understands what excellent customer service looks like. We talk about things like opportunities to create a “wow” moment through customer service.

When we see things through the customer’s eyes, and think about what excellence looks like to them, after a while we have found that people internalise that way of thinking themselves. And it’s amazing to listen to all the possibilities that come to the table.

It might be something as simple as when a customer calls our finance department with a query about an invoice. Firstly, how quickly can we respond when the phone rings? And then, can we give that customer the answer they’re looking for?

On a personal level, I never like seeing tasks open at the end of the working day because it means someone is waiting for some information. It doesn’t sit well with me. In life now, everyone wants to get information immediately. Communication is key to that. So if a customer’s order hasn’t arrived, we aim to keep them informed; it’s a relief to them and they no longer feel stressed.

Of course, with the best will in the world, sometimes we make mistakes. But those moments are also opportunities to learn and to do better. If a problem happens, and a customer contacts us through Twitter, or live chat, first we get back in touch with them, we acknowledge that something’s gone wrong, and we work to find a solution as quickly as possible.

We have found that when we do that, we gained that customer’s loyalty.

Measuring our performance

It’s worth saying that we also measure service through key performance indicators (KPIs), so there’s a science to what we do; it’s not just touchy-feely intangibles. For example, we track the number of five-star reviews our customers give us, and we measure average response rates on live chat or on the phone.

We also score where we can make improvements, such as when we get one star reviews, or the number of missed calls as a percentage of the total.

We’re transparent about the numbers so everyone in the company can see how the various departments are performing. Those KPIs are easy to communicate, and easy to understand.

We have 45 KPIs in all. As a leader, I don’t necessarily need to track all of them every morning on our meetings, but everyone on the team understands how each measure is connected to the vision and the mission for the business.

More recently, we made a subtle change to the vision by adding profitability. In the past, I had always thought that excellent customer service would drive revenue which in turn drives profitability. But examples from the case studies on the Timoney programme highlighted the importance of turning that unspoken goal into a stated aim.

Guiding our decision making

Before, when we were in growth phase as a startup, we made our share of mistakes around jumping in to different business lines – and we often lost money as a result. Now, adding this aim to our core values has guided our decision-making about getting into different business lines. It has helped to make us more cautious and slower to move into new areas because we’re asking the important question: how will that affect our profitability?

On a personal level, I also made another change since attending the Timoney programme. Having run my own businesses for 22 years, I was accustomed to being the one who talked the most whenever I was in meetings. I felt it was expected of me. But when I was part of a group of high-calibre business leaders, without that same expectation to speak, I found I was listening more.

I learned to be receptive to really good ideas coming from other people, and to resist the temptation to jump in quickly. Hearing from other businesses that are in a more mature phase of their growth helped me to pay attention to how they got there and what strategies worked for them.

Once your company gets to a certain stage, I learned that leaders don’t need to be so deeply involved at an operational level. Consequently, I’ve taken steps to become involved in fewer meetings than I used to be, I’m less vocal, and I delegate more.

My role is to be supportive. Now I’m more at ease with who I am. And I realise I can only lead an organisation based on my authentic self. In many ways, I’ve come to see that the role of leader is to be a cheerleader.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me at john@kollect.ie