Want your teams to excel? Treat them like customers. My 6 steps to Service Centred Leadership.


In the days when terms such as ‘job for life’ actually meant something it was easy to assume that management and leadership were at best a rite of passage as you coursed merrily along your career path and at worst a carte blanche to treat your subordinates just as badly as you were treated as you climbed the career ladder. Nowadays, we have to look at things slightly differently.

As managers and leaders we now have to look at our roles and skills sets as a product that we serve to our line reports and business colleagues on a day to day basis,  to help them meet critical business KPI’s. The sheer pace of work life, and the need for constant adaptation and agility requires huge levels of flexibility on the leader’s part, as the demands of our people shift and change from day to day. What they want form us one week is vastly different to the next and so we should treat them as consumers to ensure that the service we are giving meets their needs. Here are my 6 steps to providing better customer service for your teams:

1. Understand what products you have available to sell, and brush up your product knowledge

Your amassed experience, knowledge and development have given you a rich variety of management and leadership skills to draw from. Understand what they are, what their value is, and how they might appeal to your teams. Get feedback on them regularly and ensure that they are keeping up with the latest trends, and check out your competitors. What are your colleagues doing that you’re not? How can you develop them and make them your own? No retailer goes into business without a premium level of product knowledge, so why should you be any different

2. Ask more questions, and listen to the answers.

You need your teams to practice more autonomy, but you are quick to tell them what to do, and offer very little choice. It’s hardly surprising that over time they only after ask you for an answer, or try to second guess what your response would be, or worst of all just don’t come to you because you don’t offer what they need. So, ask more questions. What is the product they are looking for? By asking questions you will soon start to get a sense of what they need. It may be that they do need an answer, but they may equally have 3 or 4 scenarios that they want to play out with you so that they can make an educated decision themselves, or they really only want to work with you to understand the problem better, and get some great questions to ask themselves. If you only ever offer one ingredient, it’s little wonder that they always make the same recipe.

3. Treat each transaction like it’s the first time

Time with your teams is valuable and precious, and should never be wasted. Each time you meet a member of your team you have to bring the same zeal and energy you brought the first time you sat down and started working together. Understand what makes them tick, and use that to show you are truly engaged. If their family is important to them ask them about how they are doing. If they like to travel, ask them about where they are off to next. Be intrigued, curious, respectful, patient and understanding. Never, ever, indicate that this interaction is commonplace and you’ve been here before. The relationship is important, and it’s hard, I know, if things aren’t going to plan or the person concerned is underperforming, but customers need the most time and support when they are finding it hard, or the investment seems too high, so how you service your team here becomes even more important.

4. Recognise and reward loyalty

Now, I don’t mean length of service here. This is about their support for you. Your team are out there working hard, day in day out, to support you. Yes, they get paid, and maybe get some extra benefits, but if you’re a terrible leader, then they’ll be doing that in spite of you, not because of you. Recognise what they do for you, and that they stick with you, even when times are hard, because you offer great service and understand the pressures they are under. If they know that you’ve got their back, they’ll rally round and dig in when times are tough!

5. Be effective in your transactions

How frustrating is it when you get fantastic service from an assistant in a store, and then you go to pay and the whole thing come crashing down. You queue for ever and the person at the checkout doesn’t seem to even notice you are there? So, make sure you follow through. There’s no point being a great listener, a fantastic coach, or even a great decision maker if you then don’t follow through on anything you say you’ll get done, or worse still promise things that you simply can’t deliver. Broken promises are the sure fire way to get your team going to a competitor, and they will tell other people about the poor service they receive.

6. Own up to mistakes, and fix them quickly

Nobody is perfect. Everyone understands that. So if you do get something wrong, own up to it quickly and do whatever you need to do to put it right. There are just as many great customer service stories about how situations got fixed than there are simply about great service. Humility in leaders is a good quality, and generates humility in teams. If you do this then you’ll get far more problems dealt with quickly and efficiently by your team than if you try and cover things up and deny any wrongdoing.

Every one of us has the story we tell at dinner parties about when we got outstanding customer service (one I saw recently concerning a free packet of Haribo Starmix that created far more loyalty than the value of the product). Think this through and understand what it is that made it so special and apply this to how you work with your teams. You’ll be surprised what a difference it will make, and how much better you’ll feel as a result!

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