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OTHER VOICES: Take a walk in customer support center’s shoes

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(Photo courtesy of Shep Hyken)
Shep Hyken

By Shep Hyken

ST. LOUIS (April 18, 2014) — No doubt that customer service is a great differentiator.

This is especially true in a world where customers, depending on what they need, have many choices of businesses to choose from, all selling similar, if not exactly the same, products and services.

OK, that’s most likely nothing new to you. And if you’ve been following my work, you know that I’m a fan of every employee being a part of customer service—not just the customer service department or others on the front line. Some companies take this to a higher level than others.

Here’s an interesting story to make the point. Olark is a Web-hosting company that was started back in 1998. The founders immediately recognized that delivering great service would differentiate them from their competition.

The two guys that started the company, Ben Congleton and Roland Osborn, realized that one person couldn’t handle all of the customer service calls, so they decided to share the responsibility evenly between them. As the company became more successful and added employees, they continued to split the customer service function among all employees. They actually named this practice “All Hands Support.”

Customer service was part of their culture.

This idea is brilliant, as everyone employed at Olark learns just how important customer service is at many levels. They learn about customers, they hear about all of the different issues and problems, and they have an opportunity to see how their responsibilities can impact the customer experience.

Years ago I wrote about Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. executives who would take one day out of each quarter to spend with a sales rep in the field. This gave them a better understanding of their customers. “Undercover Boss,” the popular TV show, demonstrates just how important it is for higher level executives to experience what happens in the field and on the front line. In many cases, the boss finds it to be an eye opening experience.

But, that’s just for the leadership of the company. What about the rest of the organization? Why can’t everyone—like the employees do at Olark—experience what it’s like on the front line, dealing directly with customers? What kind of reaction do you think your employees would have when they discover, first-hand, the reactions of your customers to your products and customer service?

Imagine the guy who boxes up the product on the phone with a customer who received a product that was missing parts. Or someone from the accounts receivable department on the phone with a customer who has been overcharged.

If even for just a few hours every few months, consider giving all employees an opportunity to walk in the customer support center’s shoes. It could only help everyone understand just how important their roles and responsibilities are to the customer experience.

Shep Hyken is a St. Louis-based customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times bestselling business author who periodically contributes columns to Tire Business. He can be reached at 314-692-2200 or via his website at Information on his customer service training programs is available at This piece originally appeared in his e-newsletter, The Shepard Letter.

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