When I was 16, I used to work at a restaurant as a hostess. Unfortunately, it ended up becoming a toxic work environment because of the culture.

While restaurants are supposed to run off a "customer first" approach, the work environment didn't inspire employees to put the customer first.

In fact, employees were unhappy with how management treated them, which in turn impacted how they performed at their jobs. Including me.

That's why creating a strong customer service culture is important.

Shep Hyken, a customer service expert, accurately observed, "The reason an organization can deliver good or bad customer service comes down to one thing; what is happening on the inside of that organization. To sum it up in one word: culture."

In this post, let's review what a customer service culture is, how to build one, and examples to inspire your own culture.

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I know this might sound vague or conceptual, however, it's important to be intentional about your customer service culture. Whether you work on your culture or not, it's there. That's why it's better to cultivate a strong culture.

Below, let's dive into the actionable steps you can take to create a strong customer service culture that puts the customer first.

1. Hire for culture.

To get started with your customer service culture, you'll need to look inward.

In fact, the most tangible thing you can do to create a positive customer service culture is hire the right people who embody your values.

When you're hiring employees, besides having the right experience and skills, you should ask questions that can help you determine if it's a good culture fit.

This means that you ask questions about your values. You could ask a question like, "Tell me about a time when you had to be adaptable in the workplace?"

For example, at HubSpot, our values are HEART (humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable, and transparent). Those values play a large role in who we hire.

To get started, take a look at your values. If you don't have them written down, think about the type of workplace you want to cultivate.

2. Treat your employees well.

Again, one of the only ways to build a strong customer service culture is to evaluate yourself. Ask yourself, "How do we treat employees?" and "If I were an entry-level employee, would I want to work here?"

Happy employees want to perform well. They want to do right by the company. To make sure your employees are happy, consider your benefits. Do your benefits communicate respect and make your employees feel heard?

If your benefits don't take your employees into consideration, they aren't happy about it.

Additionally, culture comes from the top. If your leadership team truly embodies your values, employees will be proud of where they work and they'll be happy coming to work.

While not every employee will love what they do, it's important that they respect and trust their employer. If these foundational elements aren't met, you'll create a toxic work environment like the one I described above.

3. Create camaraderie on your team.

To truly achieve a customer-oriented service culture, it's important to create camaraderie on your team.

For people to do their best work, they have to enjoy the people they work with and view their job as a team effort.

One way to do this is to participate in team-building activities that will bond your team. By creating a teamwork environment, your employees are more likely to value the team over the individual, which is the first step to creating a customer-oriented team.

4. Build psychological safety on your team.

We've written about building psychological safety on your team before (here, here, and here), but it bears repeating.

If your team doesn't have psychological safety, they won't feel empowered to try new things or communicate effectively.

This means that people might try to hide the fact that they made a mistake. To truly empower your employees, they have to feel safe at work. They should feel safe to make mistakes and learn.

To build psychological safety, you can work on inclusion in your team meetings or conduct team activities that are meant to help build camaraderie.

With psychological safety, employees will have the freedom to provide constructive feedback. This means that you have to listen to your employees and take their feedback seriously.

5. Invest in professional development.

Most of these tips are centered around your employees. That's because your employees are the ones who have to live and breathe your culture every day for it to reach your customers.

This means that you have to invest in your employees. For them to continuously create a positive customer service culture, they should have the proper training and know what your company stands for.

Plus, they have to be knowledgable about your product or service. To empower them to do this, you should be providing continuous professional development opportunities.

6. Reward and provide feedback for employees.

Your customer service culture should incentivize employees to follow through on your values in their interactions with your customers.

To do this, reward employees who are providing excellent customer service and tell them what they're doing right.

On the other hand, if employees aren't quite grasping a concept, provide constructive feedback so they can improve.

By doing this, you'll help reinforce what you want your customer service culture to be.

7. Define and reinforce your culture.

Not to get too rudimentary, but your customer service culture should be written down. You should have your values, mission, and vision written out and clearly communicated to employees and customers.

This means that your managers and employees will have a guiding philosophy to help them make decisions. Plus, it helps inform customers what you're hoping to achieve so they can provide feedback.

So, you might be wondering, "What does this look like in action?" Let's review some examples below.

Customer Service Culture Examples

1. HubSpot

At HubSpot, creating a strong customer service culture is important.

That's why our co-founder, Dharmesh Shah, took the time to write it down in the HubSpot Culture Code.

According to Shah, "Like HubSpot, the Culture Code is a perpetual ‘work in progress,' so we'll update it periodically. To date, we've updated it more than 25 times, and what you see is our latest version. It is a culture of amazing, growth-minded people whose values include using good judgment and solving for the customer. Employees who work at HubSpot have HEART: Humble, Empathetic, Adaptable, Remarkable, Transparent."

By publishing and talking about our customer service culture, both employees and our customers understand what we stand for. That creates a sense of belonging on the team.

2. Zappos

When I studied Organizational Communication in my undergrad, Zappos was the first company I researched.

It's well known for providing excellent customer service, even if that means helping a customer with a problem that has nothing to do with a Zappos order.

Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, says, "To me, the Zappos culture embodies many different elements. It's about always looking for new ways to WOW everyone we come in contact with. It's about building relationships where we treat each other like family. It's about teamwork and having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously. It's about growth, both personal and professional. It's about achieving the impossible with fewer people. It's about openness, taking risks, and not being afraid to make mistakes. It's about being part of a story that never stops unfolding. And it's about having faith that if we do the right thing, then, in the long run, we will be a part of building something great."

If you'll notice, both HubSpot and Zappos has founders who are passionate about their customer service culture. Both companies discuss it and have been intentional about creating a positive environment for both employees and customers.

Hsieh added, "Unlike most companies, where core values are just a plaque on the wall, our core values play a big part in how we hire, train, and develop our employees."

3. Slack

Creating a company culture has to be a work in progress. Slack understands this and they've worked to improve their company culture throughout the years.

In fact, they said that company culture is something that needs to be intentional because letting culture form unchecked can vary between fair to disastrous.

At Slack, they value diligence, curiosity, and empathy. Nolan Caudill, the previous Engineering Chief of Staff, said, "At Slack, we want to work with people that have the skills to do their job and the gumption to do it well. They possess great empathy, as designing and building a great product is made up of countless acts of empathy, not only for the users but for those you do the work alongside. Diligence, persistence, an unrelenting bull-headed pursuit of Quality — this drive is what compels the kind of person we look for."

Again, it's made clear that at Slack, they hire for their culture.

All these companies take culture seriously and have it embedded in their strategies. It's important to note that these examples can provide inspiration, but they shouldn't be copied exactly.

You have to take a look at your company and see what works for you. To really get started on customer service culture, look inward, and evaluate how your team functions.

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Originally published Jul 1, 2020 5:00:00 AM, updated June 15 2021


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