6 Essential Rules on How To Deliver Kickass Customer Service (part 2 of 2)

(The second of a two-part series on AWESOME CUSTOMER SERVICE, part one can be found here)

Before we proceed to rules 4, 5, and 6, let’s do some definition of terms first.

There are two types of culture in a given organization: there is the EXPRESSED culture, and there is the ACTUAL culture. 

The expressed culture is what you see on Mission-Vision-Values statements or in organization “credos.” It is the culture that companies WANT their companies to be defined by.

The actual culture is, obviously, what your organization is really like.

To hardcore HR practitioners, the technical terms are actually “presumed” vs. “actual” HR. But I think “expressed” is a bit more descriptive than “presumed.” Expressed culture is the culture organizations SAY they have. 

My underlying theory here in these articles is simple: producing documents and expressions are not enough. You need to be able to consciously MANAGE culture to have any effect on the ACTUAL culture.

What does this have to do with customer service?


This flows now into rule #4:

By the Horns

4) Take culture by the horns

If you want to deliver kickass customer service, then it has to be ingrained in your ACTUAL culture. For this to happen, you have to consciously create a customer service culture.

You need to talk about it all the time with your employees, and say stuff like, “how do you think this affects our culture?” or “does this employee fit our culture?” or “we can’t do that, it’s against our customer service culture.”

You need to put visual cues on the wall. You need to make “creating a service culture” a key objective for your managers.

If awesome customer service becomes part of the norm, then you will easily see everyone in the organization “policing” themselves.

If everyone literally frowned upon telephones kept ringing, or delivering slow service, or lack of enthusiasm, then guess what – then it won’t happen.

A very powerful tactic is on anchoring a culture on a certain “rallying point.” (think war drums or a coxswain)

This deserves its own rule:


5) Create a Customer Service Mantra


This word is what our employees are given as an objective – the customer should be so inclined to express “hanep!” after transacting with them.

Rather than describing to our employees what awesome customer service is with jargon-filled definitions and scenarios, we just ask them to deliver “hanep!” (the second rule is extremely important in making this one happen)

This makes awesome customer service seem very real and very simple to our guys.


6) Never Fail to Reward and Recognize

Norms are created in an organization largely because of simple operant conditioning – the norm is positively or negatively reinforced.

If rule 2 is strictly followed, the need to do negative reinforcement (punishment) is lessened. We can then concentrate on positive reinforcement. (Much admired billionaire investor Warren Buffet is renowned for never using negative reinforcement and always giving positive reinforcement)

First, you have to REWARD your customer service personnel well. Since you are hiring empathic problem solvers, and not parrots – you have to pay them as such. Incentivize great customer service. Remember rule 1: this is an investment. While perhaps at first you may be paying more than you bargained for, done right should give you a very nice return. Remember, people are starved for good customer service.

Second,  always remember that you should never fail to grab an opportunity to recognize good customer service rendered by your employees. It has been WELL DOCUMENTED that recognition – praising others – goes a long, long way in motivating people. Do this publicly.

Bonus Rule: Read Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness

There was a time we were using scripts and carried on with customer service using practices garnered from BPO firms.

When I finished reading this book, I had a “stop the presses!” moment and met with our team. We needed to change everything. (the audio book’s pretty cool despite Tony’s sleepy-hypnotic voice)

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6 Essential Rules on How to Deliver Kickass Customer Service (Part 1 of 2)

Much of my opinions here are based on my own journey in helping build STORM‘s customer service function. (This is obviously a work in progress) Since STORM services thousands of employees across a growing number of firms, we had to make sure from the onset we were making the right choices as far as customer service is concerned.

Here’s what I’ve been learning on how to build truly differentiated customer service. As a startup or an SME (versus my experience in my previous life in HR of bigger firms), you will have a much greater chance of building a culture that’s TRULY centered on customer service.

First 3 rules below, next 3 up in the next post!


1) At the very beginning, DECIDE that customer service will be a priority

This first tip is the most important one. Your startup HAS TO DECIDE to make customer service a priority. Then you have to commit.

This is much easier said than done.

There will be a lot of cases wherein you will be tempted to look back on this decision and compromise – very typically to save money.

For example, as we have been growing in STORM, we have been increasing the number of people in our customer support group. We follow certain ratios which we believe lead to great customer service: such as “one person should not support more than 1000 people” or “one person should not support more than 3 clients.”

As we experienced further growth however, we inevitably were forced to confront the question: in the name of right “scaling,” do we compromise on our ratios? Do we overload our current team to save a significant amount of money in hiring?

We always went back to our initial decision: since customer service IS a priority, then no, we will not compromise on our ratios and our service levels. We figured, if we truly wanted to make customer service as a differentiating competitive advantage, then we CANNOT compromise.

A short-term, traditional thinker would always opt to choose the money.

If you, however, want to really hone in on customer service, and if you see the strategic value of doing so, then you bite the bullet and spend.


2) Recruit the right team

This is another tip that’s very hard to actually implement. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in forming a customer-focused servicing team:

– Hire happy people. If you feel bad vibes during the interview process, don’t second-guess your intuition. The airplane test (if you were stuck in an airport, would you enjoy hanging around with this person?) works especially well with customer service.

– Hire empathic people. The book Strengthsfinder has a good description of what to look for. These guys are naturally able to put themselves in the shoes of the client and say the right things.  Hunt for these people.

– Be extra cautious with hiring ex-BPO employees. This seems to be counter-intuitive, after all, aren’t customer service what BPO companies do best? That’s what we thought also – so we hired a number of BPO people for our own customer service team. Then a pattern began to show – we were having problems with them.

Of course, we have to be careful in judging and making hasty generalizations, but this was the pattern we experienced. Perhaps it’s because people from the BPO sector are so used to “traditional” customer service practices – scripts, the faster calls are done the better, having little real freedom to solve problems for the caller – that they get thrown off when we tell them to do something very different. In any case, when you do hire one, you have to make the person realize your definition of “customer service” is vastly different from where they came from.

(for one thing, a company who’s TRULY invested in customer service and considers it a value and its CORE business would NEVER outsource customer service to another company. Think of the companies you would associate with “great customer service” – I bet not one of them outsources it)  

– Make the TEAM do the recruitment. Eventually, as you hire happy and empathic people and putting them on one team, something interesting occurs. By the very nature of their personalities (if you recruited well) and shared work, they become a close-knit group.  Instead of force-feeding people you (or your HR) select in that close-knit group, make this GROUP decide if they feel someone is a fit to join them.


3) Empower and Trust

Once you’ve hired happy, empathic, helpful problem solvers to work in your customer service team, you have to:

Empower  them – they need to be able to have enough resources and accessibility at their disposal that will allow them to REALLY solve problems.

Give them access to decision makers in every department in your firm which affects your service. Give them access to complete client data. Give them enough rope to make calls. Here’s a biggie: give them enough freedom to exercise their natural THOUGHTFULNESS for the clients they service.

If we delivered the wrong item to the customer, aside from apologizing and explaining to her what happened, can we also give the right item to her for free?

If the customer waited 20 minutes for his food, will the customer appreciate a 50% discount? 

In order to be truly effective, your guys need to be able have the freedom to make thoughtful decisions like this.

Once they are sufficiently empowered, you now have to TRUST that they will do the right thing. Then just let them do their jobs. Don’t pressure them in a way that they second-guess their decisions.

NO SCRIPTS. No process map. Nothing canned. (we already know these suck when they are used on us, right?)

Let the good people you hire service your clients uniquely. This is what we expect and want when we call any customer service hotline or go to a service center right? We have a unique problem we need help in solving. We have particular needs. We want information as to what’s REALLY happening. We want people to be honest and upfront. We want people truly talking and trying to solve our problems – not be bombarded by scripts we can smell a mile away.

You want to meet (and exceed) these expectations? Then nothing should be canned. You need to empower problem-solvers and give them the needed leeway to their jobs (and more).

3 more rules next post!

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Don’t Be A Customer Service Cliche!


A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting in line at a Toyota Service center, waiting for someone to estimate the costs for the damages done to my car. (by a brake-free 20-wheel truck going down a flyover – but that’s another story) I waited around one hour. Then, someone signalled for me to proceed to a chair in front of an assessment officer’s desk. I waited for around 30 minutes more.

Wait, was there no one at the desk, you ask?

That’s the unbelievable part! There WAS SOMEONE at the desk. I was ignored for 30 minutes as he was doing something else (picture below). Then, once he finished whatever paperwork he was doing, ONLY THEN DID HE LOOK AT ME to say, “Can I help you sir?”


I find it just amazing that virtually ALL companies have “Customer Service” as a Company Value. A number state these values on a huge wall in their offices or sites. This obviously means that Customer Service is something that companies take very seriously right?

In light of this, isn’t it funny how we just brace ourselves when we need to call a customer service hotline, or cue up at some customer service desk? Don’t we all have stories such as the one I narrated above?

(Sadly) We EXPECT bad service.

If I only had a ketchup bottle in the picture above…

Please, please, promise me you won’t be a customer service cliche as you service the clients of your startup/business.

Our country now has such low expectations when it comes to being serviced properly. There is a big opportunity to stand out as a provider of awesome customer service.

NEXT POST: Tips on how to build a kickass customer servicing team! 

Dare to be Different…like Tita Moning

I still remember my first visit to LaCocina de Tita Moning when my wife took me there around five years ago.



It was such an experience.

A few days before our planned dinner, Pauline asked me what I wanted to order, which I found a little weird.

Uhm…so can’t we just order from the menu when we’re there, just like every other restaurant?

Apparently not. This restaurant does not accept walk-ins. You have to call them a full 24 hours before your planned meal to preorder your food. Oh, and there’s not much to choose from. There are only 12 set menus, so you just choose once. That’s it.

These items alone made them different from 99.9 percent of the food places I knew, and even before I set foot in their premises, it was already making quite the impression on me.

Finally, we got to the place. It was near Malacanang.

The place itself did not look anything like a restaurant. It was an ancestral home and I felt like I was in another era. With good service, too. From the moment we entered the gate, someone was serving us, helping us park our car, and leading us to an al fresco foyer, where we had tea and some appetizer.

The server then asked us if we were ready to eat, or if we wanted to explore the house first.

Explore the house?! Pancake House has never asked me if I wanted to explore their house before. This was new. And therefore this was exciting.

Apparently, the house was also a museum. We proceeded to explore several rooms ogling different vintage furniture and radio equipment.

Finally, it was time to eat and we were brought to a grand dining area, where the other guests were.

We partook of our set meals in grand style. When we were having dessert, we were handed a guest book by the waiter who asked us to put a dedication. Then, our waiter called the cook and some of the other members of their staff, who then posed with us while our waiter took our picture. Not the sort of thing you see in Jollibee. The waiter then explained that this picture would be uploaded to their website the day after. (you’ve got some restos doing this now, but 5 years ago, this was unprecedented)

It was an amazing and a totally unique experience that someone designed. An experience someone took great care to execute and deliver.

To rise above the noise of today’s information-saturated world, you have to be memorable, magical, unique.

How can your startup be like Tita Moning?

Postscript: Oh, and food was just superb! Best bread pudding ever!

Postscript 2: No, they aren’t paying me to do this. Maybe someone can send pudding…