You’ve been there, right? You get excited about some program that’s going to change everything in your organization. You launch an “initiative,” roll it out to your team, get them all excited (or not) and then years, or even months later, people are trying to remember what that was all about.
Even worse, when you launch the next initiative, they all roll their eyes and secretly think, “This too will pass.” Often enough, it does.
Senior living leaders face this challenge when striving to build a culture of customer service excellence. Once you have an understanding that an increased focus on hospitality and resident experience is critical in today’s marketplace, how do you get past the “flavor-of-the-month” phenomenon and create a sustainable service culture?
The problem is that many leaders begin with training their team members. Training is a key part of the solution; however, to truly hardwire customer service into your culture, it starts with leadership.
Taking your resident and customer experience to the next great level is a commitment, and one that must be made by leaders at every level of the organization. Although the human resources department, for example, may be integral to the effort, when a “program” gets assigned to HR and other leaders don’t have a key role in driving the cultural shift, it remains a “program” in danger of being shelved with all the others.
So how do you lead your team to embrace hospitality and customer service excellence? Here are four places to start.
1. Define what it looks like. Create a very clear vision of what service excellence looks like in your organization. So often, we think that customer service is just common sense. When you have people from a variety of generations, cultural backgrounds and upbringings all working together, however, they will have their own definitions of customer service unless you provide one for them. Leadership and staff members must work together to create an engaging vision for how you want your residents, their family members and your other customers to experience you. Come up with a common language for customer service so everyone is on the same page as to what it looks like in your company.
2. Align your processes with your service vision. Leadership must drive the change, first and foremost, by walking the talk. Once you have that common language for service, every leader in the organization must be a role model for that vision. Every interaction with a team member is an opportunity to demonstrate your service vision.
Next, you must align your business practices with the culture you’re trying to create. This includes the way you hire people, orient and onboard new team members, reward and recognize your team, hold everyone accountable, and measure success. Providing excellent training to each person on the team and giving everyone a chance to practice new skills is incredibly important. It’s important, however, to remember that training is only one piece of the puzzle.
3. Involve your people. Although leaders must drive the change, it’s your team members who will adopt and spread your service vision — if they are inspired to do so. One way to inspire them is to involve them from the very beginning. Be sure to gain their input into the vision and service standards you create. Then empower some of them to be champions for the resident and customer experience by inviting them to facilitate training, join committees to communicate the message and come up with their own ways to reward and recognize peers for customer service excellence.
4. Continuously and creatively communicate. Finally, use every opportunity to talk about your common vision for the resident and customer experience. Share stories of service excellence. Talk about it in staff meetings and in the team newsletter, and display and celebrate successes on hallway bulletin boards. The key is to never let up. One of the reasons a program becomes the flavor-of-the-month is that, eventually, people stop talking about it. Competing priorities get in the way, best practices are dropped and it never truly becomes “the way we do things around here.” Distractions happen, but when they do, acknowledge them, pick up where you left off and keep communicating the culture you desire to create.
Finally, as Chris Perillo, director of training for Red-Carpet Learning Systems likes to say, “People don’t change because you ask them to change. They change because you touched their hearts and they were encouraged to change.” In the end, you will create a sustainable service culture when your team is inspired and involved, when leaders are walking the talk, and when everything you do is aligned with your vision for excellence.