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Building on Existing Customer Experience Culture with Care

A new office complex is going up adjacent to our building. I have a great view, and can easily see the daily progress. What appears to be a huge and complex undertaking virtually materializes overnight.

The construction crew’s building process is beautifully simple at its core: move some dirt around, bring in some heavy equipment, and start from the bottom up. The same holds true to building a customer satisfaction oriented culture.

But how does that process change when a company simultaneously must launch a brand new contact center operation? Sadly, it is not as easy as moving around desks and chairs, bringing in folks to take calls, connecting phone lines – or even throwing around some customer experience language ideas.

I have spent almost a year growing a “new” customer service division for our company, a dental support organization that provides business support to a network of more than 200 dental practices around the country. Like the building going up next door, the customer service division is our greenfield opportunity. What gave us pause was creating that opportunity in the shadow of an existing corporate culture.

Learning from our roots

Corporate culture is omnipresent, and a force to be reckoned with. I have suggested transformational customer experience ideas and initiatives knowing that a customer experience culture already exists here, demanding attention – and respect.

I could not neglect our existing corporate culture. Like it or not, a good, bad, or indifferent patient experience had longstanding roots in the makeup of the company. There is much to learn from, nurture and nourish along the way. Appreciating and understanding ‘traditional’ ways of doing business as it relates to the customer experience is vital to building a solid enterprise acceptance and adoption of customer service. 

Tribal knowledge surfaces in various sizes, shapes and forms, if one simply asks questions. Those who fail to ask will miss significant learning opportunities. Tribal knowledge lives within a myriad of personalities – some more willing than others to step up and contribute insight.

I discovered three main groups that folks fall into when moving toward cultural change, similar to Net Promoter Scores, based on the fundamental perspective that every company’s customers can be divided into three categories: Promoters, Passives and Detractors.

Three people who affect culture change

Promoters are ready, forthcoming and happy to embrace the change. Promoters charge forward with ideas and historical information that is key to laying a strong customer experience foundation.

Leaders leverage their Promoters as champions of change, capitalizing on their energy and enthusiasm. For example, one might assemble small project teams to let enthusiasm build into ideas. Solutions that come from peers are often more readily adopted than those from senior leadership.

Passives need a little more persuasion, patience and nurturing. When asked directly, specific questions related to processes and procedures are magically revealed. If possible, one-on-one conversation works best with Passives. Not only has this strategy proven successful in overall knowledge transfer, but also with relation to overall relationship and creditability with a company’s leadership.

Detractors are indeed a challenge. Some are vocal, transparent, and can stir the pot with negativity and attitudes that do nothing for organizational morale. But detractors also are covert, quiet, working behind the scenes and seeming to go with the flow.

Fundamentally, detractors fear change, and fear for their job….learn to embrace detractors, give them responsibility and ask for their opinion. Given the opportunity to be heard as an integral part of the change, Detractors’ fear and negativity is redirected into positive energy for the good of the company.

Old foundation, new building

As I developed our customer service division, we recognized an immediate challenge in shifting the call flow. Our company has remained successful for forty years by staying true to our patient experience – that visitors to our dental practices expect a high degree of dignity and respect, two qualities our customer service staff must convey on every incoming call.

I instructed our staff to focus on the patient experience – using names, paying attention to tone, pace, empathy, and the simple things, like ensuring our patients have a pen and paper to get the information correct. We wanted our customer service representatives to be acutely aware that these are patients with a real need. Many call in scared or embarrassed, and some have put off treatment for years.

We stepped up our Quality Monitoring, as well. In doing so, we established accountability and laid the foundation for the overall patient experience.

The transition was not easy – some did not like the changes, and some struggled. A few didn’t make it and were let go. But today, we have Promoters, Passives and Detractors working in harmony, and our customer service division has built upon a great foundation to deliver improved care for hundreds of dental practices.

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