Customer Service without subservience: CX Mini Masterclass – E35

By April 11, 2019 December 20th, 2019 No Comments
This CX Mini Masterclass explains how to fortify your organization’s service culture through the concept of customer service without subservience. Show host and customer experience expert, Julia Ahlfeldt, explains this concept and its role in helping organizations address team morale, especially in challenging business environments. If you’ve been pondering how to re-frame or re-ignite the service culture in your organization, this episode is for you.




Turning the focus to customer service

In episode 15, I provided an overview of the difference between customer experience and customer service. Beyond this, I haven’t really featured customer service on the podcast. To be honest, I engage carefully with the concept of customer service in my work, and that’s an intentional choice. One that I think is common of many CX professionals. For far too long, our craft and profession was boxed within the confines of “customer service”. Yes, service has an important impact on customer experience, but it is just one piece of the puzzle. And of all the “levers to pull” for improving customer experience, the service lever has been pulled the most often. Service will only take you so far in improving customer experience, but it is still important.

In this episode, I explore the role of having a service culture and how to bolster this, even when the going gets tough.


Service amid adversity

During the month of April, I’m focusing the show on best practices for delivering great customer experience, even amid a challenging business environment.

A tough business environment makes it more difficult for teams to be service oriented and deliver good experiences. Why? This boils down to a couple of factors. Firstly, when there is political or economic uncertainty, it hits people’s morale, both in their personal and professional lives. This means that team members may be slightly distracted by their own individual challenges, whether that’s a bonus in jeopardy or some disparaging things they’re hearing in the news. It is more difficult to look after the needs of others when you are concerned about your own future.

A challenging economic climate or a tough business environment also impacts the morale of customers. Customers maybe facing their own challenges which cause them to be irritable, less patient and possibly prone to lashing out. It’s just that much more difficult to be service oriented when the person you are serving is seemingly disrespectful or treating you poorly. In this context, it’s easy to see how both overall morale and service culture could be under pressure when the going gets tough.


Restoring honor, dignity and purpose

One way to combat this is with a concept that I call “service without subservience”. This is about restoring the dignity in service, by helping customer facing teams, and even supporting teams understand that they are on a level playing field with the customer. Mantras like the customer is always right, can make teams feel powerless and maybe even subservient, but if we re-frame service as a respected and revered duty that rises above the fray in the pursuit of mutually beneficial outcomes, then we can begin to fortify our service culture. Ritz Carlton, a brand globally renowned for its service, puts this beautifully when they talk about service as “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”. This puts both the customer and the staff on a level playing field and positions service with the dignity that it deserves.


Putting this into action

Instilling a mindset of service without subservience requires 3 main components:

Celebrating the honor in service and the contribution of each role to the customer journey: Organizations can do this by acknowledging the impact of individual or team level contributions and by highlighting good news stories about how these contributions turn into outcomes. Recognition can and should take many different forms, but the key here is to help people make the connection between the purpose of their work and how this both honorable and valued.

Empowering staff to take control of situations: No one likes to feel powerless. When you empower teams and individuals to do good, they will. It’s important that teams follow policies and procedures, but if you rally your team around a common goal and establish clarity on values and behaviors, you can rest assured that people will (for the most part) do the right thing. Perhaps this means allowing team members to make specific recommendations to the customer or to take ownership of how they resolve a question or query. The key here is to be very clear on the expectations, and then to support team members on the decisions they make. If people are worried that their choices will constantly be scrutinized, this won’t succeed.

Enable employees to define their boundaries: In Episode 5, I spoke with Laura Jack about the role of compassion in customer experience. She highlighted that teams, especially those at the coal face of customer experience, need to practice self-care. This is key maintaining employee morale and mitigating burnout. In the context of service boundaries, this might mean encouraging individuals to create self-defined parameters for when they need to take a break and get re-centerd, or enabling team members to collectively define the approach and then support each other when dealing with confrontational customers. When employees take control of their boundaries, is helps prevent scenarios where they might feel belittled or victimized.


Want to keep learning about CX?

If you’d like to checkout more of these CX Mini Masterclasses or listen to my longer format CX expert interviews, check out the full listing of episodes for this CX podcast.

And if you are looking to super-charge your CX skills and continue learning, be sure to check out CX University. They have a great array of CXPA accredited training resources available on a flexible monthly subscription plan. Use the code PODCAST10 to get 10% off your first month’s subscription and support this podcast.

Decoding the Customer is a series of customer experience podcasts created and produced by Julia Ahlfeldt, CCXP. Julia is a customer experience strategist, speaker and business advisor. She is a Certified Customer Experience Professional and one of the top experts in customer experience management. To find out more about how Julia can help your business achieve its CX goals, check out her customer experience advisory consulting services (including employee engagement, leadership alignment and CX culture change) or get in touch via email


Julia Ahlfeldt

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