Blog Post

What Does Your Underbelly (e.g. Frontline Attitude) Say About You?

If someone had a glass to a wall listening to how your employees talk about customers – would you be proud to have it show up on the internet?

Behind the scenes, how do people talk about customers? The manner in which your frontline perceives customers are often learned and modeled – based on leadership messaging and the manner in which the frontline is honored and taken care of. These messages tell your frontline how much respect the company wants them to give customers.

The “underbelly” of how a company acts and treats customers has everything to do with the attitude the frontline has about customers – and how they’ve been nurtured to take that attitude in one direction or another.

Every industry has sayings, “lingo” and shorthand – but the question is – does this shorthand stick in terms of driving good behavior or bad behavior in how customers are treated? These terms turn customers into clumps of characteristics…and characteristics grounded in cynicism, not service.

Reading an article in Los Angeles Magazine, for example; I came upon the internal lingo that retail personnel use to describe customers…

  • Squirrel: A customer who isn’t loyal to one salesperson.
  • Locusts: Groups of friends who hover around merchandise but don’t buy anything.
  • Bulimic Shopper: Someone who discards at checkout at least half of what she or he has selected.

In the airline business, there’s a shorthand language that reduces customers to inanimate objects, not people desiring service. For example, a customer requesting a cup of coffee is reduced to “PAX in 12B wants a coffee.”

When Canadian Airline WestJet began, its leaders decided to nix the lingo and make passengers human again. They wanted “out of the cockpit thinking” to set themselves apart. WestJet knew that to win market share, they would have to compete beyond operational efficiency. They would need to compete with their humanity and service. WestJet began by throwing out some bad industry habits.

Instead of looking at passengers as walking dollar signs—simply a means to a profit— WestJet decided to treat passengers as valued guests. “Employees” don’t exist at WestJet. It decided to grow by offering passengers a new way of flying.

By walking away from the old habits that defined working in the airline industry, and then focusing that culture on serving and honoring passengers, WestJet is considered a different kind of airline, one that customers love. WestJet is now Canada’s second largest airline.

Is the attitude you want showing up with customers and between employees?
If we had that glass to the wall and were listening to your employees, would this be your finest hour? What kind of attitude would show through? Because even if there’s a smile on someone’s face – with the frontline, it’s these attitudes that lie beneath the service that customers can feel.

The dark underbelly of how an industry feels about its customers is often revealed behind the scenes, when colleagues talk to one another. How customers are described and referenced show how much employees and the company honors customers.

How hard would it be for you to remove some of the lingo and attitudes that have built up over years in your industry?
Start with your acronyms and see how many of them have to do with customers. That will give you a quick glimpse into the journey ahead toward become a company that customers love, keep and grow by telling stories about how you make them feel and how you honor them.

 

About the author

Author of two best-selling books: I Love You More Than My Dog, which presents best practices for companies to move from an “everyday” company to a “beloved” company, and Chief Customer Officer, which is the roadmap purchased and followed by more than 60 percent of all newly minted customer leaders. Bliss was the chief customer officer leading customer focus at Lands' End, Microsoft, Allstate, Mazda and Coldwell Banker Corporations. Her company, Customer Bliss, helps leaders and their companies, such as AAA, Ameritrade, Costco, Yahoo! and Zappos, create an actionable path for driving the customer loyalty commitment into business operations.

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