Guest Post: Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, New York Times bestselling author and award-winning keynote speaker. He is the creator of The Customer Focus customer service training program. Follow Shep on Twitter @Hyken.

There are many great companies that are considered “rock stars” in customer service, winning awards and accolades – Amazon, Apple, Nordstrom, Southwest Airlines and Zappos.com for example.

I’ve written quite a bit on the concept of a customer-focused culture. My basic premise is that you must start on the inside, with the employees. What’s happening on the inside is felt on the outside by customers. And to be the best place to buy from, you must first be the best place to work. It comes down to something I refer to as the Employee Golden Rule.

Do unto your employees as you want done unto the customer – and maybe even better!

This concept is the key to creating a company that is customer-focused. To make this happen, I created a simple six-step process. It’s important to note that simple does not mean easy. These steps, especially one and three, will take time. A small company might be able to move through the process in a few months. A large enterprise with thousands of employees could take several years. With that in mind, here are the six steps to creating a customer-focused culture.

  • Define your customer service vision. This is where it begins. Leadership must create a vision that is easy to understand and remember. For example, the Ritz-Carlton has their motto, which is nine words long: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Everyone that comes to work at the Ritz-Carlton knows and understands this vision. They hire to it, train to it and constantly reinforce it. What type of service do you want to offer? What’s your vision? Your first step is to put into words the kind of experience you want your people to deliver to your customers.
  • Communicate the vision. Just as you would convey your brand promise to your customers, you must convey your customer service vision to your employees.
  • Train to the vision. Your employees come to you with varied skills and experience, and it’s up to you to train them in your core values and customer service expectations. And this means everyone – management included. And, not just one time. It takes repetition and reinforcement of what drives the vision. Customer service training isn’t something you did. It’s something you do, ongoing.
  • Be the example. First and foremost, leadership must set the example. They should be role models for everyone to aspire to be like. Leadership and management should treat the employees with the same respect and dignity that should be afforded to the customer, and employees should serve each other as well – as in The Employee Golden Rule.
  • Defend the culture. I once interviewed the CEO of a company and asked him what the most important part of his job was, and he responded that it was to defend the culture. Leadership must keep employees in alignment with the vision. It could be an individual, a department or a territory. For a company to be truly customer-focused, everyone must be in alignment.
  • Celebrate success. When it is all working, let your employees know. Celebrate the success. It can be a note to an individual or a recognition of the entire company. Recognition can be a great motivation and will encourage employees to continue to stay focused.

What gets rewarded and reinforced becomes part of the company’s culture. The internal culture of a company is the secret to delivering amazing customer service. All of your efforts will work, but only if the vision is deeply rooted in your company’s culture.