You have probably heard the phrase, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” more times than you can count. Apples are natural, healthy, and best of all, cheap. If you aren’t eating an apple a day to maintain your health, presumably the cost isn’t what’s keeping you from doing so.

For the same amount of money that you would invest in that daily apple to ensure your physical health, you can also fund a strategy that will ensure the health of your frontline customer service operation. I call this strategy “Fresh Customer Service.”

Fresh Customer Service demystifies the process of attracting loyal, happy customers who return again and again and recommend your business to their friends and families. This type of customer reaction, what some may consider as a minor detail, can actually tip the scales and prove the difference between a prosperous organization and a bankrupt organization. So what’s the secret? The Frontline Employee.

Throughout your organization’s entire process of selling, serving, marketing, cleaning—you name it—the only way you can hope to deliver a World-Class customer service experience is by listening to, equipping, empowering, involving, and valuing the feedback and expertise your Frontline Employees can offer.

How exactly do you implement and execute Fresh Customer Service? I have broken down the process into the following 6.5 simple and cost-effective steps.

The First Steps: Fresh Understanding

Fresh Step 1, Side-by-Side Walking, involves walking a mile in the shoes of employees to understand what they do, how they do it, and how they experience their jobs. Side-By-Side Walking will help give you a real-world understanding of the environment your Frontline Employees operate in, and separate perceptions from actual activities and true problems. Side-By-Side Walking is the foundation for understanding where your organization is at the moment, the gaps that exist, what is working and what needs improvement.

Best of all, Side-by-Side Walking only requires you, the corporate manager or executive, to take one day of your schedule and devote it to going through all the activities your Frontline Employees go through, from pre-shift preparation to post-shift cleanup and closeout. Far more than a site visit, it’s a true immersion into your Frontline Employees’ daily lives and routines. As far as the cost is concerned, how much gas will you use traveling to your nearest frontline unit?

Fresh Step 2, Smart Tasking, clearly defines the critical tasks/processes that support the customer service offering and the deadlines by which they must be completed. The most important factor is completing the necessary tasks/processes without impeding the delivery of a World-Class customer service experience to the customer. Smart Tasking creates a harmonized balance between completing the tasks/processes and delivering a World-Class customer service experience.

To effect Smart Tasking in your organization, simply keep a careful eye on the frontline tasks your employees perform, the order in which they prioritize them, and periodically review them to ensure that they are appropriate and add value to the customer experience. Actively involve the Frontline Employees in Smart Tasking and encourage them to speak up when they find themselves performing tasks that are inefficient, ineffective, or just plain unnecessary.

What is the cost of having both on-site frontline managers and off-site corporate managers take the time to carefully monitor frontline tasks and priorities, while providing Frontline Employees an active voice in determining how to set their priorities? Virtually none. Whatever time you may “lose” in careful observation and review will more than pay for itself in higher levels of employee efficiency, customer satisfaction, and corporate profits.

The Middle Steps: Fresh Empowerment

Fresh Step 3, Make-It-Right Power, instills both the responsibility and the authority to resolve customer complaints and issues in the Frontline Employees who are most able to satisfy the customer at any point in time.

Make-It-Right Power puts the ability to deliver a World-Class customer service experience in the hands of the people who are best able to deliver it: The employees who interact with the customers. It’s about empowering and positioning employees to be able to instantly solve customer problems and view them as opportunities to Make-It-Right now for the customer.

Make-It-Right Power delivers both the responsibility and the prescribed authority to the employees to transform a customer’s bad experience into a positive one, or in the best case scenario, one that can proactively hedge off the situation as a result of prescribed Make-It-Right Power before it even festers into a bad experience.

The costs of giving your Frontline Employees Make-It-Right Power are also low. For example, you may want to authorize employees to offer refunds or coupons good for future purchases, with higher-level employees enabled to authorize larger amounts of money or credit. Whatever the upfront costs of giving a few dollars back to a customer who had a negative experience, they will pay for themselves down the road when that satisfied customer keeps coming back and making full-fledged purchases!

Fresh Step 4, The What-If Arsenal, is a set of processes and tools in place to handle scenarios when the customer is upset. It builds on organizational experiences and reduces the need to reinvent the wheel while creating a fresh depository for Frontline Employees to make fresh deposits of “what-if solutions,” and helps give Make-It-Right Power to the Frontline Employee to instantly serve and satisfy the customer.

When fastballs of everyday life are thrown at you and your organization, you need to have a strategy for hitting homeruns in unstable conditions. A What-If Arsenal should be at an employee’s fingertips or stored in his head for instant retrieval when the manager is present and when he’s away.

But here’s a tip. We need to be careful not to dictate the contents of the What-If Arsenal toolbox. Filling it with techniques that we think are appropriate for the Frontline Employee while sidelining what the Frontline Employee believes is right will not work.

Instead, we should give Frontline Employees the opportunity to brainstorm their own ideas for filling the toolbox. The litmus test should be whether the employees’ suggestions are ethical. If they are, they should be implemented. It all comes down to one element: a World-Class customer service experience that will grow and sustain your business.

What is the cost of having an employee suggestion box, or an online portal, where employees from all levels of the organization can report customer service problems they have encountered and “what-if solutions” they have used to overcome them? What is the cost of periodically reviewing employee-generated solutions and culling the best ones to put in a document that is accessible by everyone, either in printed format or online? Far less than the cost of not developing a formalized What-If Arsenal, and in the long term probably about the same as buying a daily apple to munch on.

The Final Steps: Fresh Thinking

The fifth Fresh Step, Bubble-Up Innovation, will show you how to appreciate and utilize the current ideas Frontline Employees possess to improve the whole organization. They, not managers or CEOs, are privy to why senior customers want earlier store hours, or why the trash that accumulates on the sidewalk is keeping customers away. Therefore it is a winning practice to listen to the comments and suggestions Frontline Employees may have to make your organization better.

When you want to encourage innovation and gain solutions to problems facing the business, schedule a “Bubble-Up Innovation Fun Day.” Create an off-site environment that promotes innovation, represents the brand and desired customer experience, and, above all, is comfortable and stimulating for the Frontline Employee.

Make sure bean bags, cushy reclining chairs, and a couch replace stiff chairs. Pop in a CD of jazzy background music, toss in some stress balls and trinkets, and never forget to pick up some fresh flowers. Fresh air, good ventilation, and a comfortable temperature helps.

Because we all know that the way to people’s hearts is through their stomachs make sure to stock the Fun Day atmosphere with plenty of snacks (and if your company produces or sells food, make sure those are prominently featured among the treats you offer at your Fun Day). When employees walk in, they will instantly feel excited, valued, creative, and gung-ho ready to work.

There are some upfront costs to Bubble Up Innovation: Renting an off-site space, stocking it with comfortable furniture, flowers, snacks, etc. But factor in the savings all your employees’ innovative ideas will bring, and we’re back in apple territory in terms of overall cost.

Fresh Step 6, Relentless Focus, is the continual and consistent emphasis on the the Frontline Employee delivering a World-Class customer service experience and embedding this into the core business model, as opposed to customer service “programs-of-the-month.”

Many organizations are good at “kick-off celebrations.” Most customer service programs start off with a bang, with everyone being committed and poised to make them happen. But as the strategies start changing, new leaders come in, employees become disinterested and the focus shifts to something else, the initial great customer service program is tossed aside like a child’s old favorite toy.

Relentless Focus forces the organization to make an ongoing investment in providing a World-Class customer service experience by embedding it into the core business model. Every program, strategy, and initiative has an automatic space carved out for providing a World-Class customer service experience. Not providing this focus destroys the foundation of the operation and the goal of providing a great customer experience.

Because Relentless Focus is essentially a mindset, it is also essentially cost-free. It requires each employee to constantly keep customer service in mind, whether they are a top-level executive designing a core business strategy or an entry-level Frontline associate implementing that same strategy. Use the money you have saved with Relentless Focus to buy a fresh, tasty apple. Your doctor will be so proud!

Fresh Step 6.5, Now Just Make It Happen, is a half-step simply meant to remind you that the first six steps do you no good unless you actively put them into practice today and then constantly follow up to ensure they remain in practice throughout your organization. It’s one thing to “commit” to Fresh Customer Service, it’s another thing to roll up your sleeves and make it happen.

The cost? Whatever the market rate for elbow grease and determination is these days. Like so many of the most valuable things in life, there is no financial value you can put on them, but they’re worth more than anything you can put a price sticker on.

So that’s the 6.5 steps to Fresh Customer Service. Easy to follow and cost-efficient. All they require is commitment and effort. And if you can’t afford to expend some commitment and effort to guarantee a World-Class Customer Experience to every customer who comes through your door, you’ll soon have much bigger things to worry about than the price of an apple.

About the author:

Michael D. Brown is a  speaker, management expert, and author. He has developed a customer service process (6.5 Fresh Steps to World-Class Customer Service) that during the past 15 years has been credited with reengineering and enhancing the customer service strategy and experience for a number of small, mid-sized and Fortune 500 companies, including Marriott, Macaroni Grill, U.S. Army, Wendy’s, Omni Hotels, Houston Rockets, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Greater Houston Partnership, Jason’s Deli, Amoco Oil Company, ARCO Oil Company, Murphy Oil USA—The Wal-Mart Project, British Petroleum, and a number of colleges and universities. 

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