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Forget Customer Service, Practice The Customer Experience

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Why is this post under coaching? If you want to make improvements, develop a high-performing team, build trust, and respect, have radical candor, or anything else, it starts with the leader first. 

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the book, The Leadership Challenge discuss the importance of the five practices of exemplary leaders:

  • Model the way
  • Inspire a shared vision
  • Challenge the process
  • Enable others to act
  • Encourage the heart

These five practices in one form or another are deeply embedded into all of my learning posts and represent a solid foundational starting point for any leader.

In this learning event, I want to focus on the first practice, model the way. If you don’t think you are an influencer, think again. When I work with staff and they tell me that their manager doesn’t support this, that, or the other thing, I tell them if they want something to change, they need to model the behavior they want to see, in other words, clean up their yard first

I have lost count of the meetings I’ve been in where the leader or presenter for whatever reason walks in the room and they’re not engaged or inspired to be there, everyone feels it and sets the tone. Same with your teams. When you engage with staff, teams, peers, and leaders when you are there who shows up to lead?

Model the way

I have been going to a particular dental office since 2017. On the way to the dentist the other day I realized I was not anxious about having some dental work done. I thought back over the years and realized the usual dentist anxiety was never there. 

It wasn’t until I was sitting in the chair that a new dentist to the office and a hygienist whom I had never worked with came in and introduced themselves to me. That’s when I realized what it was.

As I sat there, both of them walked me through the procedure step by step, slowly and clearly, and asked me questions to make sure I understood just like every other time I’ve been there from cleanings to crowns. When the explanation was done the dentist asked me if I had any questions. I say yes I do.

I shared my observations with them about the office staff and how I have been treated with the same care and respect over the past five years by everyone no matter who I saw. I looked at the dentist and hygienist and asked is it your hiring process or your onboarding that makes the difference? 

They looked at each other, smiled, and the dentist said, each of us is hired, no matter which position, to fill a gap on the team. We are hired for our expertise and individual skills, the team expects us to be experts in what we know. The hiring process is a little more strenuous than normal for a reason. The reason is what happens next. The leaders of the dental practice put all of us through training focused on the patient experience from the moment they walk through the door to when they drive out of the parking lot. 

The training also includes how we treat each other in the office with care and respect and how we demonstrate care and respect for the patient experience and the peer experience within the office. So no matter which team is assigned to you, you receive the same experience from everyone in the office. That peer experience is what creates and supports the patient experience.

And there it was…

Leadership learning occurs everywhere. I thought about what the dentist said and realized that as a leader, how you care and respect your team can have a ripple effect across the department and organization. If you consider the people on other teams, in other departments, in workgroups, in a leadership position as customers or clients, what experience do they have with you as a leader or as a team? 

This experience does not happen overnight. This takes deliberate practice every day in every contact and every exchange. As soon as you decide to model the way you will be tested every day in every way. I never said any of this would be easy, if it’s important to you the work will be worth it. 

Modeling your actions

Kouzes and Posner state that leaders have to set an example by aligning their actions with their values. What leaders say and do have to go hand in hand. In his book, The Integrity Dividend, Tony Simons provides evidence that when leaders align their words and actions staff’s trust and respect increase for the leader. 

Words and actions have to be based on something, and that something for many of us is our values. 

In the post, 1 reason you need to stop worrying about culture, explains the power and the need for effective targeted values. Your values become the foundation upon which you build your leadership ideals, just like the culture.

Is your team experiencing a positive customer experience from you, or something else?

Exercise | Deliberate practice

Grab your journal and at the end of the day answer this question, “What have I done today that demonstrates the values that I hold near and dear to me?”

If you can’t answer that question, this is where you start, list your values as a leader, staff member, person, or partner. If you have never thought of what your values are, think of values as behaviors. A behavior is an action that is specific, observable, and repeatable, if you think of values this way you will be able to identify when and where you practice them. Others will also be able to see you living your values, so be careful what you choose. 

Start with three to five values, this makes it easier to practice every day, you can more values later if you feel the need. List out your values then define what they mean to you. When you define your values they become specific to you and easier to identify when acting on your values. Here are some values and explanations from other leaders. 

  • Demonstrate honesty in my communications – My ability to talk about topics, ideas, and concerns with others in a clear, professional, and truthful manner suspending my biases and judgments.
  • Be an influence leader – The ability to encourage, motivate, and guide others to think or act in a specific way to achieve common goals. Empowering others to choose certain behaviors rather than forcing them into those actions and beliefs through micromanagement.
  • Demonstrate integrity – Meaning to be genuine, honest, and doing the right thing so my staff can count on me to keep my promises.
  • I will practice empathy in all of my interactions – I will create an environment where I will respond to my staff’s actions and behaviors in a way that shows my understanding of their feelings.
  • I will demonstrate respect for others – I know respect is earned not granted, so I will earn respect by demonstrating respect to others through my commitment to my leadership work, as a team member, and in serving others. Being a servant leader.
  • I will support authenticity – I will continue to develop and live my core values daily and create an environment where my team members feel empowered to be their authentic selves as well. I will create a space where my team is comfortable contributing new and innovative ideas and encourage an environment where everyone works together for the common good. 

Now that you have identified your core values you’ve asked yourself the question, “What have I done today that demonstrates the values that I hold near and dear to me?” You realize you fell short on one or two of them, or you missed an opportunity to practice one, it happens, so this is what you do. 

Ask yourself this, “How do I model the way tomorrow? What do I need to do differently so my actions match my words?” Write in your journal what you’ll do and deliberately practice tomorrow and every day.

What’s the staff experience on your team? For your team to demonstrate the kind of behaviors that develop and support an effective team they need to see it modeled so they know how to do it. So what’s your team experiencing from your leader modeling?

Your personal leader library

If you don’t have a leadership or personal library, start one. It is easy to forget about something when it is on your computer and you turn it off. However, there is something about a hard copy book staring at you every day as a reminder of what you are learning or would like to change about yourself.

Jim Collins’s book, Good To Great, is a good resource book for understanding why some companies struggle with remaining the same and other companies excel. The book was published in 2001 and many of the concepts are still relevant today meaning they are time-tested practices. 

Grit by Angela Duckworth is another good book if you want to challenge yourself to be someone different.

Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. What you have is today and this is the best time to begin anything.


More To Explore


The Rational Leader – Exercise | Deliberate practice

From the Post: The Rational Leader: Cultivating Self-Awareness, Critical Examination, and Determination Start with one of the five areas listed below to practice self-awareness, self-examination,

The 5 Content Pillars:
The Exercises: