woman talking with 2 men

Celebrate Customer Service Week October 4 to 8!

Carrie Huckeby

Your customer service team taps a mix of talents and skills to support the people you serve. Whether customer-facing, installation, sales, or technical support, CSRs are excellent listeners, problem-solvers, organizers, and multitaskers. They’re storytellers. These staff play an essential role in the customer journey, so it is only fitting that the first week of October honors them.

Want to celebrate Customer Service Week? We’ve added free videos and photo frames into Pioneer Studio, our new self-service content library and design platform.

October is National Cooperative Month, too. For a delicious bonus, stock your breakroom with co-op food. We recommend Equal Exchange chocolate, coffee and tea, Tillamook or Cabot Creamery cheese, and Blue Diamond almonds. You can also provide products from these co-op brands, available at most grocery stores:

  • Sunkist
  • Welch’s
  • Organic Valley
  • Ocean Spray

Plan Post-Party Support

Celebrations are fun. But after you put all the party favors away, what happens the other 51 weeks of the year?

How do you keep your employees engaged with the brand, connected to the customer journey, and satisfied in their role? We talked to Utility Pioneers to find examples of employee engagement that you can use to build stronger ties (and better stories) with your staff.

Customer service employees are not engaged if they have no clue what is happening in the company. They can only support the brand when they have the answer to the “why.” Why does the company exist? Why do we do what we do?

When I survey employees before training days, answers are always the same:

  • They want to serve their customers and members well.
  • They want to be confident as they share the brand story and promote new initiatives.
  • They need information, to be valued, and to be a department in the know.
  • They need to understand the company position compared to competitors and what makes the brand unique.

In 2019, The Harvard Business Review reported that only 28% of employees understand their company’s brand values. The same article stated that 4 out of 10 employees aren’t comfortable discussing how their company is different from the competitor. That’s not good.

1. Make Storytelling Easy

Utility Pioneers are finding new, more engaging ways to get information shared throughout the company. I recently visited a cooperative that is using Microsoft OneNote. Everyone has access, and each project has clearly labeled folders and tabs with relevant text and images.

“I saw the relief and genuine giddiness from the member services group as they viewed a one-stop go-to site.”

There are no more sticky notes on the desk or taped to the overhead. Staff can brush up on info, see the latest fiber build, check competitive information for a specific community, look up an acronym, and see images of huts, routers, and pods. A site that is evolving and updated as the fiber project moves forward is better than a book of notes and scribbles.

WK&T in Kentucky uses digital slides like this one to inform employees about upcoming promotions.

Some stories need more than a slide shown in breakrooms. Employee newsletters are a great way to keep staff informed.

Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC) in Florida uses their employee and retiree newsletter, Watt’s Up (link to Spring 2021 PDF), to share current member campaigns, track utility reliability and financial benchmarks, and share member experience data. Staff retirements, promotions, community service, and family news are included, too.

Download the Spring 2021 issue of Watt’s Up (PDF), SVEC’s employee and retiree newsletter.

2. Create Shareable Moments

Another way for employees to experience hands-on learning and become champions of your brand is to invite them to be beta testers for products or services.

“Customer service reps can be apprehensive about explaining fiber broadband when they haven’t used the service themselves.”

A few years ago on “StoryConnect: The Podcast,” Pioneer Director of Marketing and Business Development Andy Johns talked to Shelley Evink at Farmers and Federated. She shared highlights from the telco’s employee engagement program called “Fiber Fridays and Employee Product Reviews.

Putting smart home devices, streaming equipment, and Wi-Fi extenders in the hands of the employees makes things much easier to explain than just providing a brochure. It also gives them content to use in their storytelling to navigate a consumer through a buying decision.

There are benefits to engaged employees. They enjoy their work, feel connected to the brand and produce the best results for the company. They engineer customer experiences and build relationships because they understand the “why.”

Product reviews can serve double duty, both introducing a product and educating consumers. Key staff at Farmers and Federated share technology product reviews inside Connection, their bimonthly consumer magazine.

3. Pave the Customer Journey

No other staff know as much about your subscribers and businesses as customer service representatives. They ride along with customers as they stop at each phase of the customer journey, a process I highlight in Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience, a “StoryConnect: The Podcast” six-part podcast miniseries sponsored by Calix. You can find the series on our website, but it’s also available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts.

“As the consumer travels from awareness to advocacy, customer service staff can see and feel a smooth ride … or a journey full of potholes.”

Unfortunately, utilities often map the customer journey from an operational perspective. The most engaging brands take the initiative to ask the consumer’s opinion and get customer service input. Your customer-facing department staff are excellent resources.

For example, a telco customer service rep recently explained the difficulties of the credit card payment system. Many subscribers couldn’t use it or struggled every month.

The idea behind the billing system was efficiency for the company, lowering collection costs and reducing traffic to the office. But it’s not working for the customer, causing an investment of extra time and difficulty for utility staff handling complaints. If it isn’t working for the customer, it’s not really working for the company, either. Employee time is consumed with extra hand-holding and unhappy customers. That equals negative customer experience.

Asking your frontline staff for feedback shows you value their opinion and helps customers avoid potholes. It’s a win-win.

Don’t forget to map the customer journey from every department’s perspective.

If one department knocks it out of the park, but another operates in a silo at the purchase/onboarding stage, the customer experience suffers. Every single interaction with your brand goes into the customer experience bucket.

story connectIn Journey — Exploring the Customer Experience, each podcast episode covers a stop on the journey:

The podcast series, sponsored by Calix, offers concrete ideas to help your utility improve the customer experience.

4. Celebrate Staff

Companies spend a lot of time thinking about keeping consumers happy. It’s easy to forget your employees are consumers, too, and also deserve a great customer experience. Are you paying attention to staff needs?

Ben Lomand Connect in Tennessee uses social media to applaud employees when they receive positive customer feedback and reviews. The marketing team posts a photo of the employee along with the comments. It shows appreciation with a more extensive reach than just landing on the manager’s deck and going into the personnel file.

Ben Loman employees being praised on social media

While a profile picture of an employee tells a great story, it’s not complete. In 2021 Ben Lomand Connect created a template for staff celebration posts, spotlighting not just the staff member picture but also the employee’s family.

staff celebration post

Personal milestones are one of the easiest to track and acknowledge. One cooperative gives employees a $5 gift card to the local Dairy Queen on their birthday. It’s surprising what an ice cream cone or small Blizzard will do for a birthday treat.

Marriage, babies, adoptions, graduations, a marathon, new homes, and new pets are great things to highlight to recognize life’s events and happy moments.

Career milestones and transitions are also opportunities to create memorable moments. It’s customary to make a big deal out of retirements; still, even the slightest acknowledgment of promotions, a new client contract, or a completed project is meaningful to the employee and can boost morale.

Farmers and Federated in Minnesota spotlights staff milestones in Connection, their bimonthly consumer magazine.
Ardmore Telephone Company invites consumers to celebrate staff retirements on the company’s social channels.

Plan Yearlong Appreciation

There’s not just one method to keep employees engaged with your brand, delighted in their roles, or connected to the customer journey.

The important first step is making sure your company does something. It doesn’t take grand gestures to ensure employees are valued, appreciated, and informed every week of the year.

We’d love to hear how you’re celebrating utility staff for October’s Customer Service Week and all year round. Email WordSouth to send your ideas.