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Customer Service Begins with Leadership

Merely “6% of small businesses focus on keeping customers”, according to Seems strange, right? The researchers found that those businesses focused more on getting new customers than keeping the current ones. Nurturing current clients is much more cost-effective than attracting new clients. states that profitability increases with customer retention. So, making customer service a high priority should be very high on every small business owner’s list. Making it a priority requires that we engage our employees in this effort.


Getting the team in action and focused on customer service requires an understanding that customer service starts with you! You, as the leader of the organization, set the tone, create the narrative, and embody the feeling that is experienced by your customers and team. You should ask yourself:

  • How do I show up? Happy? Angry? Hopeful? Energetic?
  • How do I want others to feel when they experience my business as a customer or as a team member? 
  • Am I treating my team as customers? Do they know I value them as much if not more than my clients?


Customer service is not separate from the employee experience and does not happen through osmosis. Customer service is a reflection of many things, including leadership, training, and engagement. While there are several other factors, these three are major contributors to employee performance.


The employee experience is largely impacted by leadership. When employees experience good leaders, they are less likely to leave, thereby reducing turnover, which allows for greater relationship building with customers. It also ensures a deeper understanding of the business and products. Through your leadership, employees learn about risk-taking, professionalism, customer service and so much more. 


You impact team performance by way of the organizational culture, which is influenced and developed by your leadership. Imagine the last time you received poor customer service. What was your first thought? Did you think, “they weren’t trained properly”? What about, “they must be having a bad day”? My first thought is, “they must not like their job”. Let’s face it, we take better care of that which we love and care about. An easy way to assess the effectiveness of your leadership is to look at how employees treat each other and your customers. Their behavior is a reflection of you and your leadership.

  • Don’t treat people how you want to be treated but how they want to be treated. This means that you have to get to know what makes each person tick.
  • Be authentic and make it safe for employees to do the same while maintaining confidentiality. Don’t stop there, check on them periodically to remind them you care.
  • Show your team how much they mean to you and your business. Highlight great work and ensure they have a full understanding of how their contribution impacts the bottom line.
  • Give them a stake in the game by creating space for them to take risks and own new initiatives.


Once we show our team how much we care for and value them, they will be open to learning from us. Training employees to provide stellar customer service does not have to be rocket science, but it is an absolute necessity. We cannot expect everyone to deliver service the way we want them to without providing them with ample training. Remember, companies have different standards and expectations for customer service. Can you imagine a Walmart cashier greeting customers by saying, “would you like an apple pie with your order”? Would you scratch your head if the McDonald’s cashier asked if you found everything you needed? Weird, right? You have to create the script and standards that you expect for each team member to deliver on your behalf to your customers. To train your team properly:

  • Develop standard operating procedures (SOP’s) outlining expectations and walking employees through the process of delivering service.
  • Bring the SOP to life by demonstrating customer service for your team member(s).
  • Provide the team with several opportunities to practice while you observe.
  • Most importantly, provide them with feedback frequently, as training and feedback should be an ongoing practice.


The final component is employee engagement. Employee engagement is the commitment level an employee has towards their place of employment. Engaged teams are satisfied, provide support to others on the team, and work hard to make the business shine. Their commitment to the business drives them to deliver good customer service because they understand what it means to the success of the business and how business success impacts them. Here are a few things you can do to engage your team:

  • Make sure you take care of their basic needs—pay them their worth, provide them with the benefits they need.
  • Show them how important they are to you and your business and create an environment they can enjoy and thrive in. 
  • Create opportunities for growth, positional or intellectual—invest in them.
  • Draw the connection between what they do and how it contributes to business success.
  • Give them the chance to lead—show them you trust and believe in them.


There is no magic pill for creating stellar customer service. It takes hard work, commitment, and grit. The same is true for developing skills as a great leader, establishing successful training practices, and maintaining high levels of engagement. This is challenging work, but very rewarding and absolutely possible. Organizations do it every day and you can too. 


  • Guta, Michael. “Just 6% of Small Businesses Focus on Keeping Customers.” Small Business Magazine, 6 Dec. 2019, Accessed 1 Sep 2020.
  • Wertz, Jia. “Don’t Spend 5 Times More Attracting New Customers, Nurture the Existing Ones.” ForbesWomen, 12 Sep 2018, Accessed 1Sep 2020. 

Tiffany Slater

Dr. Tiffany E. Slater is the CEO and Sr. Human Resources Consultant for HR TailorMade--a human resources consulting company specializing in helping small businesses and non-profit organizations manage and retain their best talent. The HR TailorMade team is uniquely equipped to serve as the human resource department for small organizations, provide project-based support, or engage on an as-needed basis for management/leadership coaching. Visit them online at

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