If wanting happy customers and an engaged staff was enough – everyone would have them. Instead, customer complaints are common and nearly 75% of employees are reportedly disengaged. What can you do to get customer service right? We found a great source of customer service tips from a health care professional in metro Detroit. 

 Meet Kristen Maike, PT WCS. She’s the Supervisor of the Adult Physical and Occupational Therapy Clinic at Beaumont Health System. Kristen is a service super-star – a board-certified clinical specialist in women’s health with a concentration in pelvic health. Working in a highly sensitive arena, she’s taken great care to create an environment that inspires both her employees and her customers to succeed. Here are three customer service tips based on Kristen’s approach:

#1. Go beyond listening.

Kristen’s approach to listening combines empathy with whole-self solution-finding. She listens for the underlying reasons that a patient may not be getting better.  Health and wellbeing depends on many variables. When stress at work, money issues or a relationship problem impacts the patient’s health, Kristen goes beyond listening and refers patients with confidence to other sources. That confidence comes from a collaborative effort.

Her highly skilled group has built a community of other health care professionals that include counselors and therapists who can aid in the patient’s ultimate success. “It sounds cliché, but it’s true. When you build a team of connectors and collaborators, customers feel better cared for and supported,” Kristen said, “Realize that you’re not an island.”

What about you?

·       In your industry, what does it look like to go beyond listening?

·       What collaborative efforts do you use to solve your customers underlying issues?  

·        How can you take listening to the next level?

#2. Break down boundaries.

Every organization has rules to follow. “Certain regulations need to be followed to be legal and ethical,” Kristen said, “Then there are those rules – that we created – that can be bent when it becomes a barrier to delivering the best possible service to our patients.”

To break down boundaries, Kristen encourages her team to be creative by exploring possibilities. When a staff member says, “We have to do this because it’s the rule.” She reminds them, “We made the rule. We can change the rule.”

A case in point:

On a day she was scheduled to work in her West Bloomfield, Michigan office, Kristen had a dilemma. Her customer was driving a long distance for outpatient treatment. Kristen wanted to help her secure a comfortable, affordable hotel room but the nearby choices were limited.    

What did Kristen do?

She changed her schedule so she could see her patient at the hospital location – making it possible for her to stay at a nice hotel that better met her needs. “I knew that her treatment would be more successful if I made sure she was comfortable,” Kristen said, “She was very appreciative.”

A simple change in “the way you do things” can make a world of difference to the customer experience. Kristen’s focus is to maximize her patient’s treatment and outcome.  First, she actively listened in a way that gave her a full picture of the patient’s needs. Then she took the extra effort to break down a boundary to give her patient a more worthwhile experience.

What about you?

·       Can you identify rules that were put in place for internal convenience, but may be a barrier to customer satisfaction?

·       Have you talked with your staff about which rules are required and which ones are flexible?

·       In what ways can you break down boundaries to improve the customer experience?

#3. Engage with your staff.

As a supervisor, Kristen treats her staff as well as she expects them to treat patients. She says, “When they are happy and supported, then our patients will feel happy and supported.”

How does she create a happy and supportive workplace?

She’s created strong, personal connections with her team. “I’m their supervisor AND we’re colleagues,” Kristen said, “I have more responsibility, but we’re colleagues. I truly feel that way.” Kristen understands that, like customers, her colleagues have needs. So, she’s creative with them, the same way they are with customers.

For example:

Kristen didn’t want anyone on staff to miss out on their kids’ activities. The problem was they had a strict structure that made taking time off stressful for everybody – the staff, the front-office, and the patient.

By revising the way patients and staff were scheduled, they’ve made it easier and less burdensome for colleagues to take time to be with their family when they need to – in a way that no longer disrupted patient appointments. A staff member can now get blocked off the schedule ahead of time.  That way patients aren’t given a spot and then made to move, and the front desk doesn’t’ have to take valuable time to reschedule those appointments.  

The result? “The staff is hardworking and gives it their all,” Kristen said, “They feel supported and want to make the clinic successful.”  

What about you?

·       In what ways do you engage with your staff and show that you value them?

·       Are there stressful internal policies that could be improved with some creative problem solving?

·        What can you do to create an even happier and more supportive workplace environment?

Bottom line?

It’s all about finding solutions. “I say it to my kids, myself and my staff,” Kristen said, “There’s always a solution. But, if you lock yourself into one thing, and that doesn’t work, then you’ll feel like there’s no solution.” When you step back to look at the big picture, you’ll be better equipped to come up with a solution.


Written by Marilyn Suttle, conference speaker, trainer, and bestselling author who works with organizations to ensure a strong customer focus and successful leadership teams. Reach out to Marilyn by email at: Marilyn@MarilynSuttle.com

Resources to support your service excellence:

Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan by Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest is known as the business bible – a blueprint for client service success.

Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty is filled with activities you can do with your staff to keep customer loyalty strong.

The Customer Service Roadmap is an in-house customer service training program designed for employees who have front line customer contact, face-to-face, telephone, email, chat, forums, etc. It’s a series of short, bite-sized courses focused on developing 7 core customer service skills.

It’s almost here! Customer Service Week starts October 2 and it’s THE BEST time to acknowledge your service providers. Making time to appreciate your team for taking care of your customers gets results – it encourages even more service excellence.

We’re suggesting “Building Trust” as the theme for the week. Use the whole week – in quick, easy meetings – to learn how they can create more trust in their customer relationships. When customers trust you, they want to do business with you. It’s good for loyalty, whether you’re a B2B or B2C business.

We’ve created a Customer Service Week Planning Guide to make it quick and easy for you to celebrate your team’s service excellence and inspire them to amp up their skills.

Plan Your Own Customer Service Week Celebration with These Guidelines

You can download the plan for the week here: WYG-2017-Customer-Service-Week-Planning-Guide

Watch Our Introductory Video

We introduce the week’s activities and provide some tips for maximizing effectiveness in this video:

About the Authors

Marilyn Suttle (Novi, MI) is the President of Suttle Enterprises LLC, through which she has spent 20 years keynoting and training people across the country on how to have happier, more productive relationships, stay calm under pressure and gain the trust and cooperation of customers, coworkers, family and friends.

Lori Jo Vest (Troy , MI) spent 20+ years of her career in customer-facing sales and leadership positions. Her time in the trenches has informed her approach to service, which is focused on helping people learn how to think in a way that has stellar service become a natural “way we do things.”

Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest were selected by AMACOM (the American Management Association’s publishing arm) to create their first customer service book, Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. The book launched in 2009, becoming an instant bestseller. Publisher’s Weekly said, in their review of Who’s Your Gladys?:

It’s the substantive, down-to-earth advice that sets this book apart from its competitors, as well as the helpful chapter-end sections, which contain practical points and thought-provoking questions and answers. The whole is an extremely well-organized and easy to use guide illuminated by the authors’ obvious passion for customer service.” 

These authors created a second book – Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty – after seeing a need for an internal training tool for their clients who wished to maintain their customer service focus after a live program had been completed. The book contains content for twelve service-focused meetings that can be held with little or no advance preparation.

Suttle and Vest are also the featured experts in The Customer Service Road Map online course, having been handpicked from over 150 of North America’s top authors, speakers and trainers by the supplier of the course. This course takes a “micro-learning” approach, delivering service skills lessons in short, bite-sized segments. The expertise and communication skills of Suttle and Vest, combined with a patent-pending learning model, resulted in an engaging learning program that guarantees results.



People who work in Customer Operations know of the “Alphabet Soup” of customer service performance metrics. There’s the old-school customer satisfaction (CSAT) score, i.e. simply asking customers if they’re satisfied. Then there are the productivity metrics, like Average Speed of Answer (ASA), Average Handling Time (AHT), and After Call Work (ACW). Some focus on the customer’s call experience by measuring Customer Effort (CE) score, which considers transfers, hold-times and channels they used to resolve their concern.

Many companies also turn to Net Promoter Score (NPS) after Fred Reichheld identified in the early 2000’s that this key metric is heavily correlated to company performance. This is a fantastic metric, if this correlation is true for your organization. In stark reality, NPS is interesting although not necessarily actionable. If your scores aren’t where you want them to be, how do you know what you need to do to improve them? You’ll need to analyze demographics, customer tenure, geographic segment, product choices and more.

So what is the most important metric? We’ll get to that in a bit.

I met Brian Powers at a at a SOCAP event (yet another acronym – Society of Customer Affairs Professionals) in Michigan. He spoke about reinventing customer service with a fun, interactive presentation, based on his consulting and personal experience managing contact centers.

Brian’s perspective is based on overseeing 300+ Verizon team members at two centers, followed by fifteen years of consulting. He knows first-hand the ins and outs of the critical Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and how each one impacts performance, based in the 100s of centers he’s advised.

“Focusing on KPIs has the net effect of squeezing a proverbial balloon,” he told us. “When we improve on one, assume there can be a corresponding change to another.”

Brian shared a story of a leadership team that wanted to focus on handling time, intending that shorter handling time would help ASA and possibly allow them to put fewer reps on each shift shift. The Quality Assurance monitoring saw an immediate deterioration in performance as Reps skipped critical closing statements, bypassed account security or provided incomplete answers to customer questions. They satisfied the goal of lower AHT but customer experience suffered and compliance risks increased.

So what’s Brian’s take on all of these KPIs? The best measure of a company’s customer experience is support needs (self-service, IVR, app, phone, email, chat, etc.) per year and especially during the first 30 days. He said, “The idea is to create a frictionless customer experience where the customer needs are anticipated and satisfied before it becomes an issue.”

Companies that buy into this philosophy use their data. They analyze feedback and call disposition records to identify missed expectations, then use an empowered cross-company customer experience team to improve collateral, ensure a consistent omni-channel sales message, and properly set expectations from day one.

This is especially important in today’s subscription-based economy where so many of our purchases are services with renewable contracts – consider cable/satellite TV, cellular phone plans, music streaming services and shopping memberships like Costco and Amazon Prime. A majority of customers who switch decide to do so in the very first month of service. They wait for their earliest opportunity to change and they’re gone!

Another reason to adopt this approach? Younger consumers overwhelmingly prefer resolving issues themselves. Today, 67% of contact centers are investing in live chat options. Before a call to service, 72% of customers will search your website for answers, so be sure it’s set up to help customers help themselves. A growing trend is enabling them to help each other by setting up user portals or monitored sites to let them collaborate to resolve common issues and share user best practices. And – bonus – those sites also provide valuable insights to the company on what ails customers the most.

In summary, the most important KPI is customers seeking support over a certain time period. Document your customer’s typical experience to identify pain points and moments of truth. Turn to your employees to help identify ways to improve processes. They truly want to handle complex issues and help you automate mundane tasks. As for the alphabet soup of KPI’s, choose the golden few and ensure the focus on the ones you pick doesn’t degrade other KPI’s to an extreme.


Lori Jo Vest is the co-author of “Who’s Your Gladys?” and “Taming Gladys!” Learn more about Lori on LinkedIn: Lori Jo Vest, Consultant/Author

Brian Powers is certified in customer experience by the CXPA and is a keynote speaker & blogger on the industry. He’s passionate about customer experience and completes every survey opportunity he ever receives. https://www.linkedin.com/in/brianpowersatlanta/

Consider the following resources to support your team’s customer service efforts:

Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan by Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest  – a blueprint for client service success

Taming Gladys! The Busy Leader’s Guide to Creating Fierce Customer Loyalty is filled with activities you can do with your staff to keep customer loyalty strong.

The Customer Service Roadmap is an in-house customer service training program designed for employees who have front line customer contact, face-to-face, telephone, email, chat, forums, etc. It’s a series of short, bite-sized courses focused on developing 7 core customer service skills.


Customer Service was stellar at this McDonald’s restaurant!

Small details make a big difference in customer service and with a little extra effort, you can create a memorable experience for your customers.

This was proven last week, when my husband and I spent a bit of time on the road between our home and mid-Michigan. My husband is a bee keeper and it’s bee season. During a four-week period every spring, bee keepers pick up their bee supplies and pounds of the insects from the “bee farmer”, to restock their hives. We had a casualty with one of our queens, so we took two trips to see the bee farm in as many days.

The road time means fast food and we typically stop a few times on each trip. Wendy’s, McDonald’s or Arby’s are the usual choices and in the last week, we’ve stopped four times for coffee, restroom stops and lunch. And since the fast food experience is typically pretty cookie-cutter, we don’t expect much in the way of customer service and most of the stops aren’t very memorable. One place surprised us, though, due to the small niceties we noticed.

It was a 24-hour McDonald’s in the middle of nowhere. It was clean, their menus were shown on new high-tech video screens. The cashier was friendly and efficient. We ordered breakfast sandwiches, along with coffee with “a tiny bit of extra ice in it” to get it to a drinkable temperature. We paid for the order and she gave us a numbered sign. “Put this on the table and we’ll bring your food out to you when it’s ready.”

Okay, that was unusual and nice. We got our drinks and sat down to talk and peruse our emails. A few minutes later, a woman came out with our tray. The two coffees were accompanied by a small cup of ice, so we could decide exactly how much we wanted to put in the cup. That was nice, too.

And the server? She was attentive and had brought napkins, straws and utensils, in case we needed them. “If you need anything else, I’ll be right behind the counter,” she told me as she left us to our breakfast.

The customer service experience stuck with me, as the niceties were such small things, yet they made it feel like this McDonald’s was different and special. The franchise owner obviously knew something about customer service and repeat business, along with how to make his store stand out from others. And it worked. We’ll be visiting the bee farm for years to come and we’ll make this particular fast food restaurant a regular stop.

How can you bring some memorable extras to your customer experience? Easy! Try the tips below and see how your customers respond.

Standardize your processes. Do your customer-facing staff members know the importance of each step of service? If not, create a document that spells out each step and why it’s important. That could mean saying “hello” as soon as the customer walks through the door, asking if there is anything else you can do for them before ending a call, or asking for feedback at the end of each transaction. When you create a process for each customer touchpoint, you’re ensuring that nothing is missed and your customers get the best possible service.

Train your staff. Employees come to you with a wide range of experiences. It’s difficult to know what they know. Training them ensures that they know everything they should know in order to serve your customers at the highest levels. You can do this in team meetings, through online training courses and other methods. Make training something you “just do” and your customers and staff will both benefit.

Treat your servers well. In fact, treat all of your staff well, no matter what position they hold. The old adage about your staff treating your customers like you treat your staff rings true. Demonstrating the behavior, repeatedly no matter how stressful things feel, can help make kindness and positive enthusiasm a part of your company culture.

What do you do? How do you ensure your service makes your business stand out from your competition?