As the saying goes: ‘you can lead or you can follow’.
As it turns out, you can do both. And, in fact, there is a lot of evidence that executives who do both guide their organisations to better serve their customers.
Empowering Employees with Servant Leadership
In 1970, retired AT&T executive Robert Greenleaf invented the term ‘servant leadership’. By ‘serving’ the interests of the people affected by the organisation, Greenleaf’s management approach works to empower employees.
This contrasts with a traditional, autocratic leadership style, where a leader is likened to a military general. He or she spots the next hill to conquer and directs all to follow suit. Instead, a servant leader understands and supports the people within their organisation, propelling them towards the next hill because it’s in their interest. Simply put, a servant leader is a leader who serves others first.
In an age when the competition is only a click away, businesses recognise the importance of excellent customer experience. Therefore, it’s not difficult to see how the concept of servant leadership can be applied in the interests of customers. By allying with employees’ interests, a Customer Service Team lead can boost their team’s morale and capabilities.
In the ROBIN Program, our expert coaches assist Customer Service Team leads in finding the right approach to build a strong, resilient team as their department matures. Servant leadership is the preferred approach for energising the sort of teamwork needed by reps who answer customer inquiries on a daily basis, and encourage the brand loyalty of their customers.
Three Keys to Servant Leadership
Military forms of executive leadership are increasingly going the way of suits-and-ties, central switchboards and top-down management. Updated for the digital age, the vital characteristics of a servant leader can be boiled down to the following traits:
1. Customers come first
Servant leaders guide their ship by what customers and prospect customers want and need, not by convincing customers to do what the business wants. If the business was a restaurant, the exec wouldn’t just haphazardly pick the menu and a style, and then push that. Instead, she would go from table to table, detailing what customers most love and hate about the experience. Using this info, she would make changes accordingly. The same concept applies to Customer Service Team leads.
2. Nurturing and incentivising employee talent
The modern business leader knows that, in most cases, employees represent the company to the customer. When the employees feel well-treated, they go the extra mile to present the company in the best light possible. The first step towards getting customers enthusiastic about your brand’s product or service is, of course, capturing your employees’ enthusiasm. This requires paying close attention to your employees’ needs and using trainings, incentives, fair treatment, and encouragement to boost morale.
3. Less weight on structure, and more emphasis on developing responsiveness
Servant leadership can’t survive very long in an environment where the proper adherence to an organisational chart is more important than making the customer happy. A servant leader works to make sure the organisation can quickly respond to new opportunities, customer concerns, and employee needs as they arise.
Managing Millennials with Servant Leadership
Several recent studies help illustrate the positive impacts of servant leadership, particularly when it comes to customer service.
A 2016 study looked at 247 customer service units in 185 hotels in Spain to learn about the ways that servant leadership might improve customer service. Researchers found that servant leadership ‘enhances customer service performance through shaping a service climate within the service unit’. A ‘servant friendly direction’, the study adds, ‘is better aligned with the new aspirations of customers today’.
But the importance of servant leadership on customer service and other essential functions of a modern business is not its only strength. At this point in the 21st Century, it's also the management style that best appeals to the emerging majority of the workforce.
Millennials – defined as workers born between 1982 and 1999 – will make up, at minimum, 30% of the global workforce by 2020 (Manpower Group). Millennials are known to appreciate authenticity, support businesses that align with what they care about, and gravitate towards employers who can offer development.
Servant leadership is ‘likely the optimal leadership style for creating an organisation rich in human capital development and for making an organisation a preferred workplace for the Millennial generation’ (Research Gate). This is supported by evidence from a 2016 Gallup poll that found 87% of Millennials believe that professional development is an important part of their job. It’s a good thing then servant leaders focus on the development of their workers!
Servant Leadership for Customer Service
In the age of the customer, servant leadership is the answer. Focusing on your employees first leads to better customer service and selling. Inspired, contented, and respected customer service reps will ultimately go the extra mile when representing your brand in handling customer questions, comments or complaints. Energising your customer-facing employees will also invigorate teamwork and morale.