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Customer Service Awakened

Customer Service Awakened

/ Current Issue, Strategy, Customer Experience, People
Customer Service Awakened

The mindset of a servant challenger.

The more I see Customer Experience (CX) work evolve, the more convinced I am that it’s a battle for the mind.

The few brands that manage to punch through the noise of a congested global marketplace and earn lasting customer loyalty are doing something very different.

It’s a revolution that first takes hold of the employee population and flows outward to attract the right community of customers. Leads must find a way to develop a sense of urgency and “light the match” that will fuel the fires of transformation...burning away negative inertia.

Identifying and cultivating a servant challenger mindset (more about that shortly) may be the very match, taking CX from a convenient buzzword to the strategic priority for the business.

Those who know me know I like to read quite a bit. It’s always fun to take a new idea and crash it up against the problems I’ve been wrestling with to see if I can find a creative solution, and there is no shortage of “new ideas” out there.

It can be overwhelming to wade through all the thought leadership available on Customer Experience alone...exponentially more so when you include the related topics of leadership and marketing.

But every now and again there is a core concept that finds itself repeated by a variety of thought leaders. One of these very concepts recently jumped up from the page and hit me square in the kisser.

It’s the idea of awakening CHALLENGERS in the workplace.

A challenger is an employee who has the confidence, desire, and capability to push the boundaries of the status quo.

As the book, Primed to Perform, written by Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor makes clear, the most acute evil businesses face while trying to unlock innovation is INERTIA. It’s the challengers inside of the organization who are uniquely equipped to fight against this crippling force.

Lucky for us, this is not a superpower only a few are born with. It’s a mindset that can be fostered in any employee who takes pride in their work.

Customer Service environments are especially ripe for this type of disruption. Even more than other functions, we often try to place Customer Service workers in a very tight box.

The way these remarkably talented resources are managed seems to reflect a fear of them “messing up” versus enabling them to create strategic interactions with customers. We can do so much more.

Despite the repetition, I’ve been feeling that the challenger mentality has still been missing a piece when applied to CX. The potential shortcoming is that it can often lead to a self-centric view.

A challenger is an employee who has the confidence, desire, and capability to push the boundaries of the status quo.

However, when combined with principles from servant leadership, the Servant Challenger comes to life! It brings to balance the concepts of pushing for innovation...while also helping to make life better and easier for those around us.

As leaders, we have a huge opportunity to elevate service workers to their full potential.

But this piece is not written for the service leader alone. It is also written for the frontline agent, the quality assurance specialist, the stakeholders beyond the contact center who partner with us, and everyone in between. It’s something we can all work on together.

Let’s look at how a servant challenger mindset can take shape, drawing inspiration from several iconic works.

Stage 1: The Confident Challenger

The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson offers three primary abilities for those who can “make it rain” even through adversity:

  1. Teach. An individual with the skill to unlock a new perspective and forge a new path through education. Requires considerable knowledge of both the subject matter and the customer/prospect themselves.
  2. Tailor. Someone who can “read between the lines” to ascertain what is truly important to various stakeholders. Once understood, they can customize the communication to make a particular path clear and appealing.
  3. Take Control. The confident challenger has a unique skill to make everyone around them feel confident as well. They can break through our natural tendency for inaction (for fear of making a bad decision) and develop a sense of urgency to move forward.

As we consider these abilities through a CX lens, they encapsulate someone who is an effective GUIDE. Donald Miller from Building a StoryBrand says “customers do not take action unless they are CHALLENGED to take action.” The best guides know exactly where the customer wants to go and how to best navigate the journey to get there.

Confidence is so incredibly important. Human beings are drawn to it. With so much uncertainty around us, it’s very compelling when we meet the rare individual who truly knows what they are doing (or at least so they appear).

Being challenged requires a level of vulnerability on behalf of the receiving party...a vulnerability that can only be achieved with a layer of trust. A display of authentic confidence might just be the very fastest way to begin laying that trust foundation. Stage two makes it stick for the long-term.

Stage 2: The Caring Challenger

“Listen, Challenge, Commit. A strong leader has the humility to listen, the confidence to challenge, and the wisdom to know when to quit arguing and to get on board.”

–Kim Malone Scott, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

Having the “confidence to challenge” is a big piece of the puzzle, but there is much more. Until we’ve had the humility to truly listen and understand a person, we have not earned the right to challenge them. As Kim says, we should “care personally while challenging directly.”

In other words, the best challengers are also relationship builders.

I’m not just talking about being kind here. Kindness is wonderful, and in my opinion, required as a reputable corporate citizen.

But it’s just the starting point. A caring challenger is able to transcend surface-level kindness and achieve something greater. We can strive for the type of relationship where we push one another towards larger things.

The world’s highest performing teams have a superpower of peer-to-peer accountability. This means employees care so much about the organization’s mission they have the courage to engage in “crucial conversations” in defense of the brand promise.

Until we’ve had the humility to truly listen and understand a person, we have not earned the right to challenge them.

This trait is extremely rare because it requires tremendous trust, maturity, and conviction. Frankly, most companies do not have the strength of culture required. This is captured perfectly in the Harvard Business Review article “Leading Innovation Is the Art of Creating ‘Collective Genius’.”

“Innovation usually emerges when diverse people collaborate to generate a wide-ranging portfolio of ideas, which they then refine and even evolve into new ideas through give-and-take and often-heated debates. Thus, collaboration should involve passionate disagreement.

“Yet the friction of clashing ideas may be hard to bear. It can create tension and stress—particularly in groups of talented, energetic individuals who may feel as if there are ‘too many cooks in the kitchen.’

“Often organizations try to discourage or minimize differences, but that only stifles the free flow of ideas and rich discussion that innovation needs. Leaders must manage this tension to create an environment supportive enough that people are willing to share their genius, but confrontational enough to improve ideas and spark new thinking.”

This type of combinational chemistry can be achieved by a group of caring challengers.

So often I see organizations who have some kind of “idea box”...expecting an employee to submit a perfectly formed idea for “judging” and maybe even some kind of prize to a “winner.” It’s no wonder these kinds of programs rarely have much success.

Instead, create an environment where employees are actively surfacing partial ideas, knowing that their peers are going to add their genius to make it something far greater than any one of them could have designed.

Stage 3: The Servant Challenger

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” –Rick Warren

Unfortunately, the biggest thing holding us back from moving beyond Stage One: The Confident Challenger is our own psychology.

Humans are generally hard-wired to think about themselves. This is especially true in an environment where the “circle of psychological safety” has been broken. Things like customer experience go out the window...replaced by a much more fundamental need to protect one’s job and status.

As leaders, one of the most powerful things we can do is protect our people and design an environment where they are free to thrive. “The Four Stages of Psychological Safety” (SEE CHART 1) provide a remarkable roadmap for doing just that.

Did you notice the key word for the final level? That’s right...challenger! No coincidence here folks.

Consider the power of a workforce so alive and engaged, they are actively working to shatter the status quo and design something better. Add the collaborative element from stage two, and you have something truly remarkable.

It’s the person who is not pushing boundaries to achieve their own success or secure their own legacy...they have their eyes on something bigger.

Stage Three, The Servant Challenger, is more focused on the leadership of the organization. After all, it’s the leaders who are responsible for establishing a culture capable of creating and attracting challengers. There is so much we can take away from the philosophy of “Servant Leadership”:

“At the root, this kind of leadership seeks to accomplish an organization where personal gain and goals don’t infringe on the group. Everyone is empowered, uplifted, and encouraged in servant leadership. Your personal motivations aren’t as important as helping others, and everyone is encouraged to serve others to help everyone get where they want to go.”WGU.edu

Now this is the type of challenger who can truly change the world…or at least a company! It’s the person who is not pushing boundaries to achieve their own success or secure their own legacy…they have their eyes on something bigger.

These are mentors and community builders who are forging lasting connections in service to the mission. Their conviction is contagious, making everyone around them better.

Here are several attributes of servant leaders that set them apart (SEE CHART 2).

This is the foundation that helps a person to challenge for the right reasons. The customer wins, the business wins, and the employees win and share a camaraderie they would have otherwise never experienced.

Are you ready to embrace your capabilities as a servant challenger? Fortunately, the first person you have the opportunity to challenge is yourself.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown

Nate Brown loves two things very much...customer experience and community. Fortunately, these concepts go hand-in-hand! As a community builder, Nate co-founded CX Accelerator in 2018. Quickly growing to well over four thousand members, this vibrant collection of CX leaders is helping one another to maximize their career and accomplish remarkable things in service to others.

As a Customer Experience executive and consultant, Nate has led service teams, anchored the CX function inside of a startup, and helped to foster exceptional employee-customer connections in dozens of organizations. He's worked in a variety of industries, including gaming, music, SaaS, gig-services, retail, healthcare, and many more.

Shortly after authoring The Ultimate CX Primer, Brown was dubbed the “CX Influencer of the Year” by CloudCherry, and a top global CX thought leader by ICMI, Exceeders, Netomi, and MartechVibe to name a few. Nate was voted "most impactful influencer in the CX landscape for 2023" by Kustomer. He has been widely recognized for a unique ability to infuse energy and excitement into the work of CX for employees at all levels of the organization. When not "CX'ing," Brown is a competitive disc golfer, certified pickleball instructor, husband to a super cool wife, and dad of two incredible daughters.

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