Homework The Service Culture Handbook The Service Culture Handbook A STEP – BY – STEP GUIDE TO GETTING YOUR EMPLOYEES OBSESSED WITH CUSTOMER SERVICE


The Service Culture Handbook

The Service Culture Handbook


Jeff Toister

Copyright © 2017 Jeff Toister
All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 9780692842003
ISBN-10: 0692842004

Table of Contents


Part 1: Culture Is the Key to Outstanding Customer Service
Chapter 1 How Corporate Culture Guides Your Employees’ Actions
Chapter 2 Why Culture Initiatives Often Fail

Part 2: Building a Customer-Focused Culture
Chapter 3 Defining Your Culture
Chapter 4 Engaging Employees with Your Culture

Part 3: Changing Your Company’s Service DNA
Chapter 5 Aligning Your Business Around a Customer-Focused Culture
Chapter 6 Setting Goals That Drive Your Culture
Chapter 7 Hiring Employees Who Will Embrace Your Culture
Chapter 8 Training Employees to Embody Your Culture
Chapter 9 Empowering Employees to Support Your Culture
Chapter 10 How Leadership Can Make or Break Your Culture
Chapter 11 A Customer-Focused Example
Chapter 12 Making the Commitment to a Customer-Focused Culture


MY FIRST BOOK, SERVICE FAILURE, was published in October 2012. People
almost immediately started asking me when I would write another.

I resented that question at first. It’s hard enough to write one book and I
couldn’t believe people were already talking about book number two. Now, I
appreciate all the people who asked the question. It showed they saw
something that I didn’t—I had another book to write.

Michelle Burke and Adriana Perez are fantastic friends who helped
make this book possible in a roundabout way. They connected me with
representatives of the online training video company lynda.com (now
LinkedIn Learning) at a trade show in 2013. One thing led to another, and I
was suddenly making customer service training videos.

My very first video was filmed in August 2013 and formed the seeds for
this book. It’s called Leading a Customer-Centric Culture, and it outlined
what elite companies do to get employees obsessed with service. (Check it
out at www.lynda.com/JeffToister. You’ll need a lynda.com account to view
the course, but you can get a 10-day trial at www.lynda.com/trial/JeffToister.)

Finally, I owe my wife, Sally, an endless amount of gratitude. Her
encouragement continuously inspires me to write.


TONY D’AIUTO WANTED TO CREATE an unforgettable experience.
He’s an Airport Operations Center manager at the Tampa International

Airport. Small children often lose a favorite stuffed animal while traveling
through an airport, so D’Aiuto’s goal was to reunite a child with a lost toy in
a fun and unique way.

His plan was to take photos of the toy in various places around the
airport to make it look like the stuffed animal had gone on a big adventure.
He would then return the toy to the child along with photographs of its
journey. D’Aiuto asked a colleague who oversaw the airport’s lost and found
department to alert him the next time a child lost a stuffed animal.

Once the plan was in place, he waited. And waited. It took two months
for it to happen. D’Aiuto was ready when he finally got the call.

A six-year-old boy had lost his stuffed tiger, Hobbes. The boy and his
Tampa-based family had already boarded their outbound flight when Hobbes
was found, so it was too late to return it to them that day. D’Aiuto jumped
into action.

“Being a hobbyist photographer, I thought I could have some fun and
creativity with the ways I took photos of Hobbes’s adventure during my
lunch break,” said D’Aiuto. He enlisted help from various people around the
airport to photograph Hobbes with airport firefighters, riding on a luggage
cart, by the airport control tower, and elsewhere.

D’Aiuto took his photos to Walgreens, where he used a coupon he had
saved to make a hardbound photo book documenting Hobbes’s adventure. He
then brought Hobbes and the photo book to the airport’s lost and found
department, so the family could retrieve them when they returned from their

The family had been told that the boy’s stuffed animal was waiting for
them at the airport’s lost and found. They headed there immediately after
their flight landed, eager to reunite Hobbes with their son. It was a touching

reunion, and the boy really enjoyed seeing the pictures of Hobbes on his great
adventure. D’Aiuto’s initiative had taken the traumatic experience of losing a
favorite toy and turned it into something positive and fun. The boy’s mother
was moved to tears at the kindness displayed by D’Aiuto and the rest of the
Tampa Airport staff.

The heartwarming story attracted national media attention. It was
picked up by news outlets such as NPR, CNN, and USA Today.

You just don’t hear customer service stories like this very often.
There are plenty of stories about service failures. Every week, there

seems to be yet another company featured in a news story about shockingly
poor service. Customer service leaders privately tell me they struggle simply
to get their employees to consistently deliver basics such as courtesy,
promptness, and helpfulness.

Why are the stories about outstanding customer service so rare?
It’s not due to a lack of ideas. Bookstores are well stocked with books

explaining how to provide outstanding customer service. Some describe how
companies can create successful service strategies, while others provide tips
and tactics for customer-facing employees.

There are many other places where you can find customer service ideas.
There are conferences, motivational speakers, and seminars galore.
Consultants like me write blog posts, record podcasts, and create videos.
Nearly every customer service professional has attended a customer service
training class at some point during their career.

The stuffed animal photo adventure certainly isn’t a new concept.
D’Aiuto got the idea after reading a similar story about a child who lost a
stuffed lion at a museum in London, England. It’s also been done by a
museum in Canada, and a Ritz-Carlton in Florida did the same thing with a
stuffed giraffe in 2012. The original concept may have come from a story
about a lawn gnome that was stolen from a garden in the mid-1980s and
returned to its owner with a photo album depicting its various adventures. Or
it may have originated from a popular children’s book called Flat Stanley,
which was published in 1964.

I asked D’Aiuto why he went to so much trouble on his own time just to
create a memorable experience for one child. “Tampa International Airport
has a long history of being very people-focused, as opposed to plane-
focused,” he told me. He explained that everyone in the airport, from the
CEO on down, is committed to providing exceptional service. “Our CEO, Joe

Lopano, sets the tone for being efficient and hard-working, but he also fosters
a sense of creativity and fun at the airport which makes employees feel
comfortable enough to take a chance like I did with this little boy’s lost

That’s the real secret that explains why these types of stories are so rare:
Tampa International Airport has done something that few organizations
achieve. The airport has created an environment where employees are
constantly thinking about outstanding service. They proactively look for
ways to make a difference in their customers’ lives, even if it means going far
beyond their regular responsibilities. Employees prioritize passengers over
planes, recognizing that airport operations are really just a means to help
travelers get to wherever they’re trying to go. Perhaps that’s why the airport
is consistently rated one of the best in the U.S. in Condé Nast’s annual
reader’s poll.

In short, employees there are obsessed with service.
The Service Culture Handbook shows you how to create a customer-

focused culture where employees in your organization are obsessed with
service. It’s a step-by-step guide to help customer service teams, business
units, and even entire companies get excited about serving customers at the
highest level.

You’ll get an inside look at companies—like REI, JetBlue Airlines, and
Publix—that consistently rank near the top of their industries for customer
service. You’ll also find profiles of some lesser-known companies that
represent the next wave of legendary customer service organizations. This
book will show you what these elite organizations do that most organizations

The Service Culture Handbook is organized into three parts. The first
part examines why creating a customer-focused culture is the key to
outstanding customer service. It also offers some cautionary tales about
companies whose culture initiatives failed.

The second part provides detailed instructions for building a customer-
focused culture. When you use these chapters to clearly define your
organization’s unique culture, you’ll transform the way your employees view
service. The ultimate goal is to get your employees obsessed with
consistently delivering service that’s so amazing it becomes part of your
company’s brand image.

Finally, the third part of the book helps you embed customer focus in

your company’s DNA, so you can sustain the customer-focused culture
you’ve created. Companies that get really good at service will tell you they
have to work at it every day. It’s easy to grow weary or lose focus when
you’ve worked long and hard at achieving a goal. These chapters assist you
in keeping your employees engaged and making outstanding service the way
that your company, department, or team simply does business.

Many chapters contain sample worksheets to help you implement these
concepts. You can download blank copies of the worksheets from this book
at www.serviceculturebook.com/tools. You’ll also find additional tools and
resources on the website, such as access to my Customer Service Tip of the
Week email. You and your employees can sign up for these tips for free.

I recommend that you read each chapter in order, to get a clear picture
of what it takes to create a customer-focused culture. You may be tempted to
pick and choose lessons from this book. Please don’t. This is a complete
recipe for building a customer service culture. Just as you wouldn’t try to
bake a cake without flour or eggs, you shouldn’t try to transform your
organization’s customer service while leaving out an essential ingredient.
Also, it’s a good idea to know exactly what you’re getting into before you
launch a major initiative.

I won’t lie to you. Getting your employees obsessed with customer
service is not easy. It is, however, one of the elements that separates the elite
organizations from the rest. These companies put in the hard work that most
aren’t willing to dedicate themselves to.

Don’t be afraid to use me as a resource as you explore these concepts.
I’m easy to get in touch with:

Call or text: 619-955-7946
Email: jeff@toistersolutions.com
Twitter: @toister
You’ll also find additional analysis, tips, and trends to help you develop

a customer-focused organization on my Inside Customer Service blog at

For now, I encourage you to turn to Chapter 1, where you’ll read about
another company whose employees are obsessed with customer service. In
fact, these employees are so customer-focused that they did something that
practically no one else would be willing to do.

Part 1: Culture Is the Key to Outstanding Customer


How Corporate Culture Guides Your Employees’ Actions

THE INTERNAL NETWORK AT RACKSPACE went down and took the phone
system with it. Customers suddenly weren’t able to call. Employees couldn’t
even access the company directory to contact each other.

This was a potential disaster.
Rackspace provides computer hosting services for more than 300,000

customers. These companies run their websites, email, and internal computer
systems on its network. It’s all mission-critical stuff. When there’s a problem,
Rackspace customers need help fast.

A lone technical support agent sprang into action. He tweeted his
personal phone number, letting customers know they could reach him directly
if they needed help. Soon other tech support reps followed suit and tweeted
their numbers, too. For the next four hours, they used Twitter and their cell
phones to serve customers until Rackspace restored its phone service. The
support team typically handles a thousand calls during a four-hour time
frame, so their extraordinary service prevented a lot of unhappy customers.

The stakes were high, but nobody from management told these
employees to tweet their personal phone numbers. It wasn’t part of a
carefully scripted procedure. No one even asked permission. They just did it.

Imagine the same scenario at nearly any other company. Employees would
feel helpless. A few might lobby their supervisor to go home early. Most
would just sit around and wait for the phone system to come back up.

The corporate communications department might post a message on the
company’s website to let customers know the phones were down. Somebody
might tweet an update on the status of the phone system. That would likely be

the extent of the company’s efforts to alert customers to the problem.
Tweeting personal contact information would be unthinkable. Many

customer service employees are fearful of giving out their last names, let
alone their phone numbers. Employees at the average company would never
take the kind of initiative that happened at Rackspace.

Rackspace isn’t the average company, though. Stories of employees
delivering over-the-top service are common. One rep ordered a pizza for a
customer during a marathon trouble shooting session after she heard him
mention that he was getting hungry. An account manager showed her
appreciation for a visiting client by preparing a home-cooked meal.

The big question is why employees at Rackspace serve their customers
in a way that’s so different from the norm. It’s too simplistic to say that
Rackspace has made a company-wide commitment to provide outstanding
service. Lots of companies make similar claims, but that doesn’t mean they
actually do it.

Their exceptional service isn’t just a product of great training, either.
Training works when you want to show someone how to use a specific skill
or follow a particular procedure. Tweeting personal phone numbers, ordering
pizza for a customer, and preparing a home-cooked meal for a client were all
improvised moves. These actions were neither trained nor scripted.

The real secret to Rackspace’s extraordinary service is their customer-
focused culture. Employees are absolutely obsessed with taking care of their
customers. They have created a unique identity, calling themselves Rackers,
symbolizing the pride employees have in their company. They’ve developed
a special brand of customer service called Fanatical Support® that promises
customers they’ll spring into action and do whatever it takes to help resolve
any issue.

It’s this obsession that leads to customer service hero moments like
tweeting a personal phone number so customers can reach you.

A hero moment occurs any time an employee, a team, or an entire
company rises to the occasion to provide customers with outstanding service.
Hero moments aren’t limited to over-the-top actions. They include everyday
service encounters as well. In his book, Be Your Customer’s Hero, customer
experience strategist Adam Toporek defines it this way1:

“It means being there when the customer needs you and making
your personal interaction with the customer as memorably positive

as possible.”

Let’s face it: the vast majority of customer-service interactions are
unremarkable. They’re neither amazingly good nor frustratingly bad. Think
about the last time you went to the bank, bought a cup of coffee, or ordered
something online. There’s a good chance that nothing particularly
extraordinary happened. It was business as usual.

A few experiences do stand out. We certainly remember the service
failures. But we also remember the hero moments. Maybe you remember a
kind bank teller who helped you avoid a fee. Perhaps there’s a barista at your
local coffee shop who makes you feel special every time he’s there because
he knows your name and your favorite drink. Or there may have been a time
when you were shipped the wrong item, but the friendly customer service rep
made the resolution so easy that you vowed to become a customer for life.

Every customer interaction is an opportunity for a hero moment or a
service failure. Some businesses, like hotels, might have multiple interactions
per day with the same customers. According to the Cornell Center for
Hospitality Research, an average 250-room hotel has 5,000 daily guest
interactions with valets, door people, bell staff, reception, restaurants,
housekeeping, engineering, and other functions.2

The largest businesses might serve millions of customers on a daily
basis. For example, Domino’s Pizza delivers more than one million pizzas
per day, seven days a week. Imagine all the customer service interactions
required to make that happen! About 500,000 of those orders are taken by an
employee (the rest are taken electronically, via their website, smart phone
app, etc.). Employees must also deliver those one million pizzas. That means
Domino’s averages about 1.5 million hero or failure opportunities every day.3

Individual employees at some companies might personally serve dozens
of customers per day. For example:

A typical airline flight might have 150 passengers served by four
flight attendants.
A retail cashier might serve 20 customers (or more) per hour.
A contact center agent might serve 10 (or more) customers per

It’s impossible for a boss, a policy, or a system to control all these
interactions. Employees must exercise independent discretion at times. This
is a scary reality for customer-service leaders, who worry their employees
will do something wrong.

I’ve spoken to thousands of customer service employees over the years.
Most want to do a good job and make their customers happy. The vast
majority of these employees know how to deliver a hero moment, but they
aren’t actively looking for them. Sometimes the moment arises, but the
employee doesn’t feel empowered to spring into action. These are situations
where the right corporate culture can encourage employees to make good

Culture creates hero moments on an individual level, where an
employee strives to deliver the best customer service possible. That employee
feels empowered to do what it takes to makes customers happy and takes
pride in the company he or she works for. You see it in the way the employee
greets customers, solves problems, and goes the extra mile when the situation
demands it.

Culture also creates hero moments on a team level, where a department
works together to serve its customers at a consistently high level. Team
members share a passion for service that’s absolutely contagious. You see it
in their pervasive can-do attitudes and in the way they support each other in a
collective effort to make their customers happy. These employees take pride
in their team, yet always push each other to do even better.

Culture can create hero moments on an organizational level, as well,
where an entire company is dedicated to providing outstanding service.
Strategy, goals, policy, and other corporate decisions are made with the
customer in mind. You see the impact of this customer focus in the legions of
loyal customers who go out of their way to do business with these select

It’s no wonder that culture is such a hot topic in customer service. So,
what exactly is it?

Corporate culture can be a nebulous subject. There’s a lot that goes into it,
like mission, vision, and value statements. But while those are some of its
elements, a company’s culture is broader than that.

I turned to Catherine Mattice to get a clear definition. She’s a consultant
and trainer who specializes in helping organizations create a positive
workplace culture. She’s also the author of Back Off! Your Kick-Ass Guide to
Ending Bullying at Work, and her research on the topic has made her an in-
demand speaker at human resources conferences. Mattice has even served as
an expert witness in court cases where corporate culture was a factor.

We met for coffee on a warm, sunny day. The coffee shop had a patio
with just enough shade to make it comfortable. I thought it might be a short
conversation, but we ended up talking for several hours.

We discovered that the challenge in defining culture is that there are so
many valid perspectives. When Mattice helps companies end workplace
bullying, she does so by focusing on their culture. I, too, focus on culture
when I work with companies to help improve customer service. And when
another colleague helps companies with their branding, she begins her efforts
by focusing on their corporate culture, as well. It seems that so many things
companies do can be boiled down to their culture.

Mattice and I agreed that while corporate culture can refer to an entire
organization, it can also refer to a business unit, location, or individual team.
It’s not unusual for groups in different parts of a company to share some
common characteristics, yet also have their own unique identity. You can’t
easily change the entire corporate culture if you’re a store manager for a retail
chain, but you can influence the culture within your particular store.

Mattice shared this definition, which puts it all together:

“Corporate culture is the way an organization’s members think,
act, and understand the world around them.”

Let’s use Rackspace as an example. Rackers certainly think, act, and
understand the world around them differently than employees at most
companies. When faced with an unexpected challenge, such as the phones
going down, Rackers think, “My customers need me. I have to find a way to
help them.” They act to do something about it. Rackers do this because they
understand how critical their services are to their clients’ businesses.

Contrast this to the customer service most of us receive every day.
Many employees think about their job solely in terms of their assigned
responsibilities. They act in accordance with company policies and

procedures, but rarely take initiative. They understand their role, but may not
understand the company’s goals. Or, employees might understand the
company’s goals, but not care about helping to achieve them.

All organizations have a culture. It doesn’t have to be something
intentionally created. In most organizations, culture organically develops over
time through corporate strategy, the decisions of its leaders, the way
employees interact with each other, and many other factors.

It’s natural for a group of people to develop a certain amount of
collective thinking. When you hear people say, “That’s how we do things
around here,” they’re referring to their company’s culture. A few elite
companies, like Rackspace, intentionally strive to cultivate a positive,
customer-focused culture.

That intentionality is what’s missing in many organizations. According
to Mattice, most companies have policies that tell employees what they
should not do. Companies with positive cultures help employees understand
what they should do. Mattice explains that without clear guidance, “People
don’t know how else to act.”

But you can’t tell employees specifically what to do in every situation;
there are too many variables. Instead, an intentionally-guided culture acts as a
compass that consistently points employees in the right direction. That
culture is reinforced when employees encounter a hero moment and make the
right decision.

Rob La Gesse is the Vice President of Social Strategy at Rackspace. Most
corporate executives in publicly traded companies are hard to contact. Not La
Gesse. I got his phone number when he sent it to me via Twitter.

I asked La Gesse why he shares this information so freely. His
explanation was simple: “I’m in the people business. I want people to find

He’s not kidding. La Gesse published his cell and home phone numbers
on his blog in 2009. It was 2013 when the Rackspace technical support rep
tweeted his own cell number in order to be accessible to customers in need.
Sharing a personal phone number via social media wasn’t a scripted move,
but it was embedded in the company’s organizational thinking and
exemplified by its leaders.

Accessibility is just one illustration of how Rackspace creates a
customer-focused culture. Another is how it hires employees. According to
La Gesse, the company hires many people who don’t have technical
backgrounds. They come from hospitality, medical, and similar professions
that attract people with natural empathy.

La Gesse shares an example of the type of people they like to hire at
Rackspace. He was attending an offsite meeting at a hotel. The meeting
ended for the day, and the attendees headed off to the hotel’s bar. There were
only three bartenders, who were working like crazy to keep up.

La Gesse ordered a frozen margarita but received a margarita on the
rocks. He was deep in conversation with a colleague and saw the long line at
the bar, so he decided not to bother with getting his order corrected.

A few minutes later, the bartender approached La Gesse with a frozen
margarita. He apologized for the error and told La Gesse that both drinks
were on the house.

La Gesse was impressed. Mistakes can and will happen, especially
during busy times. But it takes a special kind of person to recognize their
mistake and go out of their way to fix it when the customer hadn’t

He waited for the bar to calm down a bit and then approached the
bartender. La Gesse handed him his business card and said, “You need to be
a Racker.” The bartender was eventually hired by Rackspace. Although he
had no experience working with computer networks, he turned out to be a
perfect fit. He now has a successful career in technical sales.

“I can teach anybody [the computer operating system] Linux,” said La
Gesse. “I can’t teach them to actually care.”

Rackspace specifically looks for people like this, who fit the company’s
customer-focused culture. Here’s a passage from its Fanatical Support

We cannot promise that hardware won’t break, that software
won’t fail, or that we will always be perfect. What we can promise
is that if something goes wrong, we will rise to the occasion, take
action, and help resolve the issue.

This isn’t just something that’s tucked into an employee handbook and then

forgotten. This promise is a way of doing business at Rackspace. It’s how
Rackers think, from executive leadership all the way to the employees on the
front lines of customer service.4

Fanatical Support is the first of the company’s six core values:

1. Fanatical Support® in all we do.
2. Results first. Substance over flash.
3. Treat Rackers like friends & family.
4. Passion for our work.
5. Full disclosure & transparency.
6. Committed to greatness.

What truly makes these values special is that they’re ingrained in hiring,
training, and all aspects of guiding the employees’ work. The company even
has a “Culture” page on its website to explain it all:5

“Our Core Values came from us, the employees. They are our
collective thoughts and beliefs encompassed by six values. Our
leadership had no input or vote in them. We wouldn’t even let
them spell check our values. Luckily for us, our bosses are smart
enough to know that telling employees what to think and believe is
a complete waste of time, and just a bad idea all the way around.”

These values truly represent how Rackspace does business. You see this in an
employee tweeting his cell phone number to be accessible to customers in
need. You see it in a bartender who gets hired after going out of his way to
fix a drink order. In fact, you see examples of Fanatical Support® reinforced
every single day at Rackspace.

“You have to constantly work at it,” said La Gesse. “You have to
constantly talk about.”

What leaders constantly work at and talk about has a profound impact on a
company’s culture. It shapes how employees think about, act upon, and

understand service. Focus on the wrong things, and a company can
unintentionally develop an anti-customer culture.

Comcast provides a clear warning. It’s generally considered to have
some of the worst customer service in the country. It was rated the worst
internet service provider in the United States by the 2015 American Customer
Satisfaction Index, and third and fourth worst respectively in subscription
television and phone service.6 Comcast also ranked dead last in the 2015
Temkin Customer Service Ratings.7

Comcast has been known to attract national media attention with its epic
service failures. One particular example happened in July 2014. A Comcast
subscriber named Ryan Block called to cancel his service. The customer
service agent inexplicably stonewalled his request. Block was ten minutes
into the call when he decided to record it.8

The recording lasts for approximately eight minutes. On it, you can hear
the Comcast employee repeatedly badgering Block about his decision to
cancel. Block politely asked the agent to cancel his service multiple times,
but the employee continuously tried to talk him into retaining his account.

Block posted the recording online and it quickly went viral. Major news
outlets reported on it. Tom Karinshak, Comcast’s Senior Vice President of
Customer Experience, issued a statement apologizing for the incident:

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