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March Madness Teaches Us About Customer Service and Leadership

Anyone who participated in sports during his or her youth understands the importance of the team dynamic.  The good news is that it doesn’t really matter whether you participated in basketball, baseball, or bowling. . .The teamwork imperatives were the same.  As the NCAA tournament begins, and the nation becomes obsessed with college hoops, this is a great time to draw inspiration from a group of coaches who personify fantastic Leadership.  They find a way to get the very best from their players and inspire individuals to become greater than themselves as a part of the team.

You certainly can’t hope to serve your Customers effectively without the work of the team pulling the rope in the same direction. Great teams that perform at a very high level have the same characteristics regardless of whether they are running a restaurant, home improvement store, or law firm.

Team members know they can count on each other There is no doubt that trust is the great team adhesive. Without the ability to lean on your coworkers and colleagues, the whole Customer experience will just fall apart.  Everyone cannot be involved in everything, so you have to count on your teammates to take care of their corner of the store.  If you have a weak cog in the service machine that can lead to a service failure.  Think of the weak free throw shooter that gets fouled during the last few minutes of a close game.  How much does everyone cringe when he heads to the line? You might feel the same way when a weaker member of the team has an important task to complete or engages with a Customer at the moment of truth.

They have a coach or leader who not only pushes them to success but holds them accountable Teams need to be challenged. They need to be nurtured.  They also need to be held accountable.  Whether you are a fan of the style of Dean Smith, Coach K, Bobby Knight, or John Wooden, they all had periods in their careers when they got the best out of their teams.  The key here is that they wouldn’t settle for anything less than excellence.  They took care of the basics and they pushed the teams to remember that games are won by making free throws, setting picks, and executing defense.  Amazing dunks are great for the highlight reels, but they don’t win games.  This is very much like the basics of safety, cleanliness, and consistency being so important to building loyalty as opposed to the grand gestures.  Coaches set the tone here by allowing the big play only when the basics are satisfied – but if you go for the big slam, be sure to nail it.  Otherwise you’ll be pulled from the game for not taking the sure-thing lay up.  The message here is that Leadership matters and must set the tone.  And if folks don’t peform you have to coach them back to greatness or pull them from the roster.  It is also important to note that your coach must be a cheerleader, too.  They must deliver the loudest accolades when success comes and stand in front of trouble when things go sideways.

The team has a game plan that clearly defines their mission and values Teams have a playbook – they know what is important and what matters most.  They understand what to do when they have a healthy lead and what to do when they are 10 points down with 2:00 left in the second half.  This is where coaches and Leaders must be sure that the team knows exactly what is important at any given time.  Leadership must establish what to do in any given situation and empower the front line team to execute on those goals.  When teams are left to their own devices, and have no understanding of organizational goals or how to prioritize imperatives, then teams lose and Customers suffer.

The team “huddles” regularly to stay engaged and on point Have you noticed that before games start, coaches bring their teams into a huddle to motivate them and make sure they are ready for tip off?  They also pull the team together when things aren’t going to plan to bring the mission back into focus.  This is a key part of almost every sport, and this is something that most businesses can learn from as well.  Most Associates say that communication is the biggest miss between Leaders and the team on a daily basis, so any chance to engage with them will be welcomed.  There is rarely too much communication, so be sure to meet with your team prior to opening your business each day, and then be sure to utilize touch points throughout the day to keep the team moving in the right direction.  For more details, see my previous post: For Great Service, Start with Great Team Huddles.

They “practice” or get well trained to WIN Great college basketball teams don’t walk out onto the court to greatness.  They have practiced, drilled, and sweated their way to success.  This is no different than winning teams in any business.  Your team has to be prepared to succeed – and that means amazing training.  Often when teams fail to execute for Customers it is because there is a lack of training.  Your team should never practice on Customers, just as a great basketball team is never executing the fast break for the first time in a real game.  They have spent months drilling on that in practice long before they hit the NCAA tournament.   Take the time to train your team on the basics of their jobs long before they interact with a Customer for the first time.  Make sure your current team is trained and cross-trained, then make that great training a part of onboarding for all your new hires going forward.

So take your queues from the amazing coaches in the NCAA tournament, and you’ll find that your team is well prepared to execute daily for your Guests.  The fact is that every team needs leadership, nurturing, and accountability to be great.  It isn’t easy, but it is straightforward.  If you take the time to execute on these values you’ll find that your level of execution will absolutely improve.

And when execution improves, your Customers win.

Until next time, be sure to treat your Customers like cherished friends.


Tony Johnson Customer Service Expert | Author | Trainer | Speaker

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