By Derek Ruhland, Training Content Manager
Customer service is a core component of the SIS difference. Providing industry-leading customer service is one of the reasons why clients with complex and critical security needs choose SIS as their security provider. I spoke with SIS leaders to get their perspective on customer service, and what it takes to WOW someone every day.
In his role as Director, Karl Barnhart ensures that more than a thousand Specialists provide excellent customer service at dozens of client locations throughout Seattle. In responding to a general inquiry of mine about his approach to customer service, Karl said, “Customer service is an everyday task because of our customer service obsession, and the demand we place on ourselves to be as agile and nimble as our clients are. This is reflected in our operational priorities and leadership structure. Other security companies don’t do that, and when you’re working with some of our clients, especially in the tech and retail sectors, that nimbleness is critical.”
“For our client, there’s the Day 1 philosophy: never get comfortable or entrenched in the way things are done. You’re always being innovative. That’s an example of how the SIS difference matches well with our client. We never accept the status quo. We’re willing to dump the box upside down and start from scratch. [Together with SIS Training,] we developed the Field Training Specialist program specifically for this client, and that’s a good example of that ground-up philosophy. Another example is the Education and Policy Awareness Supervisor, who will go out and talk to people individually and make sure that they’re up to date on policy.”
Retail Director Vic Gomes speaks to one of the ways in which the nimbleness of SIS customer service allows us to better serve a designer retail client, saying, “In retail, we’re not only dealing with the client, we’re dealing with customers. We’re front facing to the customers of the client, and we’re a reflection of the client. With our luxury brands, our Specialists actually go through a client class. They learn about the history of the brand so that we’re knowledgeable about their expectations. Beyond that, we do a lot of doubling-up training or shadowing, so our new employees can see how someone that is experienced interacts with both the client and customers. New hires also spend time with managers and supervisors in order to learn the expectations. Expectations are different for every client, and being adaptable to that is very important to providing SIS customer service. Some clients don’t want Specialists interacting with customers, some clients want us to be very active and front-facing to the customer, so we really have to train them depending on where they’re going to work.”
Another example given by Mr. Gomes as to how SIS provides adaptable customer service is in reference to the unique way Loss Prevention — another group he oversees — must be considerate of client needs. “[Unlike Retail], Loss Prevention doesn’t deal with the customers, but we are still dealing with the client. We need [our LP Officers] to do the job, but we need to disrupt the client business as little as possible in doing so. Customer service is critical because we’re often using [the client] manager’s office to carry out the work, sometimes for hours at a time. We need them to be on our side, so in LP, relationship management is key to good customer service.”
Mr. Gomes goes on to talk about how leadership secures employee buying to customer service and the rest of the SIS vision. “When they know the expectations, SIS 101 helps on that, because it communicates SIS company culture and the importance of customer service to SIS.”
On the topic of buy-in, Mr. Barnhart says, “Getting employee buy-in on what the client is doing is crucial. Specifically, communicating the client’s vision of customer service is critical, and another important part of being nimble. From a leadership standpoint, we make sure that when a client has a request, we’re transparent to employees, which set them up with an understanding of that vision. Sometimes that means talking to people face to face, sometimes it’s all-calls. Typically buyin may not be best communicated through email. Being transparent really is the best way, because it makes them a part of the vision.”
Training Director Mike Kirkendall explained one of the ways the Training department ensures that communicating the SIS obsession with customer service goes beyond SIS 101. “For our trainers, we stress that customer service be a component of virtually every course we teach. If we’re teaching about social media, we describe how behavior on social media can affect the customer’s experience of SIS service. By tying everything back to customer service, we’re trying to communicate how everything we do grows from that one central tenant.”
I asked Mr. Kirkendall how the culture of customer service manifests itself in a support department that is internal-facing, rather than dealing directly with the client in most cases. He answered, “One of our department edicts is that we treat SIS employees as our customers. Even though we all work for the same company, the people we’re working with are our clients. At that point, all we’re doing is holding ourselves to the same standards that we expect of our client facing employees.”
Special Operations Director Lori Perry mentioned the extent to which this attitude — of serving co-workers as if they were customers — is absolutely foundational to the SIS difference: “The entire process starts with understanding who the customer is. We’ve got internal customers and external customers, and how we treat each other is as important as how we treat the client. It’s important because that internal exchange is easily observed by the client, and speaks to the culture.”
“I think ultimately that’s one of our big differences at SIS,” Perry continued. “We treat each other better than employees of other companies do. We remember birthdays and work anniversaries, and we give out the WOW awards. We take care of our people, our people are happier and happier employees provide better customer service.”
“I notice a lot of times that our clients even tell us, ‘You guys just seem enthusiastic and happy to come to work.’ Well, our people wouldn’t be happy to come to work if their paychecks weren’t on time, or they had to pay for their own uniforms, or anything else that employees have to deal with at other companies. The internal support translates directly to our customers’ experience.”
From our founders to our newest employees, from executives to Specialists, customer service is an obsession at SIS. It’s at the very center of our culture, and it’s the foundation on which the SIS difference is built. Hopefully, having gained some insight into how SIS leaders work to bring about the SIS vision, you will be better able to provide excellent customer service, and WOW someone every day.