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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

My single biggest leadership lesson is that delivering great service is a journey that never ends, and motivating and empowering people throughout your business to deliver it is critical to success.

In my first senior leadership position, I had the opportunity to work directly for Mogens Smed at SMED International in Calgary. SMED was in a complicated business of building and installing custom office interiors across North America and around the world. While there were many elements to SMED's success, the foundations were built on Mogens' focus on customer service, the constant inspiration and leadership he provided on this issue and the continuous messaging on the importance of this to everyone across the organization. This vision allowed SMED to grow to employ 2,500 people and generate more than $300-million in sales.

The businesses that I admire most seem to have this customer service focus built right through their core values. WestJet delivers on its promise by having a simple message, planes that leave on time, good prices and staff that care about their customers. I still think warmly of the company from the time that my young daughter won a bag of cookies in an impromptu singing competition organized by flight crew over the aircraft address system. WestJet has so consistently delivered on its customer service promise that even if a weather event has caused flight delay, many customers like me understand that WestJet and their colleagues cares.

In trying to build a business that lives this culture of service excellence, it all starts with the people organization. People have to see leadership that are making the right tradeoffs of customer service compared to say, short-term profits, and all employees need to be empowered to improve customer experience in their own roles. My own sense is that many executives spend too much time focused on scorecards and key performance indicators, instead of delivering the customer service message to their teams, focusing on process change to improve customer service and empowering their people to deliver fantastic customer service experience.

I recently bought a new car. As part of the rather unsatisfactory process of haggling to determine the price to be paid, the sales manager asked me to commit to score the dealership 10 out of 10 on its post-sale customer service survey. I doubt if this is the first time that it has made this request – and any executive relying on the results of this survey data to gauge the customers' feelings would surely be lulled into a false sense of complacency.

What I have learned over the years is that despite the best planning and a deep desire to deliver excellent customer service, it is really difficult to deliver on the customer service mantra consistently. However, if leaders have fostered a customer service culture and react appropriately to customer service challenges, the overall outcome can be much improved.

When Equitable Bank launched EQ Bank last January, we experienced a level of customer demand that we weren't prepared for. From our initial goal of serving 10,000 customers in the first year, we rapidly exceeded our projections with 25,000 customers trusting us with their business, with more than a $1-billion in savings, in the first few weeks. Our systems had not been set up for this level of demand and we disappointed ourselves and broke our customer service promise early on. Equitable's culture of putting customer first allowed us to respond effectively at all levels as our operations teams dug deep over evenings and weekends to resolve issues. Employees from other departments jumped in to help, and we rapidly implemented new technology solutions to resolve issues. Our human resources team also stepped up the challenge by recruiting more talent to increase capacity. Now, our customers are comparing the EQ Bank's digital banking offering favourably to other established banks.

Clearly, companies with a reputation for caring about customer service excel in delivering growth and profits. Business leaders that work relentlessly with their employees to ensure that every dimension of the business is aligned around the customer service mandate create great businesses that will endure.

Andrew Moor is CEO and president of Equitable Bank.

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