Take Service to the Stratosphere

by Ron Kaufman

Service BellService is everywhere. But there is a vast disconnect between the volume of service we need and the quality of service we are giving and receiving. Businesses have turned a very simple human concept into a catastrophic cliché. They remain blind to the fact that true service comes not from demands and dashboards, but from a basic human desire to take care of other people.

With service at airports commonly experienced as unpleasant, the case of Changi Airport in Singapore can be instructive. The airport is immaculate, with walkways as wide as roadways and not a speck of litter anywhere. As travelers move deeper into the terminal, they see a butterfly garden, an outdoor swimming pool, playground equipment, a four-story slide, napping rooms, spa treatments and entertainment venues that include movie theaters and video-gaming stations. But aside from the physical attractions, Changi Airport’s employees eagerly offer a greeting and a smile and ask how they can help.

This oasis of pleasure is the perfect illustration of what service can (and should) look like in our global economy. With the following building blocks, businesses can create a sustainable culture that delivers outstanding service every day.

1. Common Service Language. The whole domain of service suffers from weak clichés, poor distinctions, and inaccurate common sense. “Oh, you want service?” an employee asks. “Well, you’ll have to talk to our service department.” This is as true internally as it is with customers. “It’s not my job to make you happy,” says a manager. “Talk to human resources if you’ve got something to say.” An executive might even say, “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

Using and promoting a Common Service Language is the first building block because human beings create the world in which we live by using language. We create meaning with language, and we can change our world by inventing or adopting new language. A business’s Common Service Language should be meaningful and attractive — a shared vocabulary to focus the attention and the actions of its team. It should clarify meaning, promote purpose, and align everyone’s intentions and objectives.

2. Engaging Service Vision. “Many Partners, Many Missions, One Changi.” That’s the Engaging Service Vision that unites everyone who works at Changi Airport. A coffee shop worker can tell travelers the departure gate locations and the fastest ways to get there. Airline employees know where to buy last-minute souvenirs. Airport police can say how to find the post office and what time it opens. At this remarkable gateway, everyone works together to create positive experiences every day.

That’s what Engaging Service Visions do — they unify and energize everyone in an organization. They pose a possibility each person can understand and aim to achieve in his or her work, role, team and organization. Call it a service vision, mission, core value, guiding principle, credo, motto, slogan, saying or tagline, but what matters is that a business’s Engaging Service Vision is engaging.

3. Service Recruitment. Are you “Googley”? Are you able to “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” at work? These important considerations are made during the hiring process at Google and Zappos, respectively. These companies know it is much easier to build a strong culture by hiring new people with the right attitude than to hire people for their skills alone and then try to align them around a common service vision.

Every new hire sends a message to everyone else. Either a business is committed to a service culture and hires good people to prove it, or its commitment is shallow lip service only, and the next hire also proves it.

4Service Orientation. Unfortunately, many company orientation programs are far from uplifting. Often they are little more than robotic introductions: “This is your desk; this is your password; those are your colleagues; these are the tools, systems, and processes we use; I am your boss; and if you have any questions, ask. Welcome to the organization. Now get to work.” These basic introductions and inductions are important, but they don’t connect new employees to the company or the culture in a welcoming and motivating way.

Service Orientation goes far beyond induction. Zappos really gets this. Its four-week cross-department orientation process is an example of new-hire orientation at its finest — deeply embedding and delivering on the company’s brand and core value, “Deliver WOW Through Service.” Zappos understands that new team members should feel informed, inspired and encouraged to contribute to the culture. It even offers an out for new hires who realize the culture isn’t for them, paying them for the hours they’ve put in so far plus a cash bonus to leave with a smile. The point is not paying people to go, but making sure the right people choose to stay.

5. Service Communications. A company’s Service Communications can be as big and bold as a sign in the front of a store proclaiming that the customer is always right or as simple as including employees’ hobbies or passions on their nametags. Service Communications are used to educate and inform; to connect people; and to encourage collaboration, motivate, congratulate and inspire.

They’re essential because they can be used to promote a company’s service language, expand its service vision, showcase new hires, announce the latest contest, explain measures and service metrics, and give voice to customers’ compliments and complaints. Service Communications keep a company’s people up-to-date with what’s happening, what’s changing, what’s coming next and, most of all, what’s needed now.

6. Service Recognition and Rewards. Service Recognition and Rewards are vital building blocks of service culture. They are a way of saying “thank you,” “job well done” and “please do it again” all at the same time. Recognition is a human performance accelerator and one of the fastest ways to encourage repeat service behavior.

Recognition and rewards are great ways to show gratitude from customers, admiration from colleagues and strong approval from leaders of the organization. They can drive service commitment and behavior to even higher levels and are more memorable and emotional than simply receiving money.

7. Voice of the Customer. Key drivers of satisfaction at Microsoft include product quality, value for money, security, accuracy and speed of solutions. But that’s not everything the company’s customers and partners value. Microsoft carefully studies the millions of words and phrases people type into free-form comment fields every year. Through careful analysis of these “verbatim” comments, the company discovered other drivers that also make a difference, including “Microsoft is easy to do business with,” “Microsoft cares about me” and “Microsoft helps me grow my business.”

Whether the voices come through formal means such as survey forms or focus groups, or through social channels like Facebook, the value gained from the Voice of the Customer is achieved only when this river of input connects with a team that wants to hear it, understand it and do something about it.

8. Service Measures and Metrics. Surveys are notoriously unpleasant for customers to complete and difficult for people in organizations to decipher. These evaluations are a great example of how Service Measures and Metrics can become disconnected from the practical levers of power. Collecting data and crunching numbers can easily become a separate function or department, fueled by the urge to gather ever more data. Service Measures and Metrics are most effective when they help to prioritize what’s most important, from customer satisfaction to customer loyalty to employee engagement. Measure what matters to focus attention, design new action and create positive service results.

9. Service Improvement Process. This is where customer complaints are wanted and welcome, where survey reports are carefully examined for new ideas and insights. A Service Improvement Process creates synergy by connecting people between levels and functions. Some issues require ownership on the front line, involvement from the middle and sponsorship from above. Other service issues are quickly solved by teams working across silos.

A well-designed Service Improvement Process promotes communication across functions, divisions, and departments; stimulates collaboration across levels, languages and locations; and can even tap the creative energy of customers, vendors, distributors and government or industry regulators.

10. Service Recovery and Guarantees. Would you log a customer complaint into a system if it might get you into trouble? Probably not. This was exactly the problem one of the Xerox companies found it was having with its Customer Care Management System. So the company changed courses and created Bounce! Instead of blame and shame, Bounce! presents shortcomings as an opportunity to elevate service.

When a problem occurs, employees are encouraged to make it bounce by raising the level of the company’s service much higher than it had been to start. Now, rather than ignore customer complaints or try to cover them up, employees see them as opportunities to be recognized and excel. While the number of complaints logged into the Bounce! system has increased substantially, the company’s “satisfaction with service recovery” scores have also risen dramatically.

Confidence is the key. When customers are confident about the service a company delivers, they will return, refer and recommend. When team members are confident about the company’s commitment and culture, they will work enthusiastically to deliver uplifting service.

11. Service Benchmarking. Best practices are waiting to be discovered everywhere. Where is it enjoyable to test or try a sample? Häagen-Dazs wants customers to sample every flavor. Which organizations are great at teaching new customers how to get the most from their products and their service? In Portland, Ore., Apple buses senior citizens from the local community center to its stores and teaches them to use a computer, some for the very first time. Which company is best at bouncing back if the customer is not completely happy? L.L. Bean makes it guaranteed.

Service Benchmarking reveals others’ best practices and points to new ways a business can upgrade its own. Remember, the objective is a self-sustaining culture distinguished by uplifting service, not just valuable data points for tactical service improvements, with a focused team of service providers who seek to understand: How do other leaders create uplifting service experiences for their customers and colleagues? What can we learn, then adapt, adopt and apply to improve the service we deliver to our customers and to each other?

12. Service Role Models. Four times a year, the general manager of a well-known, exclusive hotel becomes a bellman. The refined gentleman greets guests at the roadside, places their bags on a luggage trolley and escorts them to their rooms. He uses these opportunities to get feedback from guests about what they do and don’t like about the hotel and any other suggestion they’re willing to share. On these days, he eats in the basement cafeteria with the rest of the staff and talks with them about their jobs, answering any questions they might have. He cherishes these four days, as do the members of his team.

Being a service role model is not just for senior managers and members of the leadership team. Leaders, managers and frontline staff must “walk the talk” with powerful personal actions every day. Everyone is a service role model. It is what happens every time people see or hear what an employee does, writes or says in an internal or external service situation.

When all the blocks are in place, any business can create an uplifting service culture where everyone is fully engaged, encouraging each other, improving the customer experience, making the company more successful and contributing to the community at large.

Ron Kaufman is the author of The New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (dynamic case studies and perspective-changing insights of how the world’s best-performing companies have changed the game in their industries through service).He is the founder of UP! Your Service, a global service education and management consultancy firm with offices in the United States and Singapore, and brings powerful insights from working with clients all over the world in every major industry for more than 20 years.

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