Companies that have service standards are not strict and rigid. Companies that have service standards are not stifling creativity in their service delivery. Companies that have service standards are not restricting innovation in the customer experience. Service Standards are empowering and are tools to make the job of the employee and the manager so much easier. Why? Because they make it very clear as to the behaviors that are accepted and not accepted in how one treats a customer, both internal and external.
Employees want to know what is expected of them. In fact, NOT knowing what is expected, is in the top six reasons as to why employees leave a company, according to Gallup. Employee want to be held accountable and for their colleagues to be held accountable to the same standards. When service standards have not been defined, this is impossible to do. Without service standards, employees make up their own or adhere to the standards they learned from a previous place of employment.
Service Standards create a consistency across an organization because they should be the same for all departments, 365 days a year and 24/7. Service standards are essential for a seamless customer experience. They should not change with the time of year, day of month, or the economy ups and downs. It becomes confusing to employees when they do.
You don’t need to have a lot of service standards. The key is to choose three, four, or five, that will have a significant impact on defining the experience customers will have with your organization. For example, Ritz Carlton has three service standards, Walt Disney World has four service standards.
For managers, the job of managing becomes easier too. The service standards are freeing in that they let the manager manage the behaviors and not get sucked into becoming the “tough old manager” just because she is the one who is willing to call an employee out when they are exhibiting bad customer service behaviors. With clear service standards, managers are simply making sure that employees are adhering to the standards that were agreed upon in their hiring and are a part of the culture of the organization.
Chapter 4 of Unleashing Excellence has many examples of service standards that various organizations have chosen as the “rules of engagement” for providing customer service. These standards when prioritized, provide a template to employees in those moments of truth, to know how to make the best service decision. Service standards are core tools for delivering consistent excellent service.
Every morning, the law firm of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz reviews the list of clients who will be visiting the office that day, noting the industries the visiting clients are in. Then, instead of having generic magazines in the waiting room, they put out magazines that are of interest to members of those industries.
They have to stay on top of their client list so that they have appropriate magazines, but imagine how much better their approach is than the norm. Most waiting rooms have the standard, general-interest magazines that, more often than not, are months (or years) out of date.
I can imagine the Baker Donelson receptionist saying to a client from the construction industry, “Good morning, Mr. Peterson; Janice will be ready for you in a minute. I just put out the latest issue of Builder News for you to look at while you’re here.” I have to imagine that Mr. Peterson would be impressed by the personal touch offered by the firm. And a subtle message is also communicated – “Baker Donelson focuses on the latest trends in my industry, since they subscribe to my industry’s periodicals.”
What can you do to demonstrate personal interest in your customers?
Over and over we see customer service initiatives stall because of impatience. The key players involved in the improvement process take on too much at one time, overwhelming themselves as well as the organization. Everyone ends up frustrated, the initiative is abandoned, and employees are rightly skeptical of subsequent initiatives.
A planned, step-by-step approach dramatically increases the likelihood of success of a service improvement initiative. Most organizations should plan on 2-5 years before feeling that the elements of the service initiative are “inculturated.” While that may seem an unreasonably long time, the reality is that the organization’s current culture took years to evolve and expecting instantaneous change is simply unrealistic.
In practice, once management agrees a change is needed, they want the change to happen right now, with no fuss. But change with no fuss is probably no change at all – at least not one that is going to result in a significant improvement. Real change has moments of confusion, pain, doubt, argument and even tears. Letting go of the “old way” is never easy. And the more angst the change is causing, the more likely the change is needed. Complacency in today’s marketplace can be fatal to an organization.
Take the time to plan each phase of the initiative, following the chapters of Unleashing Excellence as a guide. While the chapters aren’t strictly linear, they’re pretty close. Do the work of each of the Leadership Actions in the order presented; you’ll be rewarded by an improvement initiative that actually results in improvement.
Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting article, “Entrepreneurs Seek to Elicit Workers’ Ideas.” The premise of the article is that a company’s employees are often a vast and untapped reservoir of ideas for improving the business. One company CEO is quoted as saying, “Wow, we have a lot of smart people back here, and we’re not tapping their knowledge.”
We heartily agree.
A company’s employees deal with the same challenges, issues, and complaints day in and day out and typically know exactly what ticks off customers. The problem is that many organizations simply don’t ask their employees to help identify and solve the issues. Or they do ask (because the employee survey said that management never asks for input) but never take action on the suggestions. Which is too bad, since our experience shows that employee solutions are usually MUCH less expensive than management’s solutions.
The one quibble we have with the WSJ article is the bias for offering cash incentives for submitting ideas – $50 per implemented idea; $100 for 100 innovative ideas, etc. We like money as much as anyone, but we believe that improving the organization should be part of the organization’s culture and participating in the forward movement of the company should simply be part of the job description.
We’ve seen many organizations implement a “bounty” for ideas only to find that employees begin hording ideas out of fear that someone will steal them for the bounty, or become enraged that “Joan got $50 for her stupid idea, and I got nothin’ for my great idea.” And how about the employee who gets $50 for an idea that saves the company $10 million? Trust us; someone is going to feel shortchanged.
Check out the WSJ article, but also know that we feel collaboration is the name of the innovation game. The Service Obstacle System described in Unleashing Excellence provides several tools for getting your employees involved in identifying and eliminating (or alleviating) barriers to excellence. The Continuous Service Improvement Meeting Agenda is a good place to start.
Do your employees view innovation as a part of their jobs?
The busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, is now behind us. If you were one of the multitudes who braved the crowds, my sympathy is with you. My wife and I long ago decided that since shopping and crowds are two of our least favorite things in life, we would NEVER shop the day after Thanksgiving.
But, we will be doing some holiday shopping during the next couple of weeks. And we know that we’ll have to face the crowds. According to the National Retail Federation, November and December account for 25 to 40 percent of many retailers’ annual sales. So, like it or not, the crowds will be there.
On the bright side, holiday shopping provides a wonderful customer service laboratory. You get to see which companies perform well under pressure and which ones collapse in a showcase of unpreparedness. And our businesses can learn from both scenarios.
Chapter 5 of Unleashing Excellence discusses the assimilation stage of communication. During this stage, it’s important to come up with creative ways to keep the service excellence message in front of your team. In your very next staff meeting (or via email if you don’t have a meeting scheduled soon), ask your team to be especially aware of their shopping experiences during the holidays. Even if they’re not shopping for holiday gifts, they’ll likely be doing some kind of shopping. Let them know that in a meeting immediately following the holiday season you’ll ask for a summary of their experiences, and what your organization can learn from those experiences. (Note: this is all strictly voluntary – not a work assignment. You don’t want to get into the “are you paying us for this?” quagmire).
During their shopping adventures, your team should observe:
- The quality of their interactions with employees – What are some examples of things employees did particularly well? What are examples of things employees did poorly? What could they tell about the quality of hiring, training, and accountability from the organizations they observed?
- The quality of the physical environment – What are some “good show” and “bad show” examples they observed while shopping? How effective were companies at keeping the facilities organized? If a company was good at it, what were they doing?
- The quality of company processes – What are some examples of processes your team members experienced that were designed more for the company’s convenience than the shopper’s? What are some examples of process that were impressive?
Keep in mind that the assignment doesn’t just apply to brick and mortar stores. Each of the above three points can apply to online and catalog shopping. For some of you, online examples may be the most applicable.
Ask your team to come to the post-holiday meeting prepared to share what they experienced (again, strictly voluntary). During the meeting, dig for learnings that come out of those experiences, good and bad, that you and your team can leverage in improving the experience YOUR customers have with the organization.
Because your team members lived through these situations themselves, their emotions will be engaged in the discussion, providing a foundation for frank discussion of what your organization can do to improve.
You’ll want to act quickly on getting this “assignment” out, since we’re right in the middle of the busy season. Don’t let it go by without learning from it!
After weeks of stalling, I finally went out this past weekend to purchase a new computer and a new phone. Both rather challenging purchases because with all the various options and features on each product, I knew it would be a difficult decision in both cases.
The first stop was Verizon Wireless early Saturday afternoon. Upon entering the store, I was quickly greeted and asked if I needed help. I was taken under the wing of the salesperson who began asking pertinent questions as to my needs and usage for the phone. Within minutes; it was easy to make a choice, after which I was escorted to the checkout counter and introduced to Kim. Kim processed the purchase and before I could even form the question, she asked if I’d like her to transfer my contacts. Within minutes, she had activated my email, transferred my contacts, provided all the information to receive a rebate and I was out the door – a very happy customer with a brand new fully functioning Blackberry.
Now charged up after such a wonderful experience, I headed to Best Buy for the computer. I received my greeting upon entering the store and was shown to the computer section. A salesperson asked if he could help. With his knowledge and expertise, I felt comfortable and confident in choosing the right fit computer. He processed the transaction, gave me my receipts and thanked me for my business. I felt great again about this experience! What do people mean: high tech, no touch? Well, it was about to begin…. I asked if the information from my old computer could be transferred to the new one. Certainly, was the response – our Geek Squad can take care of that for you.
Promises made of 2 hours became 2 days. In trying to determine the status of my computer, I found that reaching someone in the department was nearly impossible. Questions that should have been asked were not, so the process was dragged out even longer. Finally, I went to the store and sat in the waiting area (they now have chairs provided so you don’t have to stand while waiting). Six people were waiting, one employee was working. After 20 minutes the line hadn’t moved, the gentleman next to me stood and said to no one in particular “OK, you win, I’m outta here”. I slid over one spot – all I wanted to do was pick up my computer! 45 minutes later out the door I walked only to be stopped by the greeter to “check” my purchase. A bad final taste was left with me, the high touch definitely missing after the product had been sold and ended up tainting the entire experience.
A Service Map is a tool to examine all the points of contact throughout the entire experience one has with an organization. Its purpose is to identify what is mediocre service at each point and how to raise the bar to make it Excellent at all possible and potential points, not just the “sales” point. See example Service Map
I was just sent a wonderful blog that came from the Journal of Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel. Values Day to Remember Wawa is a chain of highly specialized convenience stores located over a 5 state area in the upper northeast United States. The company’s first store was opened in 1964 and their core purpose is to “simplify the lives of our customers”. They offer superior quality foods, fresh brewed coffee, gasoline and ATM’s.
Their core values include:
Do the right thing
Do things right
Passion for winning
CEO Stoeckel walks the talk to instill these values and shares news and events to all employees through regular blogs. This one in particular is giving recognition to a highly deserving employee by the name of Samantha Eller who was awarded Wawa’s 4th ever Dream Maker award. The recognition was presented to her in front of 150 cheering associates, her parents and family. Yes, it was quite a dream come true as Samantha’s colleagues, friends and family all helped craft the perfect dream package which included a salon and spa trip, new wardrobe and a 5 day Disney cruise!
While extravagant, the CEO says the reward is trivial in comparison to the impact Samantha has had on her fellow employees. Every month, associates submit stories about their co-workers who exemplify the 6 core values. Samantha was selected from among 16,000 employees for her deep compassion and commitment to these values and her colleagues.
In our chapter on Recognition, we talk about the importance of Recognition to “inculturate” the Service Philosophy and Service Standards into an organization. Showing employees you appreciate and value the behaviors leads to repetition of the behaviors and they become contagious. Employees participating in acknowledging fellow employees allow their input and lets management free itself from the blame of favoritism that sometimes accompanies recognition that is always chosen by management alone. While wonderful to offer extravagant Dream Maker awards, the key we’ve found is really about the acknowledgement and “presentation” of the award. Simple recognition cards can be just as effective if done properly and sincerely. See example of a Sample Recognition Card
One of the best ways to distance your organization from the competition is to solve a problem that frustrates your industry’s customers. A recent Orlando Sentinel article provides a great example of this approach: Disney by Cell Phone.
The number one guest complaint at Walt Disney World is about long wait times for the rides. And over the years Disney World has implemented several tools to help minimize the problem. Tools include:
- Wait time signs
- Entertainment while waiting in line
- Making the line part of an attraction’s theme or “show”
- Tip boards around the park with posted wait times for popular attractions
- FastPass® (a mechanism for making a “reservation” for particular attractions)
Disney World (and Disneyland) has just introduced a new way to help reduce wait time frustrations for Disney guests – “Mobile Magic.” It’s a smartphone application that allows guests to get real time information about attraction wait times, character greetings, and other park events. The application allows guests to get the most out of their Disney visit by helping them make informed decisions about what to do next.
The full application of Mobile Magic is only available to Verizon subscribers right now, but a scaled down version is available to subscribers of other mobile services. The full application will soon be available to anyone with a cell phone.
The reason for sharing this story isn’t to brag about Disney, it’s to point out an example of a relentless quest to solve an ongoing customer frustration. Every industry has its inherent customer frustrations, and most companies just accept them as givens. But customers don’t accept them as givens; we see them as reasons to look for alternatives.
You don’t have to do an expensive survey to find out what frustrates your customers. You know exactly what frustrates them. Those recurring complaints and those negative customer interactions that burn out your employees tell you what the problems are. What’s needed is action.
So we challenge you to pick one customer frustration that you’ll commit to solving. Start small if necessary; but commit to one. Bring in some employees from your operation and go to work coming up with and implementing a solution. Or you can use this link to a Service Improvement Meeting agenda which guides you through a team meeting for identifying and developing solutions to customer frustrations. Once you’ve solved a problem, go on to another one.
Of course, Unleashing Excellence devotes an entire chapter to solving customer frustrations – “The Service Obstacle System.” The approach outlined in the chapter provides a step-by-step approach for crafting a barrier-busting system.
Imagine if you just identify and solve one customer frustration per quarter. Four improvements a year is huge! It will put you in the “world-class” category, and customers will wonder, “Why can’t other organizations do it like they do?”
Please send us your questions, or share examples of how your organization (or any other organization) has solved a customer frustration. We hope to make this blog a forum for best practices!
We are very excited about the release of the newly revised and expanded edition of Unleashing Excellence: The Complete Guide to Ultimate Customer Service, published by John Wiley & Sons.
This new edition offers additional tools and approaches developed since the book’s initial release in 2003, and we’ve included best practices from many organizations who have successfully implemented the Unleashing Excellence approach. One of the book’s elements we’re most proud of is the ability for you to access downloads of the tools described throughout Unleashing Excellence.
We know that even with the expanded information included in Unleashing Excellence, you may have questions or challenges you would like for us to address so that you can successfully implement the Unleashing Excellence process in your organization. This blog is designed for that purpose.
We encourage you to post questions, issues, and success stories on the blog by clicking on the tab titled, “Submit Your Stories and Questions,” and we will respond with our suggestions/recommendations via the blog so that everyone can benefit. To maintain your privacy, we won’t include specific names in our public responses to questions and issues. We would, however, love to acknowledge those who submit success stories!
We hope you find this forum to be a valuable tool in your customer service improvement efforts, and hope to hear from you soon.