For service to make a worthwhile difference, service excellence must become a part of everyone’s daily activities. But that’s easier said than done.
Good implementation of service excellence can create stronger customer loyalty, worthwhile differentiation and sustainable competitive advantage. However, poor implementation can be a waste of resources, weaken relationships with customers and cause disappointment and damaged morale amongst colleagues. It’s therefore critical to implement well and the following should help those looking for ways to do this.
A good starting point is some core principles that are critical to success. A key one (learned from John Kotter of Harvard Business School), is often called The Natural Order of Things. It can be illustrated simply with the following:
This means that what we believe determines how we think; what we think determines how we feel (morale); what we feel determines how we behave; and our behaviour determines our results (performance and/or outcomes). This makes clear why so many customer service training programmes fail to achieve the desired long-term results; training courses address behaviours (how things should be done), but there’s little or no point in trying to change these if the highly influential feelings, thoughts and beliefs are wrong.
So, to implement a successful change programme, with service excellence as the outcome, the starting point should be the Beliefs (Shared Worthwhile Goals, Values and Principles) that exist throughout the organisation. The beliefs an organisation holds generally emanate from its leaders, so theirs are especially important. If they are wrong, or not aligned, then any service programme will probably fail. As Professor Edgar H Schein of the MIT Sloan School of Management explained in his book ‘Organisational Culture and Leadership’, what has the biggest influence on the culture (and therefore the behaviour) of any organisation is:
- What Leaders pay attention to, measure and control on a regular basis
- How Leaders react to critical incidents and organisational crises
- How Leaders allocate scarce resources
- Deliberate role modelling, teaching and coaching by Leaders
- How Leaders allocate rewards and status
- How Leaders recruit, select, promote and excommunicate organisational members
So leaders’ beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviours are critical to the success of any organisational initiative or programme.
A few questions to consider relating to this and the implementation of service excellence are:
- Do all the leaders believe that service excellence will enable the achievement of strategic goals?
- Do all leaders believe that the provision of the necessary resources to deliver service excellence will be a good investment that will provide a good return?
- Are all leaders prepared to build their own knowledge of the subject of service excellence and how it is delivered?
- Are all leaders prepared to demonstrate daily the behaviours that will be expected from others to deliver service excellence?
- Will all leaders spread a consistent positive message to all people they meet and are responsible for throughout the organisation?
Another core principle is one from Dr Stephen Covey, the author of the book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. That is that Trust is the vital element in all relationships, and that trust is earned through demonstrating trustworthiness, which has two core elements. These are Competence – the ability to do what it is that we wish to be trusted to do, and Character – the ability to do it in a way that makes a person-to-person connection and creates a strong emotional bond. This perfectly matches the research and latest thinking from Saatchi and Saatchi. In his book ‘Lovemarks – The Future Beyond Brands’, Kevin Roberts, their Worldwide CEO, explains how they believe that the key goals for any world-class business should be to earn their customers’ Respect (which you get from demonstrating great competence) and Love (the emotional connection which you get from demonstrating great character).
Competence (and the Respect that follows) is relatively straightforward to achieve in a business; it just needs great systems, processes, training and experience. You could call this the efficiency of the organisation. However, the Character element (and the emotional bonds it can create) presents different and more difficult challenges. This is the outside-in view of the culture of an organisation, and it is very difficult to create and even harder to change. It is the sum total of the individual characters of all the employees; and the character of an individual is extremely hard to change – some would say almost impossible. This means that if you don’t already have the people with the kind of character needed to deliver the service you require, it is going to be very difficult to change their behaviours enough to make a worthwhile difference.
Key, therefore, is to do all you can to ensure you have the right people in the right jobs in the first place. If you don’t, you are likely to find yourself creating cumbersome systems and controls to force the wrong people to do the right things, which will be difficult and unnatural for them to do; and then having to constantly monitor and check they are doing it. A much better alternative is to empower the right people to do what they know are the right things and can do easily and naturally. A few questions to consider relating to this are:
- Was having the right character a key requirement for the selection of all staff (particularly front line people)?
- Are you prepared to start using a method of recruitment that requires people to have the right character as well as the right experience, intelligence and/or skills?
- Are you prepared to deal with any situations where you have the wrong people in the wrong jobs?
Once you have these right people in place, the focus for service success can then move on to the tools and techniques that will enable them to deliver the customer experiences you need for success. Some key ones to consider are:
- Systems Thinking (also known as Lean)
- Six Sigma
- Customer Experience Management
- Radical Employee Engagement
Another key principle is that any consultants brought in to help must obviously be thought leaders in their chosen subject. But that in itself is not enough. They should always endeavour to quickly, cost effectively and successfully transfer what they know about their subject to people within their customers’ organisations; so they can then do things for themselves without needing to continually refer back to the consultant.
Implementing Customer Experience Management
When implementing Customer Experience Management, the following three-stage approach has been shown to be the best way of doing this:
- Inside-Out + Outside-In
Top-Down: If the whole leadership team does not collectively and individually fully understand and commit to the desired outcomes and the changes necessary to achieve them, it will be really difficult (perhaps impossible) to implement them. So, if this leadership commitment and understanding is not already in place, the best way to build it is through a senior management workshop. These usually last for two or three days, during which all the key issues are flushed out and discussed, and the goals and right ways to achieve them are agreed.
Inside-Out + Outside-In: Training front line people in service delivery is never enough. A thin veneer of great service on the front line, without the full support of the back-office people and systems, will not provide the sustainable, worthwhile impact that is needed for success. For any service excellence programme to work it must be well understood and fully supported right through the organisation. It usually requires changes to be made to existing systems or processes in various parts of the organisation for the full effect to be implemented by colleagues and felt by customers.
Therefore, following the initial workshop for senior management (if necessary), the best way to kick-start a service excellence drive in an organisation is through a Customer Experience Master Practitioner Programme (the service excellence equivalent of Six Sigma Black Belt training). This is a programme that develops a core team of people up to a level of understanding and skill that equips them to train others and plan, implement and control projects and programmes that will achieve the desired service results.
It is also vital that the ‘voices of colleagues and customers’ are heard and acted upon throughout the organisation. It is therefore essential to have feedback monitoring and reporting systems to ensure that everyone has timely and pertinent information to enable them to act with the ‘voices of colleagues and customers’ ringing in their ears and therefore on their minds in all that they do.
Step -by-Step: Once people understand why change is necessary and how it is to be achieved, they will need ongoing motivation, guidance and support to make it happen. This is best achieved through various training courses, workshops, communication programmes and improvement initiatives, all aimed at the agreed common goal(s). These are best designed and implemented by your own people and those that have attended a Customer Experience Master Practitioner Programme should be able to do this.
The overall goal for success in the Step-by-Step phase of implementation should be to have everyone in the organisation ‘touched’ by the service excellence bug. The best way to do this is to have around 10% to 20% of the organisation involved in the first phase or wave of implementation workshops (from an external provider for the Master Practitioner level and then by programmes delivered by the people who have been on the Master Practitioner Programme). That way there should be someone close to everyone in the organisation who understands why this is being done, why it is important to future success and how best to do it. These people can then start to ‘infect’ their co-workers – and so the service excellence virus should rapidly spread.
Then, if ongoing improvement, communication, motivation, recognition and reward programmes are in place, and a winning pace of continuous improvement is achieved, most organisations should be successful in implementing a service excellence programme that will enable them to get and stay ahead of all competitors.