20 Service Excellence Leadership Practices

Inherent in Organizations that Consistently Provide Excellent Customer Service is the Notion of Service Statesmanship

Customer service ─ and service quality ─ are critical managerial topics in business today for many reasons:

  • Service quality has strategic importance in the long-term success of the business.
  • Excellent customer service is a critical means by which an organization can differentiate itself from competition.
  • Everyone in the organization needs to focus on providing good service (not just front-line staff) ─ from senior managers to customer contact personnel.

As we wrote in the previous Monday Morning Marketing Memo, inherent in organizations that consistently provide excellent customer service is the very notion of Service Statesmanship. The two key aspects of service statesmanship are:

  • A Service Statesman is a role model, constantly reinforcing the organization’s key service messages and service values.
  • A Service Statesman is seen by staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery.

Here are 20 Service Excellence Leadership Practices that any leader, from a department or business unit manager to the CEO, can and should perform in their role as Service Statesmen:

  1. You provide a clear, written statement to employees explaining what you mean by excellent service and how you will create it for your customers.
  2. You make certain that employees can explain their specific role in delivering excellent customer service.
  3. You make certain that employees know the day-to-day things they can do to deliver excellent customer service.
  4. You communicate to employees on a regular basis about the importance of providing excellent service to customers.
  5. You ask employees how customer service quality can be improved.
  6. You have your managers set personal examples of good service to customers.
  7. You set standards for response time to customer complaints or questions.
  8. You track the success of your efforts to improve service quality.
  9. You share customers’ evaluations of your service quality with all your employees, colleagues, and peers.
  10. You reward employees who take a personal interest in resolving customer complaints and problems.
  11. You recognize employees who provide superior service to customers.
  12. You make it clear that delivering excellent service is important in career advancement decisions.
  13. You keep employees up-to-date on customer expectations.
  14. You encourage employees to go “above and beyond” regular job descriptions for the customer.
  15. You encourage managers to work one-on-one with employees to meet service quality standards.
  16. You train customer contact employees to deal with angry customers.
  17. You provide employees with sufficient training on the company’s products and services.
  18. Your policies and procedures are designed to help deliver excellent service.
  19. You define procedures for what to do when mistakes are made or errors are discovered.
  20. You make it easy for customers to reach the right person or business unit when they have problems or questions.

Like most things in business, you have two choices when it comes to being a Service Statesman. You can either talk about it, or you can lead by example via the above 20 practices.

The “talk only” approach, or what might be called the NATO (No Action, Talk Only) approach, is unlikely to produce the desired results.

I always admire the restaurant managers at McDonald’s, whom you frequently see with mop and bucket in hand cleaning up after a spill or when customers leave a messy table behind. You know McDonald’s is serious about cleanliness when you see the restaurant managers actually doing the cleaning.

The same goes for your business. Customers know exactly how serious your organization is about customer service by observing how your managers act and perform. Likewise, so do your staff.

You can reinforce your dedication and your message about excellent service delivery, to both employees and customers, by putting into practice the 20 managerial habits we have given you this week.

KEY POINT:  inherent in organizations that consistently provide excellent customer service is the notion of service statesmanship.

TAKING ACTION:  select four of the 20 service excellent leadership practices found in this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo that you would like to start using in your job. For each practice selected, list 3-4 things that you could start doing this week to implement these practices.

Review your policies and procedures. Which ones enable your staff to consistently deliver quality customer service? Which ones hinder them in their pursuit of delivering excellent customer service consistently? How can the latter ones be amended and changed?

Are you seen by your staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery? What personal steps can you do to improve in this area?

Review your agenda for your last staff meeting. What percentage of the meeting was planned for customer service discussions? For your next 4-5 staff meetings, make sure that customer service is the dominant item on each agenda. Then your staff will know how serious you truly are about this topic.

This post is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback ($13.88) and Kindle ($3.88) formats.

Service Statesmanship

Serving As A Customer Service Role Model

Why do some companies seem to exude stellar customer service at all levels, when others only offer satisfying service on a sporadic basis?

Outstanding customer service appears to be inculcated in numerous organizations, and dismally lacking in others. What is the underlying factor that determines whether excellent service delivery is a cultural characteristic of an organization? I think the root cause is the concept of Service Statesmanship.

One of the best definitions of Service Statesmanship came from a CEO who said, “When a fish stinks, it stinks from the head.” What he meant, of course, is that service excellence is first and foremost the responsibility of managers and senior executives. Staff, by themselves, cannot ensure excellent service.

After all, when service “stinks,” it stinks from the top of the organization right through to the bottom rungs. To stop the rot managers and senior executives need to become Service Statesmen.

When the fish “doesn’t stink,” managers are usually doing two things. They are establishing service quality and service excellence as the overriding goals of their business units, and they are serving as role models who translate these core values into exemplary personal behavior. These are the key duties of anyone who aspires to be a Service Statesman.

As a role model, a Service Statesman:

  • Constantly reinforces the service message to staff, colleagues and peers.
  • Constantly communicates the organization’s service performance to all staff.
  • Holds regular service progress reviews:
    • To review performance against goals.
    • To discuss how to remedy situations where standards are not being met.

 

Serving As A Role Model

A Service Statesman is a role model, constantly reinforcing the organization’s key service messages and service values.

Having established quality as a high-priority objective, Service Statesmen will literally take this company goal and run with it. They will inspire and cajole other managers to sign up for the program. They will reward their own staff for outstanding service performances. And, many Service Statesmen will adamantly insist that every executional detail within his or her business unit contributes to every customer’s perception of quality service.

This last trait sometimes leads employees to think their managers are “a little crazy about service.” This is not bad. Actually, this is good!

The manager who holds up introduction of a new product because the frontline staff have not been fully informed or trained on the product is a Service Statesman. The unit head helping his business unit work out of a processing backlog is a Service Statesman. The branch manager who regularly spot checks account applications for accuracy is a Service Statesman.

A Service Statesman will be seen by staff as constantly engaged and interested in improving service delivery.

At one major utility, employees were shocked to see their CEO bicycle to the site of emergency weekend repairs to “spur the troops on” and to motivate those working on the problem. Here was a smart Service Statesman at work, capitalizing on the value of a dramatic gesture and its rapid incorporation into company folklore.

Service Statesmen typically work hard to ensure all service employees correctly interpret decisions affecting operating conditions. During interviews at institutions renowned for service excellence, a large number of managers volunteered examples when they personally explained service policy changes far down the chain of command, even at stressful times on major internal changes.

Seasonal peaks, a new product introduction, or customers leaving for a major competitor ─ any of these planned or unplanned events can swamp employees with extraordinary service burdens. Certainly managers should give employees all the practical assistance possible during such stressful periods, but at the same time managers must reinforce the organization’s corporate service values and reward peak or superior individual performance, especially those performed in times of duress.

In short, managers who desire to be Service Statesmen must:

  • take a personally active role in building service excellence into the organization,
  • establish service excellence and quality customer service as the over-riding goal in their business units, and
  • serve as a role model through exemplary personal behavior at all times.

Service quality delivery has strategic importance for the long-term success of any business. Excellent service is a critical means by which any organization can differentiate itself from competition. (Which makes me wonder why more organizations do not focus on this issue.)

Everybody in the organization needs to focus on providing good service, not just frontline customer contact personnel. When such efforts are consistently and constantly led from the top, one is most likely to find a culture of service statesmanship inbred and ingrained at all levels of the organization. One is also likely to find satisfied customers repeating their business.

That combination ─ excellent service delivery and satisfied repeat customers ─ is definitely a surefire formula for long-term, sustainable, profitable business growth.

KEY POINT:  Service Statesmen take an active role in building service excellence into their organizations and constantly reinforce the organization’s key service messages and service values to staff, colleagues, and peers.

TAKING ACTION:  which departments or business units in your organization are known for stellar service delivery? Which are not? How can the learning, ideas, techniques, and culture of the outstanding units be transplanted into other units?

Who are the Service Statesmen in your organization? What do they have in common? How can their passion for outstanding service delivery be leveraged and spread throughout the organization? How can they “infect” their colleagues with their spirit and zeal?

At what level of your organization does the enthusiasm and fanaticism for service delivery seem to come to an end? At what level of the organization is only “lip service” paid to the topic of service excellence? How can the need for organization-wide service statesmanship be communicated to the executives at these levels? (Hint: forward them a copy of this week’s Monday Morning Marketing Memo).

This article is excerpted from our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Service Excellent Attributes

Excellent Customer Service Drives Customer Satisfaction

There are several attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery. These attributes are the ones that differentiate Service Excellence winners from other staff.  They are also the attributes that managers will want to search for in future hiring and staff transfer decisions.

These attributes are:

Cares for the customer ─ Service Excellence winners are sensitive to customers’ needs and are frequently described as customer advocates. They display a sincere willingness to listen to customers and to assist wherever and whenever they can.

Displays Consistent Service Ethic ─ Service Excellence winners are committed to doing the best job possible every day. They assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions. They work well under pressure and adapt quickly to new assignments.

Exceed Production/Quality Goals ─ Service Excellence winners regularly exceed their volume, timeliness, accuracy, and quality goals.

Solves Problems Creatively ─ Service Excellence winners proactively seek alternative methods to improve procedures, reduce costs, and improve quality. They place customers’ needs above internal concerns.

Works Well With Co-workers ─ Service Excellence winners have excellent working relationships with co-workers. They are always willing to help others and to share knowledge freely.

Helps in Other Areas ─ Service Excellence winners display a desire to learn jobs outside their immediate areas of responsibility. They frequently volunteer to assist on task forces and special assignments, notwithstanding the longer hours required.

Exhibits High Energy and Enthusiasm ─ Service Excellence winners exhibit positive attitudes that impact morale within their units. They have the ability to motivate those around them to work harder and smarter on behalf of customers.

Can you teach the above skills? You can, in the same way that you can teach ethics, good manners, proper social behavior, and fellowship to mankind. For in effect, what really differentiates a service excellence deliverer from anyone else is how they interact with their customers, both external and internal. It is really a personal attribute, sort of like being a good citizen or being a good neighbor.

In addition to teaching the above skills, it would be best to create the right internal corporate culture where these skills and attributes can flourish. As we discussed the Monday Morning Marketing Memo on Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, none of the tactics employed by service excellent companies to build employee professionalism are necessarily revolutionary. Most important, however, these tactics are energetically and comprehensively inculcated throughout service excellence organizations on an on-going, never-ending basis.

In our book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo we discuss the Five Dimensions of Service Quality Excellence, the 7 Cs of Customer Retention, crafting a Customer Service Creed, Creating A Culture of Service Professionalism, and other key attributes of service excellence providers.

The path to becoming a Service Excellence Company is figuring out how to integrate these concepts into your own comprehensive, energetic, interactive, on-going, and never-ending program.

For, at the end of the day, excellent customer service drives customer satisfaction; resulting in a strategic advantage for your organization with a direct impact on repeat business, customer recommendations to others, market share, revenue, and profit.

If your business focus is on customer satisfaction, all these other items on your corporate scorecard will fall naturally into place.

KEY POINT:  the attributes regularly displayed by staff who consistently perform at high levels of customer service delivery are different from other staff.

TAKING ACTION:  how do you recognize and reward staff who assume ownership of problems in spite of adverse circumstances or conditions?

How do you reward, recognize and celebrate your customer service success stories?  How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

Do your training programs focus only on functional skills, or do they also incorporate activities that help to grow personal attributes, social skills, and interpersonal communications skills?

Is your organization or business unit a high energy one or a demotivating, energy-sapping one?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Creating a Culture of Service Professionalism

Customer relations mirror employee relations

How is a service-successful organization different? To start with, such organizations build employee professionalism in several ways.

They establish the personal accountability of individual employees. They create service teams. They open multiple communication channels with their staff and use these rigorously.

They accomplish employee professionalism by rewarding extraordinary service actions and informing staff how their jobs fit into the entire organization. They explain to staff the importance of customer service, the need for problem-free service, and the benefits to the organization of delivering excellent service to customers.

None of these tactics is necessarily revolutionary. What’s most outstanding is how energetically and comprehensively excellent companies work at their total programs. The strategies and tactics for excellent customer service are ingrained at all levels of the organization, not just within a handful of specific departments or outlets.

Underlying all these imperatives is a simple belief: customer relations mirror employee relations.

Employees must first perceive and experience within their own organizations whatever it is that management wants customers to perceive and experience. This operates most directly with customer contact employees, the pivotal people in any service business. They internalize messages passed within their organizations and in turn broadcast these messages to customers.

A recent study of bank branch employees and their customers confirmed this relationship. When employees reported that their branch emphasized service, customers reported superior banking experiences, and were more highly satisfied.

Some proven techniques for achieving a culture of service professionalism include:

  1. Use of staff attitudes (people surveys) as a diagnostic tool for understanding staff views on service and service delivery. Action plans undertaken to address staff issues and concerns should be part of the business unit’s overall service delivery strategy.
  2. Use of service recognition programs that result in winners serving as role models for fellow staff members. Also, service awards for the office or business unit are based on service indicator performance.
  3. Internal performance improvement teams are established within offices and business units to work on improving service delivery. Participating staff learn new skills and are motivated to perform at even higher levels.

Like marketing itself, creating a culture of service professionalism is not rocket science. But it does take effort, leadership, dedication, and continued communications to make it happen.

It also means having a management team that is not solely focused on achieving “the most efficient processes.” This is because many aspects of excellent customer service delivery require personal, customized handling.

A good example is the “telephone hell” that many customers have to go through to speak to someone. All these automated voice response systems are fine (you know, “press 1 if you have product A, press 2 if you have product B, etc.) and highly efficient from the organization’s perspective.

But from the customer’s perspective these systems are annoying, dehumanizing, and denigrate the customer service image of the organization being contacted.

A taxi company I used to use in Singapore had it right. Their automated incoming call system had just two options: press 1 if you wanted a taxi immediately, or press 2 if you wanted to book a cab for a later time. If you pressed 1, and you were a regular customer calling from your normal phone, the taxi was sent immediately to pick you up and the system provided an estimated time of arrival. If you pressed 2, a customer service person came on line, took your details, and arranged for the taxi to collect you at your requested time and place.

Simple, short, and sweet – while both highly efficient and highly personalized.

The bottom line for creating a culture of service professionalism is twofold:

  1. Treat your employees positively and they will treat your customers positively.
  2. High-tech is great from the perspective of organizational efficiency, but high-touch is even better from the perspective of your customers.

When you accomplish both of these, you will achieve a great bond with both your customers and your staff.

KEY POINT #1: customer relations mirror employee relations.

KEY POINT #2: high-tech is great and efficient, but high-touch is what keeps your customers coming back.

TAKING ACTION: Do you treat employees as special? Is the way your organization treats its own staff reflected in the way your staff treat customers?

What impressions of your organization do your customers have after each and every interaction with your organization?

How can you eliminate the “us and them” thinking between your staff and your customers?

How do you reward, recognize, and celebrate your customer service success stories? How can these be ingrained in the culture and practices of your entire organization?

How can you use technology to make your customer experiences simple, short, and sweet?

 

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo by Steven Howard and is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.