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10 February 2017

Creating an excellent service delivery culture: the service leader’s role

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The customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so. –Mahatma Gandhi. Creating a culture of service excellence is a journey, not a destination.

Many service initiatives are built upon “a fix”—a three-month or one-year initiative to make the organisation customer-service focused. But creating a service culture is not a one-time, skills-training event. It’s an ongoing organisational commitment driven by effective service leaders.

Once the strategic focus is defined, service leaders need to know exactly how to make the service vision a reality. This will help leaders identify barriers to service excellence and provide them with rules and practices to create a service culture.

Do you face any of these issues?

Do you know what obstacles prevent a higher level of customer service?

Do leaders know what they must do to ensure service excellence and increase customer loyalty?

The organizational leadership performance objectives should be to focus on the following:

– Choose opportunities to use authority and influence to improve customer service.

– Focus their efforts and those of the service providers to achieve the results most important to customers.

– Inspire service providers to take actions that create customer loyalty.

It is perhaps a cliché today to talk in terms of achieving total customer focus but if you want to strive for service excellence that is precisely what you must attain. A good reflection point as you start to analyse this particular process is to ask yourself some thought-provoking questions such as: Would your customers miss your business if it were no longer around? What would they miss about you? Would they easily find a replacement offering? Does interacting with your business make a real (and noticeable) difference to their lives? Why do they choose you over others or others over you?

These questions might seem to be verging on ‘navel gazing’, but such issues are vital if you really want to set your business apart from others in terms of service quality. There are many average businesses in all sectors, but the number of truly outstanding companies is few. Therefore, the journey to excellence requires you to ‘think’ as much as it does to ‘do’, and reflecting on what makes (or can make) your business special and unique is not time wasted, but time saved because based on the answers you find to such questions, you will do more of the right things in future. In terms of practical steps you can take to achieve total customer focus, consider the following points:

a. Commitment to Service Excellence

The starting point in any attempt to ‘rise above the norm’ is to demonstrate a real commitment to that aim. Undoubtedly, you are committed to that end, but are each and every one of your employees equally as determined, no matter how many you have? Of course, commitment levels will vary but you cannot tolerate a situation where you have some people who are truly committed to service excellence and others who care moderately, or worse still, little at all. If you find this is a problem in your business, then you need to address that concern urgently. Some things you can practically do here:

Sit with your employees to discuss what your business and service goals are, how they can contribute and what the likely benefits are to all concerned for trying to be better at what you do. Together with them, develop a ‘Service Promise’, or similar, which captures a shared vision of what you all want to achieve in terms of service quality. Communicate that promise widely to employees and customers. Allocate individual responsibilities for elements of the drive towards service excellence. For example, you might appoint an ‘ideas team’ which would explore things that you could do to enhance service, or you could have another group working on how to reduce complaints in the business. No passengers allowed on the journey. Set clear service goals (collective and individual) to provide tangible targets related to your Service Promise; for example, you could have a target to reduce complaints, increase repeat business volumes, raise customer satisfaction levels and so on. And yes, by all means, reward people when those challenging targets are achieved but don’t fall into the trap of rewarding your employees for what they should be doing anyway – only above the norm performance should be rewarded. Discuss service quality at every meeting or briefing you ever have, make it the norm to talk about the Service Promise, and don’t only focus on service issues when something ‘goes wrong’. Talk a lot about the journey, the promise, the goals, the achievements – make it part of everyday life. Finally on this point, never tolerate individuals who do not share your commitment and that of the wider team. By all means coach and support them to see if they can improve, but do not allow them to tarnish the efforts of others indefinitely.

b .Get as close as you can to your customers

This again sounds like an obvious point but service excellence demands that you first know your customers’ needs and expectations better than anyone else. Yes, some common needs are obvious, but needs by segment are less so. Even harder to discern are individual needs, but if you are serious about excellence then at the very least your regular or repeat customers will expect you to remember their likes and dislikes. Practical things you can do here include:

Define your key customer segments and attribute an overall value to each in terms of what they generate for the business. Which segments deserve most attention? Hold regular focus groups with customers from these segments to better understand their needs. Conduct wider online/email surveys with a larger number of customers to get a broader view of needs. Have effective feedback mechanisms, for capturing complaints, and for gathering general satisfaction data; analyze this information regularly in a meaningful way to identify areas for improvement. Have systems for capturing and sharing the preferences of existing customers so that you can wow them with your tailored service. It is only by taking proactive action that you can get closer to your customers and if you don’t do so then striving for service excellence is impossible.

c. Design your products and services to meet defined needs and expectations

Of course, there can be challenges for small businesses in terms of product development, but even without spending large sums on capital investment you can still enhance your offering. On the product side, at an absolute minimum, you should ensure that whatever facilities and products you currently have are of the highest quality and not looking jaded or tired. On the service side, it’s often the little things that matter, so tailoring your service to different segments doesn’t have to be a costly undertaking. Some practical actions here include:

Get staff directly involved in this area. They interact with your customers every day and they can often identify a small but meaningful product or service enhancements. Explore what other businesses are doing, both direct competitors and even those in other industries. However, be careful here that you don’t end up being a follower rather than a leader when it comes to new ideas.

d. Deliver those products and services in a way that consistently exceeds expectations

No matter what your specific offering entails, it’s how you deliver it that really matters. The issue of service standards will be addressed later but for the moment you should reflect on the mindset of your people when it comes to service delivery; are they truly proactive and anticipative of customer needs, or do they simply react to customer’s requests? What might you do to improve on the current situation?

e. Introduce informal and formal feedback systems

As touched upon earlier, achieving service excellence is dependent upon you truly understanding how you are doing in terms of service quality, and acting upon that feedback to resolve problems and enhance what you offer. Some companies pay lip service to this area and use token gestures such as comment cards, which in reality are never truly analysed. That is not to infer that comment cards cannot be an effective tool, but only as part of a wider feedback system, and certainly only when analyzed and acted upon on a daily basis. Some practical points to bear in mind here include:

Employees receive informal feedback on a daily basis, how is that information captured and then actioned in your business? What information do you want from your customers, what is valuable to you? Whatever combination of feedback mechanisms you use, don’t overload your customers with pointless questions or make it cumbersome for them to help you improve. Use a mix of feedback mechanisms from telephone follow-up calls, surveys, interviews and comment cards so that you get data from all segments.

It has been shown that ‘loyalty’ is an indicator of likely future behaviour, and customer loyalty levels are shown to be correlated to business growth levels. By addressing the above points you will, over time, increase your customer focus. You will do so because through your Service Promise they will understand what you are committing to in terms of service.You, on the other hand, will better understand your customers because you will be closer to them and more able to tailor your offering to suit their needs. And via a meaningful feedback system, you will always know how you are performing in relation to the expectations of your customers. These are from the external customer perspective on “Creating an Excellent Service Delivery Culture: The Service Leader’s Role” next week God willing we will discuss the perspective of the internal customer, “the power is yours”.

 

Source: Daniel Adjei | Management Consultant | Spint Consult Limited | dadjei@spintconsult.com

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