Sustaining Exceptional Service
By Jean Marie Johnson
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a great
service provider? How do they consistently provide service that goes
above and beyond customers' expectations? What makes it possible for
some organizations to deliver consistently exceptional service? At
my company, we have dedicated ourselves to finding the answers to
these questions for years, and we are pleased to share our findings
Certainly, developing the skill base of front-line, customer-facing
associates is essential, but something extraordinary goes on in
organizations that are able to sustain great service over time. With
the help of an independent research firm, we uncovered the core
organizational competencies that great service providers had in
From these, we have identified five pillars to sustaining
exceptional service, that, taken together, form the five pillars of
service culture. By evaluating how your organization measures up,
you can determine your ability to provide exceptional service in the
1. Shared Vision and Values:
Top service providers have a clear and concise customer service
vision, outlined from both the customer's and the associate's point
of view. A corporate wide service vision is the foundation for
inspiring great customer service behaviors.
Executives at a financial services company have been able to do just
this. They developed a service vision that included the overarching
direction and commitment for the organization. As they rolled the
vision out, energy accelerated as each department engaged in a team
dialogue to explore the question, "What does this vision mean to
The answers were captured in a 'rainbow' of departmental vision
statements, all inspired by the service vision. With this type of
vision and support from the management team, all of the employees
could articulate a common theme of what great service meant for them
and their customers.
2. Service-Focused Leaders:
A recent study associated a key driver of organizational change to
respected leaders modeling the behaviors they ask of others. If
leaders want their employees to focus on service, they need to
practice what they preach.
Without examples to follow, employee morale and motivation will
suffer. However, if across the organization everyone from front line
associates to senior managers models great service, you will achieve
greater consistency in your service and overall higher customer
3. Consistent Service Delivery and Measurement:
Organizations that excel in service delivery do a
great job of translating their service vision into clear,
consistent, and integrated standards. Establishing measures for
face-to-face, phone, and e-interactions will help you monitor
service quality and consistency.
Apply these measures to interactions between each employee and
customer. Then monitor these measures on an individual
employee-by-employee basis. You will find that not all employees
truly understand the service vision, and this will hinder your
ability to provide consistent service.
One of the nation's largest home builders and providers of an array
of loan products has developed a set of measurements to monitor
service quality. Their goal is to provide a seamless service
experience for all customers through every customer touch point.
Creating measures for each interaction with clients has enabled them
to ensure a consistently superior customer experience. Through
monitoring these measurements and making continuous improvements,
courtesy and customer satisfaction scores, along with market share,
are on the rise.
4. Developmental Training and Coaching:
Approaching training as a process versus a one-time
event is a key differentiator between organizations that
consistently deliver exceptional service and those that do not.
Quick-fix, silver-bullet methods can, at best, achieve short-term
results. Behavior follows mindset and attitude instilled by ongoing
training and development.
Coaching must also accompany training. Paying individual attention
to what and how employees are contributing to service, and coaching
them to hone skills and abilities, will boost morale, confidence,
and service delivery.
An information management software and services company implemented
an integrated training and development process to raise the skill
level of their associates. They did not just do training however,
they ensured that there was continuous monitoring and coaching
linked with the training. Now the company receives letters on a
daily basis from clients thanking them for the high level of service
5. Constant Systemic Improvement and Reinforcement:
The best of the best service
organizations are nimble. They have honed their ability to course
correct in the interest of their service vision. Organizations must
continuously consider how systems and processes are contributing to
the service experience along with how the service vision is being
reinforced. In the best service cultures, much work is done behind
the scenes to address obstacles that may exist in human resource
practices, work flow, IT and so on.
Consider a cross-functional team in Los Angeles that used their
newly-crafted service vision as a reference point for reviewing
every work hand-off in light of its impact on the customer.
Everybody could see how what they do (and what everyone else does)
affects the customer experience.
Creating the Service Culture:
Apply these pillars at your organization and you will foster
exceptional customer service. It will not be easy, and there are no
quick fixes, but the results you can achieve will be worth the
effort not only to your customers and your employees, but to your
organization's bottom line.
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Jean Marie Johnson.
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