Service Standards are the Key to Becoming Like the Businesses You Love

By Marsha Lindquist

Your service standards are your personal corporate statement about what your organization does and how it does it, whether you produce services or products. In other words, it’s a statement of your business’s service philosophy or attitude. While businesses commonly state their service standards to their customers and prospects by posting the standards in public places and in marketing materials, you need to state your standards internally, too, and get full buy-in from everyone in your organization. If your internal stakeholders don’t fully understand and practice your service standards, stating them for external stakeholders will be a meaningless exercise.

What is a service standard, exactly? One very successful business’s read: “We will endeavor to greet people in the way we want to be greeted. Once they’re with us, we will treat them with respect and the knowledge that they know our business almost as well as we do. In return, we will expect to get the kind of feedback that will allow us to continually improve and change anything that is not working in our organization.”

Many organizations already have service standards, but most don’t actually practice them even intermittently throughout the organization. Your service standards need to be a part of the business’s fabric, and those running the organization need to make the standards something their people do on a regular basis.

When you’re developing your own service standard, it must focus on your customers and how you want to treat them. You want your customers to have an expectation that they’re going to be treated a certain way. Three types of standards exist. Which of the following is most like your organization? Which would you like to be?

  • Celebrity Red Carpet Standards: Businesses that live and breathe their high service standards make you feel like an award-winning star at every turn. When you’re looking for highly-polished, flawless service, you know you can go to this kind of business, the crme de la crme of hotels, for example. You know you’ll find real attention to detail, and that everything will be done well because everyone throughout the entire organization, from upper management to the people who clean the brass in the hallways, understands what they’re delivering. They are there to serve you, first and foremost.

  • Yellow Brick Road Standards: These kind of businesses will take you where you need to go, but without the bells and whistles. They deliver good value, and are efficient at what they do, but there’s not much attention to detail. It may be a restaurant that you know you can count on for a consistently good meal, but not everyone there greets you, and the staff seldom go out of their way to ensure you a complete dining experience. They take care of business, and that’s it. If something goes wrong, they’ll take care of it right away; they’re service standards are to satisfy the customer by delivering what you ask for, but they rarely go beyond that.

  • Welcome Mat Standards: The philosophy of this sort of business is “We’re here to get the job done. How you’re treated is really not that important to us.” People who work in businesses like this may have personal standards they try to implement, but they are not enforced uniformly throughout the organization. It’s not uncommon to find that these businesses have declared themselves to have service standards, but the people in the organization don’t know what those standards are, and therefore they don’t know what’s expected of them. When they’re hired, they are likely to hear: “Get the job done,” and little else. They’re untrained in how to treat their customers and give no attention to the value of what they deliver.

Communicate Your Standards Often: When you know where your organization fits in these three categories, you need to communicate this internally. Start at the interview process. Make sure each candidate knows what your service standards are. If you expect them to deliver the service standard that you set out, then you need to tell them in the interview process what that is. When you bring them on board, you can reiterate those standards in their orientation.

Then, frequently remind your people of the organization’s service standards. This could be in a weekly newsletter where you offer tips to help employees incorporate these standards into their daily lives at work. Target the tips to different groups each week, so no one feels singled out for advice. This practice also reinforces the notion for everyone in the organization that the standards apply to them all.

Performance reviews offer another opportunity to reiterate the service standards, but only on an annual basis. So also offer regular training in the service standard philosophy, giving everyone the opportunity to do role-playing in which they practice implementing the standards to solve problems.

Another option is to post signs that say, “Are you doing XYZ of our service standards?” or “How have you improved our service standards today?” This may seem a little silly, but if such materials aren’t around as daily reminders, people get caught up in daily business and busy-ness and forget.

To establish whether your organization’s service standards are being implemented, you’ll need to be proactive. You are likely to hear about it promptly from your customers when your people are not practicing them, but you’ll need to do a bit more legwork to see the standards in action. In other words, you either patiently wait for the information to make its way to you through the feedback loop or you interact with customers and others your organization does business with and see for yourself. You can then incorporate the information you get back into your organization.

Have the Kind of Organization You Love to Work With: You can tell instantly when an organization you work with has a good service standard, and they know it. They make those standards part of their daily habits, and you can see it in the faces of all of the people in the organization. As a customer, you get the feeling that you want to come back, that you want to buy something from this place or work with them again. You want to be the repeat business they want you to be! Don’t you want your customers to feel this way about your organization? Of course you do! So develop a set of service standards for everyone to live by, or dust off the ones you’ve relegated to a sign out front, and do what it takes to get your people to put them into practice each and every day. By doing so, you’ll quickly see your company’s profits increase.

Read other articles and learn more about Marsha Lindquist.

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