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The Six Signs of a Second Rate Service Culture

Ron Kaufman helps companies on every continent build a culture of uplifting service that delivers real business results. Making transformation his mission, Ron is one of the world’s most sought-after thought leaders and experts on achieving superior service. With a clientele of government agencies and multinational corporations including Singapore Airlines, Xerox, Nokia Siemens Networks, and Wipro, Ron delivers powerful insights and global best practices, enabling organizations to gain a sustainable advantage through service. Below, Ron shares the six signs that can defeat the best intentions of service leaders and degrade the best effort of service providers in an organization:

Sign #1: Your culture turns people off.

You have let your service culture decline while other organizations have improved. Perhaps you focused on making profits, launching new products, or other urgent issues.

But this lack of attention to building or sustaining your service culture can be costly. If you don’t stop this decline, your customers will leave and your best employees will resign in frustration.

You can stop this slide by becoming a better place to work as a service provider, and a better place to be served as a customer.

Study the architecture and implementation roadmap for building a service culture. All over the world, companies are following these guidelines to become distinguished by Uplifting Service.

Building a service culture takes time, energy, and commitment, but this work pays off. Companies with strong service cultures are consistently more profitable and productive. They keep more loyal customers and retain more passionate employees.

Sign #2: Your service performance is sub-standard.

Complaints are pouring in. Customers react to your poor service with public rants of disappointment. Responding to these complaints upsets your staff, costs you money, and damages your reputation.

You’ve tried to improve service, but customer expectations keep rising. You give your people scripts to use and tell them what standards to achieve, but all this customer service training doesn’t make a lasting difference.

Solving this problem requires a different approach. First, stop telling people what to say and do. Instead, educate your people to understand service situations and design more effective service actions.

We define service as taking action to create value for someone else. The anchor of this definition is not the action you take, or even the value you create, it is the other people you are serving. What do these people want to accomplish or achieve? What do they want to avoid? What are their top priorities? What are their real concerns?

Few of us were educated in the foundations of superior service. In school we learned math, science, history, and language, but never the fundamental principles for creating value through service to others. This is a serious educational lapse, as most of us will spend our working lives in service to other people.

Providing those in your company with actionable service education equips them with the tools and skills they need to provide better service, earn more compliments, and quickly resolve complaints.

Sin #3: Your leadership team is not aligned.

Your leaders do not agree on the priority of improving service. Your intended focus on service gets fractured and lost in a deluge of comments on pricing, competition, recent problems, and defective products. Your people are confused about how much service really matters. And you can’t blame them. What’s important seems to depend on which leader is speaking.

This lack of leadership alignment weakens an organization. As your top team argues over projects and budgets, the primacy of service improvement fades away. The likelihood of your differentiating on service or building a superior service culture is slim.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can build strong alignment among the members of your leadership team. In fact you must do this, because alignment at the top is essential to build momentum with everybody else.

How can you enable this change? Start by bringing your top team together to study global best practices and successful case studies. With these insights and a proven methodology, you can build leadership alignment, agree on a common service vision, and secure commitment for implementation.

To understand the individual and group behaviors of an effective service leadership team, watch this video on The Seven Rules of Service Leadership.

Sign #4: Poor internal service harms external service to customers.

Your people are stuck in rigid silos with poor communication and little cooperation across departments. Or your matrix reporting structure produces more uncertainty and confusion than urgently needed collaboration.

Either way, departments are more concerned about looking good than they are about looking after the customer. And when things go wrong, your people are faster at pointing the finger than they are at pointing out what can be done.

This unwilling attitude towards internal service consumes time, costs money, and damages employee morale. And worse, it prevents you from giving external customers the quality of service they demand and deserve.

Some organizations suffer with this painful condition. But others thrive by making excellent internal service to colleagues a focus of their culture, and a benchmark for their service to customers.

To build a culture of excellent service between functions, divisions, and departments, you must provide your team with consistent support. This can be achieved by improving your activities in twelve areas that influence your people every day. These 12 Building Blocks of Service Culture include: Common Service Language, Engaging Service Vision, Service Staff Recruitment, New Staff Orientation, Service Communications, Service Recognition and Rewards, Voice of the Customer, Service Measures and Metrics, Service Improvement Process, Service Recovery and Guarantees, Service Benchmarking, and Service Role Modeling.

Sign #5: Your company is a member of NATO: No Action, Talk Only.

Your people have lots of ideas. Big budget ideas, blue sky ideas, and “wouldn’t it be great” ideas. But despite this high volume of new ideas, there is painfully little new action. At the end of the day, all the happy talk about excellent service seems to be just talk.

Fortunately, a pile of ideas can be transformed into a mountain of results with a process that moves ideas into action.

First, select a team of Change Leaders who get certified to conduct service improvement workshops. Then deploy this powerful resource to teach service principles to all internal and external service providers.

Next, apply the tools and frameworks you learn to review service problems and generate new ideas. Choose ideas that offer quick wins and others that hold the possibility for big and positive changes.

Now put these ideas into action. As results are achieved, trumpet the service solutions and praise the people involved. Repeat this cycle until everyone appreciates how service issues lead to new ideas, new ideas lead to new actions, and new action produces results.

Sign #6: Your service and your people are exhausted.

The wear and tear of service takes a toll. Customer complaints and internal problems keep building up, and they wear your people down. Enthusiasm dims like a slowly dying ember.

Fortunately, you can fan a glowing ember back to life. Reignite the interest and motivation of your team with contests, workshops, town halls, keynote presentations, customer visits, panel discussions, cross-functional teams, and more. Be proactive. Make sure everyone is engaged – weekly, monthly, quarterly – in creative programs that keep the flame for service burning brightly.

Sustaining focus and enthusiasm for service is an essential leadership skill. Not sustaining focus and enthusiasm is a deadly service sin.

The Six Signs of a Second-Rate Service Culture can be found in many business, government, and community organizations. When you see these signs at work, take action to turn the tide. You can lift your culture out of the darkness and into the light of service.
By Ron Kaufman/August, 2014