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Why Leadership is Critical to Building an Uplifting 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 writes about the importance of leadership when it comes to creating a customer service culture:

Many CEOs and senior leaders have risen to the top as experts in their industries or as specialists in technical competencies – not as experts in building a strong and sustaining service culture. This often results in initiatives to improve service being considered a frontline or a human resources issue. This is a fundamental mistake.

Building a service culture needs great service leaders and leadership teams. The power of senior leadership to set the vision, focus the entire organization, reward success and remove roadblocks, and role model correct behavior cannot be delegated to others.

Leaders and leadership teams must embrace four key roles to ensure a service culture building effort does not fail.

1. Create a vision, set the direction

What is the purpose for building a service culture? Why is this critical, and why now? Leadership must create an engaging service vision that gives employees a sense of purpose, value and meaning.

This vision needs to apply not just externally to customers, but internally among colleagues and departments. Organizations that want to deliver world-class service at the frontlines must build outstanding service throughout the organization.

Change begins with alignment around a strategic objective. A powerful service vision galvanizes employees’ ambition, enthusiasm and commitment. A compelling service vision gives direction and provides an unmistakable idea of what is sought – and what is not.

2. Engage, focus and inspire the entire organization

Building a service culture is the responsibility of an entire organization, not just the customer service, human resources or organizational development department. This mandate must come from the very top: the CEO and his or her essential leadership team.

Active and visible involvement by senior leaders is essential to ensure that building a service culture is not perceived as only a tactical effort to improve service, a frontline skills training program, or another ‘a culture thing’ from the HR department.

Leadership must keep building a service culture high on the agenda. ‘Talking the talk’ at the beginning must be reinforced with visible commitment throughout the entire culture building process.

3. Prioritize and commit resources

While building a culture of service excellence can leverage a proven methodology, each organization has unique values, structure and objectives. It is leadership’s job to regularly review progress, make decisions on business priorities and commit resources across the building blocks of a service culture.

In many instances, roadblocks to service culture can only be removed by senior leaders.

4. Role Model

Building a service culture needs leaders who understand why service is truly important – and behave accordingly. Leaders’ actions must demonstrate excellent service to customers and to colleagues.

It is just as important for leaders to recognize and encourage behavior from employees who are ‘doing the right thing’, even when they do something wrong! Mistakes will occur when people take new action. leaders can make it safe for employees to take prudent risks, demonstrating with their own words and action that mistakes are opportunities to learn, improve and grow.

Finally, the use of a common language is a key building block of service culture. Effective service leaders consistently use ‘service language’ in their own meetings and communications to speed up and strengthen the service culture.

Talking about service culture is easy. Is the leadership in your organization ready for responsibility and up to walking the talk?

Ron Kaufman/June, 2015