10 Key Service Principles
What are the 10 principles one should consider in order to consistently deliver excellent customer service?
1. Right Leadership – As with all things in business, success is highly dependent upon having the right leader or leaders that is/are convinced of the strategic advantage that can be gained from service excellence and is/are then committed to making it happen – whatever it takes. Having spent the last 15 years visiting, studying and working with some of the world’s best service providers, I find that no matter how big or small, which country, what market, whether they are already the best in their sector or have just decided they want to be, the one thing all these organisations have in common is great leadership. Without it, everything else is a struggle or doesn’t work.
2. Right People – It’s said that ‘you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear’. Well it’s the same with service; you can’t deliver great service with the wrong people - no matter how much training or supervision you give them. So make sure you start with the right people; ones that have the personality and natural talent for it. Another phrase that’s used a lot is ‘Hire for attitude (character) – Train for skill (competence)’. I think this should be a ‘golden rule’ of service.
3. Right Culture – There’s no point in hiring the right people if you then de-motivate or lose them because of putting them in the wrong environment. You therefore need a culture that encourages and supports great people delivering great service. The key words for this are trust, empowerment and engagement. If you’ve recruited great people, you can then put them in a high trust environment, where they are empowered to make their own decisions, to deliver excellent customer service, based on knowing and believing in the goals (vision) and principles (values) of the organisation. Together this creates a connection with and concern for the organisation and its customers. This is often referred to as employee engagement.
4. Right Systems – The systems people have to use must be designed to support service delivery. Most systems in most business are not; they are often designed by people who don’t serve customers, to control, manage, limit, measure, check, etc., the people that do. This usually results in systems that make the job of serving customers more difficult and frustrating. So make sure all your systems are designed to support, assist, ease, speed up, and simplify the job of serving customers. Make your systems serve the people who serve the customers.
5. Right Focus – It’s good to have a simple focus people can refer to or reflect on whenever they are unsure what to do in a particular customer serving situation. One such focus phrase that’s often used is – ‘Serve the customer the way you would like to be served’.
This is not right because it assumes that all customers are the same will want the same things as you. That’s obviously wrong. All customers are different and will want different things. A better way of expressing this is therefore – ‘Serve each customer the way they would like to be served’. This is better because it suggests you need to use your skill and judgement to get to know each customer as an individual and then deliver the kind of service they each want on a person by person basis. That’s much more likely to achieve success.
Another focus is – ‘Treat every customer as if they were your one and only customer’. I like it because it can really make you think. "If without this customer I had no customers, no sales and no wages, how would I then treat them?” I guess this thought would drive you to treat them in ways that would make them spend as much as possible each time you served them, and make them want to come back again and again and impress and please them so much that they recommended you to others and you therefore got more customers. That must be the best way to treat all customers.
6. Think Lifetime Value - When deciding what the right thing is to do for a customer, always keep in mind their lifetime value. Lifetime value is what the customer could spend if they remained your customer for as long as they needed what you provide. It’s all too easy to focus merely on the value of the sale, which often leads to a wrong or poor decision. But if you focus on the value of the customer, and the cost to you of finding another if you lost them that should help you decide the right way to deal with whatever service situation you face.
7. Deliver Wows and Recovery - It’s really easy to make a worthwhile difference - keep providing WOW experiences for customers. This means finding ways to deliver more than you promised and/or they expected, in ways they will notice and value. This can be expressed with the simple formula –
WOW = Expectation +1
Note the last part of the equation says +1 and not + £. The point is that the extra +1 bit, that creates the WOW, need not and should not be costly. In fact the best ones often cost absolutely nothing, they are focused on what you do for customers not what you give to customers.
Recovery is when you handle problems for a customer in ways that turn negative situations into positive ones. This too can be expressed with an equation –
Recovery = Fix it + WOW
This means that recovery happens when a mistake or problem is fixed, and you then add a WOW experience. Simply fixing a problem is not recovery, it does not turn a negative into a positive experience, it merely turns it from negative to neutral. The positive experience and recovery, happens when you add the WOW at the end.
8. Celebrate Service Success - The way to get service improvements is to go looking for the good things that are happening, provide recognition and/or reward to the people or teams that are creating them and then communicate that to everyone else so they can learn from it. You will not achieve it by looking for things being done wrong, punishing those that are doing them and then communicating that, or even worse, doing it publicly!
As a young manager I was fortunate to learn you should always praise the behaviours you want loudly, in public and reprimand the behaviours you don’t want quietly, in private. I recommend you practise that too.
9. Listen to your customers - The people who know best about whether your service is good or bad, right or wrong, fast or slow, are your customers. After them, it is the people closest to them. So make sure you have created as many ways as possible and practical to bring their thoughts into your organisation.
This is often called having the ‘voice of the customer’ in every meeting. You need to have a variety of ways that ensure that customer and front line colleague feedback is regularly elicited and thoroughly understood so that their views are present and able to influence all decisions. Remember the phrase - ‘without regular feedback a business will spend more and more time and resources on things that mean less and less to customers’. It’s right; so make sure that you are always listening to your customers (and front line staff) and acting on what they tell you.
10. Commit to Continuous Improvement - Some people worry that if they deliver more than customers expect, they will eventually come to expect that too and so it will cease to have a WOW affect. That’s true. But it’s also brilliant because it drives continuous improvement.
Great manufacturers constantly look for ways to improve quality, reduce costs, speed up processes, etc. Service providers must also constantly look for ways to improve service delivery. You therefore need to have systems and routines to do this, like daily, weekly or monthly meetings to discuss improvements (daily is best), suggestion schemes focussed on service delivery, recognition, reward and communication systems for the best ideas, customer and colleague focus groups to discuss improvements, benchmarking exercises to see what competitors and leaders in other industries are doing, or any other ways you can find to drive continuous improvement. But whatever means you choose the key is to do it constantly so that it becomes a natural, routine part of the way the organisation works.
Finally, there’s very little point in getting better if you don’t do it with a winning momentum. That’s because in the long run, what matters is not what your level of service is at any point in time; it is how quickly you’re improving compared to your competitor’s service and your customer’s expectations. So long as you are getting better at a faster pace than your competitors, you will become and then will stay ahead.
So develop ways to ensure your service is always improving with a pace that makes your customers delighted by the changes and your competitors demoralised and breathless trying to keep up.
- 2/8/2016:Building Customer Loyalty
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- 26/7/2016:Make it Memorable – but for the Right Reasons
- 8/4/2016:Focus on Experiences!
- 20/7/2016:The Challenge of Service Recovery