Taking Service to the Stratosphere

Jan 24, 2019

By Ron Kaufman

You step off the plane, weary from a long flight. As you walk through the terminal, you can’t believe your eyes. The airport is immaculate with walkways as wide as roadways and not a speck of litter anywhere. As you move deeper into the terminal, you see a butterfly garden, an outdoor swimming pool, playground equipment, a four-story slide, nap rooms, spa facilities, and entertainment venues including movie theaters and video-gaming stations. Airport employees eagerly greet you with smiles and ask how they can help.

 No, this isn’t a weary traveler’s fantasy. This oasis really exists at Changi Airport in Singapore—and it’s the perfect illustration of what service can (and should) look like in our global economy. Airport service doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Why do we accept it as the norm—when it can be so much more?

Service is everywhere, but there is a vast disconnect between the volume of service we need and the quality of service we are giving and receiving. Businesses have turned a very simple human concept into a catastrophic cliché. They remain blind to the fact that true service comes not from demands and dashboards, but from a basic human desire to take care of other people.

You can start your own service revolution by adopting the following 12 building blocks of a service culture. With these building blocks in place, you’ll possess the architecture to build a sustainable culture that delivers outstanding service every day.

1. Common Service Language. The entire domain of service suffers from weak clichés, poor distinctions, and inaccurate common sense. For example, “The customer is always right” is often wrong. “Oh, you want service?” an employee asks. “Well, you’ll have to talk to our service department.” Human beings create the world in which we live by using language. We create meaning with language, and we can change our world by inventing or adopting new language. Your Common Service Language should be meaningful and attractive—a shared vocabulary to focus the attention and the actions of your team. It should clarify meaning, promote purpose, and align everyone’s intentions and objectives.

2. Engaging Service Vision. “Many Partners, Many Missions, One Changi.” That’s the engaging service vision that unites everyone who works at Changi Airport. At Changi, a coffee shop worker can tell you the departure gate locations and the fastest ways to get there. Airline employees know where you can buy last-minute souvenirs. Airport police can tell you how to find the post office and what time it opens. At this remarkable gateway, everyone works together to create positive experiences every day. It doesn’t matter whether you call this building block your service vision, mission, core value, guiding principle, credo, motto, slogan, saying, or tagline. What matters is that your engaging service vision is engaging.”

3. Service Recruitment. Are you “Googley”? Are you able to “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” at work? These important considerations are made during the hiring process at Google and Zappos, respectively. These companies know it is much easier to build a strong culture by hiring new people with the right attitude than to hire people for their skills alone and then try to align them around a common service vision. While cultural misfits may be incredibly talented, well connected, or experienced in a specific area, their impact on the team can be confusing or downright disruptive.

4. Service Orientation. Unfortunately, many company orientation programs are far from uplifting. Often they are little more than robotic introductions: This is your desk; this is your password; those are your colleagues; these are the tools, systems, and processes we use; I am your boss; and if you have any questions, ask. Welcome to the organization. Now get to work. These basic introductions and inductions are important, but they don’t connect new employees to the company or the culture in a welcoming and motivating way.

Service Orientation goes far beyond induction. Zappos really gets this. Its four-week cross-department orientation process is an example of new-hire orientation at its finest—deeply embedded, it delivers on the company’s brand and core value, ‘Deliver WOW Through Service.’ Zappos understands that new team members should feel informed, inspired, and encouraged to contribute to the culture. It even offers an out for new hires who realize the culture isn’t for them.

5. Service Communications. A company’s service communications can be as big and bold as a sign in the front of a store proclaiming that the customer is always right or as simple as including employees’ hobbies or passions on their nametags. Service Communications are used to educate and inform, to connect people, and to encourage collaboration, motivate, congratulate, and inspire.They can be used to promote your service language, expand your service vision, showcase your new hires, announce your latest contest, explain your measures and service metrics, and give voice to your customers’ compliments and complaints. They also keep your people up-to-date with what’s happening, what’s changing, what’s coming next, and most of all what’s needed now.

6. Service Recognition and Rewards. These are a way of saying “thank you,” “job well done,” and “please do it again” all at the same time. Recognition is a human performance accelerator and one of the fastest ways to encourage repeat behavior. Genuine appreciation fully expressed makes a lasting impact on any employee. There are tons of great ways to reward and recognize. You can do it in public, in private, in person, in writing, for individuals, or for teams. You can do it with a handwritten letter, a standing ovation, two tickets to a concert or a ball game, an extra day off, dinner for the family, a star on the nametag…I could go on and on.

7. Voice of the Customer. Key drivers of satisfaction at Microsoft include product quality, value for money, security, accuracy, and speed of solutions. But that’s not everything the company’s customers and partners value. Microsoft carefully studies the millions of words and phrases people type into free-form comment fields every year. Through careful analysis of these “verbatim” comments, the company discovered other drivers that also make a difference, including “Microsoft is easy to do business with,” “Microsoft cares about me,” and “Microsoft helps me grow my business.”

The voices you gather may come through formal means such as survey forms, hotlines, comment cards, and focus groups, or through social channels like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. Wherever it comes from, whatever it says, the value you gain from the Voice of the Customer is achieved only when this river of input connects with a team that wants to hear it, understand it, and do something about it. When these vital voices are shared with service providers throughout your organization, they contribute immediately and powerfully to a better service experience.

8. Service Measures and Metrics. Think of the last survey you received at the end of a flight, a meal, a hotel stay, or online. Were you glad to see it? Did you feel your responses made a difference? Surveys are commonly used to measure satisfaction, assess loyalty, evaluate staff performance, and find areas for service improvement. But these evaluations are notoriously unpleasant for customers to complete and difficult for people in organizations to decipher. Service measures and metrics are most effective when they help you prioritize what’s most important from customer satisfaction to customer loyalty to employee engagement. Measure what matters to focus attention, design new action, and create positive service results.

9. Service Improvement Process. This is where customer complaints are welcome, where survey reports are carefully examined for new ideas and insights. Some issues require ownership on the front line, involvement from the middle, and sponsorship from above. Other service issues are quickly solved by teams working across silos. A well-designed service improvement process promotes communication across functions, divisions, and departments. It stimulates collaboration across levels, languages, and locations. With thoughtful planning and invitations, you can also tap the creative energy of your customers, vendors, distributors, and even your government or industry regulators.

10. Service Recovery and Guarantees. Would you log a customer complaint into a system if it might get you into trouble? Probably not. This was exactly the problem Xerox Emirates found it was having with its customer care management system. The company changed course and created Bounce! Instead of blame and shame, Bounce! presents shortcomings as an opportunity to elevate service. When a problem occurs, employees are encouraged to make it bounce by raising the level of the company’s service much higher than it had been. Rather than ignore customer complaints or try to cover them up, employees see them as opportunities to excel and be recognized. While the number of complaints logged into the Bounce! system has increased substantially, the company’s “satisfaction with service recovery” scores have also risen dramatically.

When customers are confident about the service you deliver, they will return, refer, and recommend. When team members are confident about your commitment and your culture, they will work enthusiastically to deliver uplifting service.

11. Service Benchmarking. Everywhere you look, best practices are waiting to be discovered. Where is it enjoyable to test or try a sample? Häagen-Dazs wants you to sample every flavor. Which organizations are great at teaching new customers how to get the most from their products and their service? In Portland, Oregon, Apple buses senior citizens from the local community center to its stores and teaches them to use a computer, some for the very first time. Which company is best at bouncing back if you are not completely happy? L.L. Bean makes it guaranteed, cheerfully replacing even old and worn clothing.

Service benchmarking reveals others’ best practices and points to new ways you can upgrade yours. You want to develop a focused team of service providers who seek to understand: How do other leaders create uplifting service experiences for their customers and colleagues? What can we learn, then adapt, adopt, and apply to improve the service we deliver to our customers and to each other?

12. Service Role Models. Four times a year, the general manager of a well-known exclusive hotel in Paris becomes a bellman. The refined gentleman greets guests, places their bags on a luggage trolley, and escorts them to their rooms. He uses these opportunities to get feedback from guests about what they like and don’t like about the hotel. On these days, he eats in the basement cafeteria with the rest of the staff, and talks with them about their jobs, answering any questions they might have. He cherishes these four days, as do the members of his team.

What’s important to remember and to emphasize with your team is that everyone is a service role model. Leaders, managers, and frontline staff must walk-the-talk with powerful personal actions every day. Being a service role model is not just for senior managers and members of the leadership team. It is what happens every time people can see what you do, read what you write, or hear what you say in an internal or external service situation.

When all the building blocks of uplifting service are in place, the results are amazing: everyone is fully engaged, encouraging one another, improving the customer experience, making the company more successful, and contributing to the community at large.

About the Author(s)

Ron Kaufman is the author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012, www.UpliftingService.com). He is the founder of UP! Your Service, a global service education and management consultancy firm with offices in the United States and Singapore. He is also a columnist at Bloomberg Businessweek and the author of 14 other books on service, business, and inspiration.