Transforming Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Steve Curtin

When was the last time you picked up your dry cleaning or deli sandwich and did not receive a bill? Now think about the last time you received service and did not get a smile. My hunch is that you have received many more bills for services rendered than you have received genuine smiles, eye contact, and enthusiasm in the voices of the employees who handed you the bills.

The reason for this is pretty clear. Protocol and processes are in place to predict reliable outcomes relative to job function. There is a process in place to open a checking account. There is a recognized process to conduct a 75–point automotive safety check. There is a documented process followed to clean a hotel room. There is a sometimes protracted process to clear the security checkpoint at an airport. And there is most certainly a reliable process that produces your monthly electric bill.

It’s no wonder that executing job functions produces such consistent outcomes. Employees are following a prescribed process. They are acutely aware of the related steps and sequence, which are usually documented in great detail. Employees have undergone training in order to properly execute the mandatory job functions outlined in the process. Expectations of success are clear, and employees may receive feedback on their performance and reinforcement through leadership’s modeling.

An employee’s tendency to demonstrate job essence, however, depends on the employee involved. This explains why, even in companies renowned for their customer service quality, it’s still possible to receive disappointing customer service. Exceptional customer service hinges on the one-on-one interactions that customers have with service providers.

Whereas the duties or tasks associated with one’s job role (job functions) are executed reliably regardless of the employee involved, exceptional customer service (job essence) is demonstrated inconsistently because of the employee involved.

Why Ordinary Customer Service Is Common
There is rarely a hiccup when a bank representative opens a checking account with a new customer. The 75–point automotive safety check usually goes off without a hitch, whether or not maintenance issues are detected. Hotel rooms are cleaned according to the hotel company’s standard. Passengers clear security checkpoints at airports around the world. And there most definitely are many, many electric bills produced.

Each of these processes occurs reliably, regardless of the employee involved, because:

  • Employees are definitely made aware of job function: The duties, tasks, and processes for which they are responsible—especially vital processes such as cash handling, safety, and other compliance-related procedures
  • There is likely documentation to support the successful execution of job function in the form of checklists, policies, processes, service models, etc.
  • Employees are likely trained (sometimes extensively) to successfully execute the process
  • The proper execution of the documented process is mandatory; it’s what employees are paid to do
  • There is a clear, often documented expectation of employees by management of what success looks like
  •  If employees do receive feedback from their immediate supervisors, the feedback likely pertains to the proper execution of job function
  • Employees often see the proper execution of the process modeled by their immediate supervisors (regardless of the supervisor involved)

Why Extraordinary Customer Service Is Rare
Bank tellers, automotive service technicians, hotel housekeepers, TSA personnel, and a variety of other service providers may properly execute their job functions consistently, but they may or may not smile, make eye contact, add energy to their voices, or in any way reflect job essence to their customers.

The reason job essence is demonstrated inconsistently is because of the employee involved. If a customer encounters an employee who is engaged and genuinely interested in providing customer service, then she will likely be well served. But if she encounters an apathetic employee who is indifferent toward providing customer service, then she will likely be disappointed.

Employees fail to reflect job essence consistently because:

  • Employees are largely unaware of job essence.
  • There is rarely documentation to support the consistent demonstration of job essence.
  • Employees are seldom trained to consistently demonstrate job essence.
  • The demonstration of job essence is voluntary; employees don’t have to display job essence, and most don’t.
  • Expectations of employees by management relative to job essence are rarely documented and are usually less clear than expectations relative to job function.
  • If employees do receive feedback from their immediate supervisors, the feedback is less likely to pertain to the consistent demonstration of job essence.
  • Employees may or may not see the consistent demonstration of job essence by their immediate supervisors. It simply depends on the individual supervisor.

Organizations that consistently offer superior customer service understand the distinction between job function and job essence. Rather than leaving service quality to chance, these companies take steps to normalize exceptional customer service so that it is not an exception.

How to Raise Customer Service Quality from?Ordinary to Extraordinary
Most managers expect employees to offer the best customer service possible, and some managers demand it. However, you cannot create extraordinary customer service by force or edict any more than you can require a customer to be delighted. But there are some concrete actions you can begin taking today that will prepare your employees to raise their quality of customer service from ordinary to extraordinary:

  • Ask your employees to describe for you what their jobs entail
  • Share the key lessons and terms from this article
  • Recognize the totality of your employees’ job roles
  • Raise and reinforce standards and expectations
  • Incorporate job essence into job function wherever possible

© 2013 Steve Curtin. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary(AMACOM 2013). Used with permission of the publisher, AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.

Learn more about delighting your customers at these AMA seminars:
Customer Service Excellence: How to Win and Keep Customers

Customer Retention

About the Author(s)

Steve Curtin runs his own customer service consulting firm, Steve Curtin, Customer Enthusiast! He spent 20 years with Marriott International. For more information visit