The Service Climb from Good to Great

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Several years ago I keynoted a conference held in Cardiff, England for the largest phone company in the U.K. The other keynoter was Rebecca Stephens, the first woman from the U.K. to climb Mount Everest. After our keynotes, we shared a limo back to London. The 2 ½ hour ride gave us ample time to visit. She was a highly experienced climber having scaled many challenging mountains, setting several climbing records. She was also a well-known journalist, skilled at finding insight from adventurous experiences.

“How is Mount Everest different than your other climb?” I asked her. She was silent for a minute as if struggling to find the proper answer—one that reflected the mystery not just one that reported the obvious.

“When you climb Mount Everest,” she said, “You have to rethink everything you know about attacking the climb.” I pressed further. “Mount Everest is obviously higher,” she continued, “but no other mountain has a greater threat of altitude sickness than Everest. And descending is more dangerous than the climb. Treacherous winds take a severe toll on your already fatigued body. Preparation requires more unique expertise than any other mountain in the world. That is why local Sherpas (guides) can be invaluable.”

Organizations keen on elevating the service experience of their customers often assume that getting from “good to great” means simply doing better at what got them from satisfactory to good. They often believe that creating a distinctive customer experience involves the generous use of “more’s” — more emphasis, more training, more communications, more posters and more rewards for greatness.

Service exemplars like Ritz-Carlton, Zappos, Apple, USAA and Lexus, however, will tell you that climbing the mountain of service distinction requires, to paraphrase Rebecca Stephens, “rethinking everything you know about delivering service.” Emphasis is on customer loyalty drivers not solely on important service factors. Customers become partners in the design of service not just recipients of its delivery. Service standards are hard-wired into the DNA of the organization not simply posted on the walls. Metrics, dashboards and front-line scouting are uniquely crafted to provide real-time experience intelligence not just rear view mirror customer evaluation.

In today’s competitive market, winning organizations strive for distinctive service experience customers not only find valuable but emotionally compelling enough to turn a retained customer into an advocate. What are the assumptions about your service that might be blinding you from seeing a more innovative way? If you were forced to double your fees or prices and none of competitors followed suit, what kind of experience would keep your customers from abandoning you?

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