Being capable is not enough


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TeamworkI was recently asked, “What is the biggest customer service challenge facing companies today?” My response was that it’s the same challenge companies faced last year, the year before that, and even 28 years ago: inconsistency of customer service quality and the customer experience.

The former head of SAS Airlines, Jan Carlzon, coined the term ‘moments of truth’ in 1987, referring to every time an employee of the company came into contact with a customer. Today, the same meaning is applied to ‘touchpoints along the customer journey’. While technology has enabled many more self-service options in 2015 than existed 28 years ago, customer interactions with employees persist and continue to have a disproportionate impact on overall customer satisfaction.

Regardless of how seamless one’s self-service check-in experience was for her latest flight, eventually she’s going to encounter an airline employee. And when she does, for better or worse, that interaction will supplant her check-in experience. No matter how user-friendly the technology or how flawless the omnichannel experience, ultimately a customer’s perception of service quality hinges on the nature of her one-on-one interaction with a service provider.

Too many companies focus myopically on the infrastructure and technology to support voice of the customer (VOC), customer experience (CX), and enterprise feedback management (EFM) processes and neglect their greatest customer experience asset and feedback source: competent, customer-focused, and engaged employees who are both capable AND inspired to consistently provide superior customer service.

A majority of companies employ capable workers who possess adequate job knowledge and demonstrate sufficient job skill. These employees know WHAT to do and HOW to do it. Where most companies fail (and where the consistency of customer service quality routinely breaks down) is they stop there, assuming that employees are now equipped to consistently deliver exceptional customer service.

What these companies overlook is the need to define and share the organization’s purpose, which informs employees about their highest priority at work. Employees need to know WHY they are doing WHAT they are doing HOW they are doing it. Instead of just being given something to work ON (duties and tasks), employees must be given something to work TOWARD (purpose).

The result is a workforce that is not only capable of providing superior customer service, but inspired to do so consistently.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

Watch the 90-second book trailer.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


  1. Well-said, Steve!

    One effective method of giving employees that “sense of purpose” is to connect the dots for them: Give them a clear line of vision between what they do every day, and how their actions impact the life of the customer, for better or for worse. Once the employees understand this, their actions can change (for the better!).

    Jim Watson
    Portland, Maine

  2. Jim,
    Yes, it reminds me of the story (I’ll summarize…) of the Renaissance era traveler who, upon happened upon a construction site, asked a mason what he was doing: “I’m laying bricks.” He then encountered a carpenter and asked what he was doing: “Building a door.” He then approached a woman who was sweeping an area of the job site and asked what she was doing: “I’m helping to build a grand cathedral where future generations can find meaning and purpose for their lives!”
    To your point, the first two workers viewed their jobs as a series of obligatory duties and tasks (job functions), whereas the woman “connected the dots” between her job functions and the essence of her job (her highest priority at work): creating a place of worship where future generations can find meaning and purpose for their lives.
    Now, ask yourself: Which employee is most likely to take initiative, to be productive, to show up for work each day, to speak positively about her employer (perhaps recruiting qualified applicants in the process), to be satisfied with her compensation, to work autonomously (requiring less of supervision)? Of course, these are rhetorical questions. While the mason and carpenter both have something to work ON, the woman has something to work TOWARD.
    Jim, thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  3. Thanks for your apt response, Steve. I think you’ve written your next blog post! 😉

    Best regards,


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