Great Service Has to Be Institutionalized if It Is to Become the Norm


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If you ever have a great customer service experience, what thoughts go through your mind? Given the generally low standard of service these days it was probably “WOW!” The key question is ‘Was it a one-off or is this level of service consistent for the supplier?’ The former means you spoke to someone who overcame the normal customer service processes, policies and metrics or was someone with whom you had a natural rapport. This is known as ‘service by default’. However the latter means service quality has been institutionalized within that organization and this is known as ‘service by design’. This is what separates average companies from great ones. But how is it achieved?

It starts with an understanding that great service experiences contribute to customer loyalty and long term value. They also lead to high employee morale. In these enlightened organizations service is part of customer management and measured in the same way as sales and marketing activities. Customer processes are designed around customer needs and, where necessary, cross functional boundaries. But processes are not enough. The culture of the service operation must be consistent with the processes; including decision-making authority, team management style, reward & recognition, training & development, knowledge sharing and, of course, performance metrics are all part of the jigsaw puzzle that is service culture. If any of these are out of alignment with the goals, the result is inconsistency – and inconsistency is the enemy of great service.

One company I know spent millions of dollars re-designing their processes. They gave their frontline people a high level of decision-making authority and trained them on how to apply this increased level of flexibility. However when they rolled out the new processes both customer and employee satisfaction went down. Why? Because they hadn’t changed the performance metrics and the reward & recognition for the frontline people, both of which were transactional and focused on minimizing call handling times. Many of the frontline people couldn’t resolve the ambiguity of higher customer expectations with the way they were managed, measured and rewarded and so decided to opt for the old way – getting off the phone as fast as possible. No-one gets fired for doing that.

Culture is a complex matter. I see many companies with wonderful values printed on posters around the offices and on the walls of its call centers. But it’s the management behaviors that really count. That’s what people see and emulate. It defines ‘What it’s like to work round here’. I don’t know who said “I judge people by their actions, not their pious statements of intent” but it’s a great mantra for developing a strong service culture and is the very essence of leadership.

David Rance
David Rance, CEO of Round, is a former customer care director for a national telco. Round is a leader in capability management models and software tools that enable organizations to align at their chosen level of customer centricity.


  1. David

    Could not agree more with the conclusions in your article, we see great strides being made in delivery of customer experience for specific functions. Which are all to often undermined my others areas of the organisation. This inevitably leads to a cycle of investment that delivers short-term gain but fades back to the normal poor service. Leaving a culture that is exhausted by change and failure. But there is some good news companies are starting to look at board level customer focused roles that have a collaborative agenda and so are starting to build a consensus approach to the delivery of customer experience

    Best regards


    Chairman of the QoE
    Facilitated round table discussion groups, giving senior executives the opportunity to talk about the issues involved in delivering a quality customer experience. Providing an agenda free environment for frank exchange of views

  2. David, having been brought up in business when good service was a way of business life, I saw it decline over the ears to the place where customer service meant opening the doors or guiding callers through press on, press two, listen carefully as our system has changed (a lie becase the system has been the same for 5 years), etc.

    During this decline, Nordstroms put the term “customer service” back in the business dictionary. They set a new standard for their time as they had nothing to beat, customer service was so low. Compared to what was previously thought to be good service, their level, at its best, would have been condsidered only average to what it was the norm in the 50s and early 60s.

    As businesses grew, combined, diversified, the level of custome service declined to where the standard is, again, very low. Hence, what is accepted as good service is what ends up being given to others.

    The real problem is that if one has never been the recipient of good service, how would one know what good service is. Where does it start . . . inside the business by managment and staff giving each other good service or is it only thought to be necessary to outsiders/customers? It matters not if it is inside or outside, everyone is in the business of spending others’ time, effort and/or money. This is what determines what good service is.


    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling, Attitudes for Selling
    [email protected]
    Winner of the Murray Award for Marketing Excellence
    Member, PNW Sales & Marketing Group
    Member, Institute of Management Consultants


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