Running a successful service company should be synonymous with delivering excelling service. If not, then why consider running a service business at all? Yet, if all companies which perform services effectively compete on providing the service, then the key differentiator lies in the service management model and the ability to execute it. Designing the service delivery system should focus on what creates value to the core organizations and how to engage frontline employees to deliver the ultimate customer experience.
Last week we discussed the external customer perspective on “Creating an Excellent Service Delivery Culture: The Service Leader’s Role” this week we are taking it from the perspective of the internal customer.
Naturally, you cannot strive for service excellence without the input of all your employees. The issue of their commitment was touched upon earlier but additional concerns here include the following (borrowing from Fáilte Ireland:
a. Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities
It is vital that all employees understand what is expected of them in terms of service delivery so that there are no grey areas as to who does what. As a rule, every employee should be empowered as much as possible so that your customers never hear something like “I cannot help you with that, you’ll have to speak to…” Also, in relation to how they contribute to the wider service excellence effort, employees must know what’s expected of them. For example, if they are expected to participate on service excellence teams of one sort or another, then that must be made clear to them. Equally, if you want new ideas from employees, is that optional or should they be expected to come up with one new idea a month? Additionally, they should fully understand the internal customer concept whereby they recognize that they are all interdependent upon each other to do their jobs effectively.
b. Provide appropriate and continuous training for all employees
It goes without saying that training and development are vital cogs in the wheel when it comes to aiming for service excellence. But, regardless of the numbers of employees you have, as far as is possible, the content of training needs should be tailored to the experience levels and needs of employees. There is nothing worse for an experienced employee than having to sit through a basic service course with new starters.
Too often, little thought is given to the content and delivery of on- and off-the-job training and you should ensure that the investment you make in this area is delivering the highest return possible; this is where I would like to recommend Spint Consult Corporate Training and development to any organization which needs value for money and change of attitude of employees from strategic management to stress management – just name it, Spint team have what it takes to delivery.
c. Create a working environment which engages employees to the fullest extent
It is useful to read the ‘How to Recruit and Lead your Team (guide)’ to get some insight into how to lead and engage your employees for best effect. Your goal in relation to service excellence is to create a working environment which encourages employees to see customers as ‘theirs’ and not just ‘yours’. Not easy to achieve in practice but essential if you are to truly deliver excellent service to your customers.
d. Measure employee satisfaction at regular intervals
Just as you measure customer satisfaction levels, so too is it important to gauge how your employees are feeling about their work. Again this does not have to be a complicated process but it must provide you with meaningful and actionable feedback in areas such as how they view leadership, communication, teamwork, working conditions and so forth, so that you can identify and address blockages which are reducing engagement levels.
e. Standards of Performance
Naturally, the standard of service in any business will fluctuate to some degree on occasion; perfection is a worthy goal but it is impossible to get it right every time because you are, after all, only human. However, it is the overall pattern of quality which matters and a good way of describing fluctuations in service delivery is to view it as being a quality continuum, based on your ability to respond to customer expectations. Naturally, you want your service to exceed expectations for as much of the time as possible but even to ‘meet expectations’ you must have a defined way of doing things and for that you need Operational Standards/Standards of Performance (SOPs) of some kind. The following is a four-part approach to developing, implementing, evaluating and improving operational standards.
1. Developing Operational Standards
2. Implementing Operational Standards
3. Evaluating Operational Standards
4. Improving Operational Standards
f. Developing operational standards
At its simplest, a Standard is an agreed, repeatable way of doing something: it’s a goal if you like. The Procedure is then the ‘how to’ in order to achieve the standard. Operational standards (Standards of Performance) are those standards which are recognized by your business as important enough to be published and monitored for continuous improvement.
They relate primarily to service, and contain precise criteria designed to be used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. Operational standards help to make life simpler and to increase the reliability and the effectiveness of many practices that guide you and the services you provide.
They are intended to be aspirational – a summary of best practices rather than general practice. Standards are created by bringing together the experience and expertise of all interested parties, within and, where appropriate, outside the organization (customers, suppliers, etc.). Establishing operational standards and making them integral to how your business operates will take time. You need to develop a careful, well thought-out approach that recognizes: The different types of services and customers you have; your knowledge of how your people currently perform; and your ability to monitor performance against standards.
However, rather than wait until complete and ‘perfect’ standards are developed, you should develop your operational standards progressively. Publish standards in areas of greater importance or impact first, i.e. those critical for operational success.
Use the SMART acronym when developing standards: Specific: A specific, clear standard has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general one. Measurable: Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each standard defined.
Attainable: When you identify standards that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them happen. Realistic: To be realistic, a standard must represent an outcome toward which you are both willing and able to work. Timely: A standard should be grounded within a time frame, i.e. it must relate to the now with a view to the future.
It is important to recognize that standards of performance are not plucked from thin air but are simply devised directly in response to customer expectations. They are based on key interactions you have with your customers. Let’s work through a simple example. Imagine you were planning a break with your family and you made a call to a self-catering provider in the area you wanted to stay to make an enquiry. The first ‘moment of truth’ between you and the self-catering staff would be in how the call was handled. What would you expect as a customer?
You get the picture at this point. You expect certain things to happen when you call the self-catering operator and none of them are earth-shattering, but they all combine to make that part of the experience memorable for a moment. Now, let’s switch hats for a moment if you were the self-catering business owner or manager, how might you set about meeting these particular expectations for that element of the customer’s service journey?
You might first start by agreeing the standard (goal) with your employee(s) for Handling Enquiries and Reservations which could be as simply put as: Our Standard Is: To handle all calls in a friendly and positive manner and deal with customer enquiries and reservations professionally and efficiently which shows them that we value their business. The key phases of the standard setting process include: Identify all key moments of truth/interactions with your customers from initial contact to end of service. Identify the customer expectations associated with each of those interactions. Develop a standard (goal) for each interaction that responds to the expectations. Agree on a procedure to be followed to achieve the standard for each interaction.
g. Implementing the standards
Operational standards are intended to let your people know the level of performance expected of them but they will only be fully implemented if you provide on-going training and coaching for employees so that they can consistently apply the standard. Equally, day-to-day supervision must ensure that employees are actually following agreed procedures every time they perform a particular task. By including your employees in the standard setting process in the first place, you will find that there are fewer problems with implementation because they understand the rationale for the standards and as they essentially developed them, they do not feel they have been imposed upon them. There is ‘ownership’ there which facilitates implementation.
“Setting customer-driven standards and measuring how well your business is doing is a continuous process”
h. Evaluating the standards
You will need to develop ways to measure your performance against standards and monitor performance constantly. Setting customer-driven standards and measuring how well your business is doing is a continuous process and it should quickly identify problems with customer service. All parts of the business should be involved in finding solutions to these problems and discussing these solutions with customers, where appropriate.
There are a number of measurement tools you can use. One effective way is to use a checklist or audit of the standards and track performance over time – often employees can self-assess their own performance and when they don’t fear the consequences they can be surprisingly honest and accurate. Then, action plan any areas for improvement identified to eliminate the problem from recurring. This can also be done through more formal and independent internal and external quality audits, mystery guest surveys and simply by listening to your customers.
This simple checklist could be used by employees themselves to rate their own performance, or you could give all your ‘moment of truth’ checklists to an external mystery guest (a friend perhaps, to save you money) who could rate the guest experience for you. There are many ways you can measure the quality of your service experience without it being overly expensive.
i. Improving the standards
Based on your ongoing measurements you will identify areas for improvement and these will allow you to address shortcomings, or set higher and higher operational standards designed to maximize customer satisfaction. By consulting customers, monitoring performance and encouraging innovation, you will be able to deliver better service.
There is no pretense that striving for service excellence is easy, but it is possible to excel as many small and large enterprises have shown to be the case. However, it is a longer term journey, one fuelled by passion and commitment, a structured approach, engaged employees and total customer focus. The principles described here are readily applicable to any business and should help you to revise and enhance your existing approach, “the power is yours”.