Taking Service to the Next Level

Ron Kaufman says changing the negative perception of service has to come from within each organization. He explores the fundamentals of service and how companies can go about building the foundations of making service part of their organizational culture.


“The fundamental definition of service is taking action to create a value for someone else,” says Ron Kaufman, founder of Uplifting Service, a service education and management consultancy firm. With over 20 years of experience educating organizations on building great service cultures under his belt, one cannot help but listen when Kaufman speaks about service as an issue. In his upcoming book, Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues and Everyone Else You Meet, Kaufman explores the fundamentals of service and how companies can go about building the foundations of making service part of their organizational culture.

Providing great service is not just something that organizations can do for external stakeholders; they can also build service internally. Ultimately, providing the right types of service will contribute to a company’s long-term success.

Mind your mindset

Despite this importance, the perception of service and the service industry in its entirety is often negative. Kaufman explains that there are still challenges that need to be addressed. “We treat service as a ‘fuzzy side’ and there has been poor thinking regarding customer service – that ‘the customer is always right’, or worse, ‘the customer is king’,” he says. “So, what does that make the service provider, the slave?”

Another challenge is that the people who provide the service (whichever type of work) also feel “servile”. “When they are in service to someone else they do not necessarily feel dignified,” he says.

Kaufman argues that service – both to give and receive – is a natural need for human beings. As such, he wants to “uplift” the idea of service to people. “We are the species that needs service and we only create value and success in our lives or careers when we provide a service (to others).”

Kaufman agrees that there is a negative perception of service in Singapore, but he says that the market has improved tremendously over the past 22 years that he has been here. “In Singapore, while we have dramatically improved in service standards, the spirit of service and the attitude and desire to give someone else a good service experience, is still not native to the population,” he says.

However, he notes that this mindset can be changed. For a country that benchmarks itself with the rest of the world constantly, he suggests that people in Singapore should ask themselves, “how do I do better than what I did yesterday?”

Another step that Singaporeans can do to improve service overall in the country is to be a better customer. Kaufman explains that customer service is not just about the person serving but also about the person on the receiving end. “A customer can have a big impact on the service; find out the person’s name, express your appreciation, and have the right information so that you can tell the person what you want,” he advises.

Creating a service culture

There are many organizations around the globe that are renowned for their great service cultures, including Singapore Airlines (SIA), and The Ritz-Carlton. Kaufman says that there is a difference in just improving an organization’s service performance and “uplifting” its service culture. He says that organizations need to observe and ask themselves what these companies are doing differently in their fundamental activities.

He expounds on this in his book under the chapter, Build. He explains 12 building blocks that can help an organization develop an uplifting service culture, including Service Recruitment – attracting like minded persons who are technically qualified as well as aligned to the organization’s vision, spirit, and values.

There are several organizations in Singapore that have stepped up their game when it comes to building a great service culture. NTUC Income is one company that has gone the extra mile to cater to its clients through its innovative Orange Force – orange three-wheelers with the branding of the company that are on the highways in Singapore. The professionally trained team’s job is to respond to people who need help in the case of accidents, usually within 20 minutes. Not all the people they help are policy holders, and yet they help them anyway.

“They have created a service innovation that has a great impact on their market reputation and is great marketing for them,” says Kaufman. He adds that this innovation came about from an effort to reduce fraudulent claims – a risk reduction strategy.

Another company that has improved its service externally to its customers as well as internally for its employees is Marina Bay Sands (MBS). When MBS was launched, their internal tagline was “We are magnificent” but Kaufman says that there was a dissonance between the standards of service and their vision at that initial stage. Ultimately, the organization changed its vision to “A journey to magnificence”.

Kaufman says the integrated resort is currently building a strong HR related culture where there are learning and development opportunities and cross-functional training opportunities for their employees. “The shift in the vision is a nice alignment between what they want to create for their guests and what they want to do internally,” he says.

HR provides service

When it comes to service, it is not just external stakeholders that matter but also internal ones where an organization’s HR has a big part to play. “HR has the opportunity and responsibility to create value for their employees,” says Kaufman.

This should start at the initial recruitment stages – HR should ensure the new hires are not only a good fit for the organization but also the recruitment process should be an honest reflection of where these employees are going to work.

Also, HR can create value for employees through the orientation process. Kaufman says though HR is often responsible for this, other departments should also be involved in the process. “How many employees come out of an orientation and say ‘that that was so valuable’?” he asks. “The challenge for HR is to create an experience for the employee to think that ‘I am so glad that I joined the company’. That would create a lot of the value.”

This very much applies for other parts of talent management, including career development and benefits for employees. Kaufman says that when it comes to benefits, different people value different things. “Some people would prefer working on flexible time and they will work their tails off for you if you give it to them.” Kaufman says that organizations should have a dialogue internally to align their goals to cater to their employees.

Ultimately, everyone within an organization should ask themselves what they can do to make it better for someone else, as it is about being a service partner. “How can HR make other people understand this? What does it take to be service partners and how can we show it?” he concludes.

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