The Danger of Dismissing Service

When is the last time you gave much thought to customer service? If you do not interact with customers very often, it is probably not a high priority for you. However, downplaying customer service or ignoring it altogether could have serious ramifications for your company. Luckily, Ron Kaufman is here to help.


By Rachel Levy Sarfin

When is the last time you gave much thought to customer service? If you do not interact with customers very often, it is probably not a high priority for you. However, downplaying customer service or ignoring it altogether could have serious ramifications for your company. Luckily, Ron Kaufman is here to help.

Kaufman is the author of The New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone You Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012). He has spent the last 40 years of his life “on a mission to improve the world.” Kaufman is not trying to cure cancer, eradicate poverty and hunger or prevent nuclear war–his goal is to educate and inspire others to excel in service to their fellow human beings.

A customer service evangelist, Kaufman defines the term as, “taking action to take care of someone else,” or to creating value for another person. He firmly believes that improving the level of service you provide someone else also benefits you by enriching your relationships, enhancing your support network, and making you more successful.

In his book, Kaufman identifies 12 components to creating a better customer service architecture. Kaufman visualizes These concepts are visualized as blocks used to build a house. The image of a home is a powerful one. A house protects, welcomes and nourishes. When a single block is missing, the house teeters slightly, but when the home lacks more than one block, it will not stand.

Just like a house, a business must have a strong foundation to succeed. To Kaufman it doesn’t matter what order a business addresses its “missing blocks” it just needs to have them all.

The first building block is what Kaufman calls a “common service language,” a set of concepts that are universally understood across an organization and frequently used by all employees. He uses the example of Parkway Health Group in Singapore where in their common service language, “stand up” means that an employee takes personal responsibility to provide service, “step up” means exceeding service expectations, and “stay up” refers to consistently delivering service at the desired level.

Kaufman’s second building block is an “engaging service vision” to invigorate everyone in the firm. The author illustrates this building block with an example from the state of Texas. In 1985, the Texas Department of Transportation decided to address the problem of roadside litter by launching the “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign. The public service announcements reduced roadside litter by 72% by 1989.

“Service recruitment” is the third building block. This component centres on attracting employees who support a company’s service vision and are aligned with its spirit and value as well as being technically qualified. Kaufman points to Google’s hiring process, in which a candidate must pass through a number of different screening processes before even being interviewed.

“Service orientation” is the fourth building block following service recruitment. It holds that when welcoming new hires, a company must inform, inspire and encourage them to contribute to its culture. At Singapore Press Holdings, for example, employees from a number of different teams come together learn how each department and function impacts everyone else at the company. At the end of the orientation, the workers discover that only by working as one large team can they succeed.

“Service communications” represents the fifth building block. The term refers to how a business makes declarations about its services. Kaufman cites Stew Leonard’s grocery store in Norwalk, CT. Stew Leonard’s has become a landmark because of a three ton boulder engraved with the store’s policy: “Rule 1: The customer is always right! Rule 2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread rule 1.”

The sixth building block is “service recognition and rewards”. Acknowledgment and prizes for excellence in service celebrates improvements and achievements within an organization’s culture, motivating employees and fostering their growth. American Express, for instance, promotes its workers across the globe by recognizing their achievements on social networking sites.

Listening to the “voice of the customer” is the seventh building block. Companies must capture client feedback, be it negative or positive. Kaufman emphasizes that a firm must act upon the comments it receives. San Diego Airport has a sign near the baggage carousels asking travelers how the airport is handling customer service. Travelers can fill out a form detailing what the airport can do to make their next visit better.

Kaufman lists “service metrics and measurements” as the eighth component. He encourages companies to measure certain aspects of the customer’s experience. Employees must understand what is being examined and why, while also understanding what they can do to improve a customer’s experience. Nokia Siemens Networks no longer uses a 150 question survey to gauge customer satisfaction. Instead, the company interviews its clients to ask them what it can do to improve.

The “service improvement process” represents the ninth building block. It takes into account that improving customer service does not happen overnight. The Indian company Wipro Ltd put this into practice by launching a contest called “Value I Added.”

Employees can only enter the competition if they have delivered greater value to customers than they expected.

Component number ten, “service recovery and guarantees,” focuses on what happens when your team does not deliver excellent service. After Xerox Emirates realized its workers had quashed client complaints out of fear of negative reactions from their superiors, it implemented the Bounce! program. This initiative encouraged employees to welcome customer complaints and fix the problem. After the issue was resolved, patrons were asked whether they were more or less loyal to the company. Many said they were more loyal thanks to a high-level of service.

The eleventh building block is “service benchmarking.” This component centers upon comparing a company’s service processes to those of other businesses in order to improve those practices. Kaufman brings the example of Pizza Hut. The pizza chain studied how quickly its competitors deliver their products and then reduces that time to less than 45 minutes.
Kaufman’s final component is “service role modeling.” This building block refers to every employee, even those in the upper echelons, adopting a customer service-centric outlook. Kaufman recounts the CEO of a Singaporean insurance cooperative who demonstrated the behaviours he wanted his employees to model. To show his subordinates how to be more flexible, he took a yoga class.

What do these building blocks have to do with the IT industry? Service, or taking action to take care of someone or something else, is crucial for a business’ survival. If employees do not have an engaging service vision, they lose motivation and care less about creating a quality product or the firm’s future. Hiring the wrong candidate can lower morale and even profits.

When those new hires come on board, they need to be inspired and informed so they will be driven to do the best job they can.

Recognizing and rewarding success leads to happier and more productive workers. And unless upper management values service and models proper behaviours, employees have no reason to excel. Kaufman’s components of excellent service gives companies in the IT industry the tools they need to build a successful organization based on the components of better customer service.

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