The Chief Listener

Build a Superior Service Culture for Strong Competitive Advantage

I am very pleased to announce that Vistage Day on 4 August 2016 at Glenmarie Golf & Country Club, hosting about 70 golfers in the morning and 150 Vistage members, their staff and business associates for the CEO Tea Talk in the afternoon, was a great success.

The speaker, Jeff Eilertsen, was well accepted by the large audience which gave him an average rating of 84% for both content and delivery. Jeff is from Up! Your Service in Singapore, founded more than 25 years ago by Ron Kaufman. Ron has visited 300 cities, and worked with businesses in every industry from high fashion to high technology, Government agencies, schools, associations and voluntary service organisations. His company helps people become better service providers and helps companies build uplifting and sustainable service cultures. Singapore Airlines, Raffles Hotel and Changi Airport were Ron’s first distinguished clients. Today, Ron is much sought after around the world as an educator, consultant and thought-leader in achieving superior service and uplifting service cultures.

I sat through Jeff’s talk at a table with eight Vistage members and guests. When Jeff asked attendees to rate their current level of service using “The Six Levels of Service” (see below), I heard ratings such as ‘basic’, ‘expected’, ‘desired’ and one ‘criminal’. Immediately after the talk, I pursued Dave (not his real name) on why he uttered the word ‘criminal’. He iterated that he had offered ‘anti-ageing’ advice via a website eight years ago but has not updated it since. As the website is still active and serving customers, he said he would update it or shut it down soonest.

 

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For those who missed the CEO Tea Talk, I suggest you rate the current level of service culture in your company or division using the Six Levels of Service chart. You can do it alone and/or involve your management team to find out where your current ‘excellence’ is on these six levels. Many of you may find the result revealing! Unless your current level of service is at ‘desired’, surprising’ or ‘unbelievable’ level, you need to take personal responsibility to ‘bounce up’ as suggested below.

 

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Most CEOs and business owners have risen to the top as experts in their industries or as specialists in technical competencies, but not as experts in building a strong and sustainable service culture. As a result, initiatives to improve service are considered a frontline or training issue. This is a fundamental mistake, according to the speaker. Building a service culture is a strategic, long-term initiative that requires focus and commitment by top management. It is critical that they set the vision and focus for building a strong service culture.

Most CEOs and business owners have risen to the top as experts in their industries or as specialists in technical competencies, but not as experts in building a strong and sustainable service culture. As a result, initiatives to improve service are considered a frontline or training issue. This is a fundamental mistake, according to the speaker. Building a service culture is a strategic, long-term initiative that requires focus and commitment by top management. It is critical that they set the vision and focus for building a strong service culture.

Here are the reasons for uplifting service culture that make good business sense:

  1. Competitive necessity
  2. Customers’ rising expectations
  3. Employee satisfaction and retention
  4. Increased profitability
  5. Customer loyalty

 

In Ron’s “Uplifting Service” book (a New York Times bestseller), he suggested SEVEN RULES FOR SERVICE LEADERSHIP which are summarized below:

Rule 1: Declare Service a Top Priority

You must declare service a top priority by putting it first on the agenda. You must declare service as a top priority to your customers and to your colleagues in your speeches, writings, meetings, advertisements, websites, newsletters, tweets, blog postings, video clips, workshops and daily actions.

Leaders can’t just tell their people how to serve. Every day they must show people how to serve and teach them why it is so valuable. People, at any level of a company, will not engage in making a service vision real unless their leaders are living it too.

 

Rule 2: Be a Great Role Model

Leaders are the people who others choose to follow, not those who simply tell other people what to do. By their own actions and examples, leaders inspire others to want to do what they do too.

 

Rule 3: Promote a Common Service Language

In the private and public sector, service language often evolves in department silos, and in ways that don’t connect.

Procurement department often thinks getting a lower price is better service to internal customers. But their colleagues may be seeking stronger partnerships with vendors. People in the finance department may think turning out reports faster equals better service. But their colleagues might actually prefer some assistance in reading those reports. Everyone talks about better service from a perspective that makes sense to him or her. What is missing is a common service language. Companies often have a confused service culture!

 

Rule 4: Measure What Really Works

Many people get confused when it comes to measuring service. Why? Because many companies measure too many things – complaints, customers’ expectations, performance to standards, levels of engagement, customer satisfaction, retention, referral, share of wallet, etc. No wonder people are confused.

Ron says a service leader cuts through this confusion by measuring what really matters. He defines ‘service’ as taking action to create value for someone else. And, the two most important questions are:

  1. Are your actions creating value?; and
  2. Are you taking enough new actions?

 

Rule 5: Enable and Empower Your Team

Empowerment is a buzzword in business but many leaders and employees seem to fear it. What they really fear is a bad decision made by someone who is empowered. A leader can empower employees with a low level of authority or budget if he is not confident of their abilities.

 

Rule 6: Remove the Roadblocks to Better Service

Often many frontline staff are taught or instructed to follow policies and procedures. They are hesitant to ‘break the rules’. Yet some rules should be broken or changed from time to time to better service. Leaders should find out what roadblocks get in the way of improving service level.

 

Rule 7: Sustain Focus and Enthusiasm

It is easy to declare service as a top priority. What is challenging is keeping service at the top of the mind when other issues clamour for attention.

Sustaining focus and enthusiasm is critical – in life, business and in service. How many diets fail because people cannot sustain focus and enthusiasm? How many companies start on a great path but ultimately suffer failure simply because they cannot sustain it?

To implement what we have learned on the Six Levels of Service, I randomly asked a number of golfers who took part in the Vistage Day Golf Challenge for their personal assessment of the level of service at this event. Quite a number said ‘SURPRISING!’ and I asked why. They said the 2016 Golf Challenge had four sponsored hole-in-one prizes with two apartments of few hundred thousand Ringgits each, a 250g Gold Wafer and Golf Set, quality Boston bags with goodies worth more than the cost of participation, well-framed group and individual golfers’ photos ready for distribution during lunchtime plus six beautiful girls who ushered golfers around the golf club. Not forgetting a large selection of food for lunch with unlimited supply of Spritzer passion fruit fibre drinks and free-flowing beer after a hot morning!

I look forward to seeing you at the next CEO Tea Talk on 3 November 2016. And don’t forget to mark your calendar for 2017 Vistage Golf Challenge on 3 August 2017!