I recently was doing some work where I was asked the question, “What is service excellence?” It was a good question, and although it may seem easy to define, it is often misunderstood. Answering the question brought to mind some interesting thoughts from Ron Kaufman, the author of Uplifting Service, about what service excellence really is. This post is inspired by his thinking.
First, we need to come to terms with the first word – service. There ae a lot of definitions floating around out there but service is, in its most uncomplicated form, simply helping people. If you help your kids do their homework you are providing service. If you help make dinner or clear the table, yep, you are serving.
In business though, service has oddly taken on this dense mystique. It has picked up a bunch of modifiers to define it. When I ask people to define service, I usually hear something like, “exceeding customer expectations” or “responding to customer needs with an approach that creates a memory” or some such construct. While these may describe good or great service, they fail to get to the fundamental, no-qualifier, no-adjective definition. Service is very simply helping others to accomplish things they want or need to accomplish, period. The dictionary even confirms this with “the action of helping or doing work for someone.” Nothing fancy, no criteria, just helping.
With that out of the way, what about excellence? Another look into the dictionary says “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.” That makes it sound like excellence is some sort of judge’s score with a finite end, a kind of perfection. “If you get a 10, it was excellent.” However, does excellence have a finite end? If we reach what we believe is outstanding or extremely good, is that excellence? I don’t think so. Excellence is something that is never reached in its totality, it is an ongoing journey. It is, in my mind, the relentless pursuit of better. To make sure you got that I’ll say it again, the relentless pursuit of better. You never really get there but you keep striving, trying, failing, trying again, incrementally getting better and better in fits, starts, leaps, and micro-steps. The point is that you never settle, you never get complacent, you always know you can do more.
So, what is service excellence? If we put the two things together, it’s the relentless pursuit of better ways to help others in every interaction. Thus, excellence in service is not just performing a set of best practices; rather, excellence in service is taking action in the moment to assess the situation and provide more value, more care, and/or more understanding for someone else whether that someone is a paying customer or a colleague in arms.
While best practices or standards may help us to provide a consistent experience with prescribed behaviors at defined points in the journey, excellence is the icing on the cake that makes each experience something special because the points between the defined points are made personal and more meaningful for the customer. For example, you may have a service standard that your employees smile at each customer when they walk into your business. The move to excellence though would be not only the smile to the customer but the genuine good word and show of concern that includes listening and engaging with them as if they were the only person in the room. It’s simply a step up from the script to an expression of something better.
Here are four tips for creating more service excellence in your organization:
- Don’t make your standards too complicated and ensure room for flexibility. Allow employees to adjust and adapt to the unique needs and personality of each customer.
- In your training, talk not only about standards but also about the frame of mind needed for excellence. Don’t just talk about the scripts; ensure your staff understands that people are all different with distinct needs, challenges, and objectives which will require personalized approaches.
- Celebrate not just meeting service standards, but, perhaps more importantly, instances where employees add value and make the experience better by stepping up from mere standards.
- Ensure your team meetings and conversations include talk about ways to step up from an experience of scripted best practices to something more excellent that provides more value and more care.
How will you take this thinking forward into your organization? How will you pursue better ways to help others every day?