Book Review: Would You Do That to Your Mother?: The Make Mom Proud Standard for How to Treat Your Customers by Jeanne Bliss

Would You Do That to Your Mother?: The Make Mom Proud Standard for How to Treat Your Customers

Remember all those things your mom used to tell you, play nice, be polite, share, say please and thank you, help clean up? If companies would just think back and practice a lot of those things, they would provide incomparable customer service.

Well, this is the idea behind Jeanne Bliss’s new book, Would You Do That To Your Mother? being released this Tuesday, May 8. In this book, Bliss shares several of those things mom used to tell you and puts them into the context of how great companies pay heed to mom’s words to provide great customer experiences.

The book starts by getting you to think about mom and the lessons she taught you. Bliss tells stories about her own mom and her upbringing, an entertaining, humorous Italian upbringing from the sound of it.

Jeanne then asks us to imagine mom as your customer.  From there, she sets off in chapters 2 to 5 to discuss specific topics based on mom’s advice. The titles of these give clues as to what will follow: Be the Person I Raised You to Be, Don’t Make Me Feed You Soap, Put Others Before Yourself, and Take the High Road.

Much like her excellent previous book, I Love You More Than My Dog, Bliss presents ideas in a humorous, conversational style using great examples of real businesses who live the lessons being shared. In addition, at the end of each chapter, there are great questions to get readers moving to take action on what they are learning. Bliss challenges us to make changes that will not only better the customer experience but maybe even better our world.

At the end of the book in Chapter 6, Bliss gives us a litmus test to see how we are standing up to what momma taught us. She reviews the lessons shared in each previous chapter and poses questions to help us evaluate where we are today. Then, in Chapter 7, we are challenged to Join the Movement and influence our own business to “march toward becoming the kind of company that is a #MakeMomProud company.”

Thank you Jeanne for writing this great book which I highly recommend to anyone who wishes to change the game and create customer experiences that would #MakeMomProud.

Below are some favorite quotes (honestly, there are so many great quotes in this book you should consider these just the tiniest taste).

“When the focus is only on getting the job done, caring for the human at the center of it can get lost. Employees are not mere people movers or process handlers – they are care providers.”

“Every part of the organization is either caring directly for customers or supporting someone who is.”

“Treating customers with dignity and respect starts with treating employees the same way. In order to deliver customer dignity, employees need to feel it, and receive it themselves.”

“Do you show up as a “caring” company? Is everyone united to care for customers, regardless of role?”

“‘PLEASE GIVE ME TOP SCORES’ is the fourth most annoying interaction customers have with companies.”

“Not knowing what’s happening makes people nuts! Lack of communication is the root of customer unrest, worry, and fear.”

“Make-mom-proud companies would rather keep your business with service and value, not contract terms.”

“Do you deliver pain or pleasure? Do you make it easy and a joy for your customers to do business with you?”

“To achieve your goals, you need to help others to achieve theirs.”

“Be the company that always honors the person first. Before you do anything else, acknowledge the customer reaching out to you. Care genuinely. Know his or her name. This small acknowledgment paves the way for real relationships that go beyond transactions.”

 

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A Lesson for Business from TV Networks

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How do the TV networks gauge what they decide to provide for their customers, the viewers?  It is simple, they listen to their customers.  They regularly look at what their customers are watching and make changes based on the results.

The system is relatively straightforward.  Nielsen Media Research, the company that has become the de facto measurement service for the TV industry, looks at the viewing habits of a representative sample of the TV audience.  The more people watch certain programs, the more valuable those programs become to the investors (advertisers) and the more the TV networks can charge for ads during those shows.  The formula is clear and simple, more viewers means more investment which means continued production of that show, and it is all based on the wants and needs of viewers (customers).

Many businesses, on the other hand, spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to fit customers into their needs and wants rather than asking what customers really want and fitting the business to those things.  They have processes and systems that are not easy or friendly to customers.  They create policies to save their skin with little thought to how it impacts customers.  They sell products that have add-ons that cause customers to have to purchase things they don’t really need.  If business had to rely on ratings based on customers’ real needs like TV networks, many would be cancelled like so many TV shows.

Here are three things businesses can do to get better ratings and not get cancelled:

  1. Go out and talk to customers. Get to know them and what they really want and need.  And don’t do this once, do it regularly to make sure you are keeping up with their changing desires.
  2. Sell solutions that actually solve customer problems rather than pad the bottom line.
  3. Provide support that is easy to reach and that fixes issues without hassles and policies that marginalize customers (always keep in mind who is serving who).

Repetition, not so good for business.

Image result for repeatHave you ever had to repeat a problem several times to a company?  Imagine calling your insurance company, you punch in your claim number, and then you go through an endless series of punch-in options for departments and different needs.  When you finally get to a person, they ask, “Can you give me your claim number?”  Didn’t I just punch that in?  You are dying to blurt that out.

Do businesses realize how stupid they appear when this kind of thing happens?  Do they realize how much of a pain they create when they do these things?  Ah, the frustration.  Is anyone out there listening, really listening…and taking notes?  Can they just remember my name, my number and my problem?  Do I even matter?  Customers are thinking these things, in fact, they’re truly bothered by them and they’re always looking for businesses that can do better.

Examine your business.  Are you causing pain with the hassle of repeating account numbers, name and address, service claim numbers, or problem details over and over?  How about designing systems that truly make it easy for customers, you know, the people who pay your bills, keep your lights on and put food on your table?  Design a way so that customers never have to repeat things.  Make it easy and effortless for them.  They’re the reason you exist.  Don’t forget that.

Slaying the Customer Discomfort Beast

Image result for dinosaur clip artHave you ever had a medical test and afterwards had to wait days or a week for the results?  How did it feel during that period?  If the test was to determine the seriousness of some pain or niggle, I know most of us experience some amount of anxiety, worry, or discomfort at minimum.

This same thing happens all of the time to customers.  A classic version is the old “We’ll be there between the hours of 12 and 4.”  Frustrated at the lack of certainty, you wait uncomfortably for someone to arrive.  It’s inconvenient and you’ve probably had to take time off from work or cancel some other engagement.

How about the times you’ve called some help desk and been assured that your issue will be resolved yet were given no idea of when or how long it will take?  You hang up the phone and then begin making up scenarios in your head, usually worst-case scenarios that create anxiety and discomfort.

What about the times when your power goes out, you report it, and hours or even a day later, nobody seems to have a clue when the lights will be back on?  The thought of all of your frozen food going bad and all of the money you’ll have to spend on eating out takes discomfort to anger.

These feelings are not just due to people being overly sensitive or having unreasonable expectations, it’s how we’re wired.  Our brains are built to look for threats, danger or risks, even ones that are small like not knowing when the cable repair person will arrive.  And because of the uncertainty and the feeling that we don’t matter enough to be a priority, the brain says, “Alert: threat, danger, risk!!!” To the brain, these little things can be as powerful as more definitive threats like a lion, tiger or bear, and can cause reactions that will not favor your business.

Funny though, the solution can be very simple.  The cable TV folks could simply schedule the repair for a definite time.  The help desk you called could tell you how long it will take to fix the problem.  The electric company could give realistic estimates on how long it will take to get your power restored.  All of these anxiety prone situations could be remedied by the service company setting some expectations so that customers don’t feel in the threatening darkness.

Where are places in the service you provide where you could set better expectations for the people you serve?  Where could you create more certainty?  Where could you soothe the nerves by proactively providing more information?

Coaching Success Requires Regular Follow Up

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In a recent post, we looked at a simple approach to coaching employees.  We talked about a coaching conversation model based on three themes – reflection, ideation, and commitment.  In this model, the coach and coacheee get focus on an area of opportunity for improvement and reflect on the current state of that focus area.  They then ideate to define and commit to action steps for moving forward.

This conversation is actually part of a larger process I call FoDAR (Focus, Define, Assess, Refine).  This process is a way to manage execution of moving from coaching to action to results.  Each part of this process has specific functions.  The Focus piece provides clarity on what we are trying to improve or fix.  The Define piece gives us direction on the steps we will take.  The Assess piece provides a sense of how we are progressing, and the Refine piece provides the chance to make our plan of attack even better.

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This process divides evenly into two conversations.  The first is called the Defining Conversation and was described above – get focus and define next steps.  The second is called the Refining Conversation and it acts as a regular follow up to keep all of the actions committed to in the defining conversation alive and on track.  Refining conversations are ongoing affairs that repeat regularly until results are reached.

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The Refining Conversation goes something like this.

Assuming we’ve already had a Defining Conversation with our coachee, we now must assess progress.  This step is another incarnation of the coaching theme of reflection because the coachee is being asked to reflect on the movement they’ve made.

MANAGER:  “Bill, a couple of weeks ago, we discussed restructuring your proposals, I was wondering, how is it going with that?”

BILL: “After you gave me the go ahead, I took a couple of proposals I had in the hopper and rebuilt them in the new format.  I sent them to customers, and in conversations with them, it seems they understand them better and like the overall look and feel.”

Now the coach invites the coachee to refine their plan and make further improvements if possible.

MANAGER:  “That sounds like things are moving along quite well.  Do you think there’s anything else that would make it even better?”

BILL: “I like the way things are going but I know there are further improvements I could make.  The more I speak with customers I am sure something will be mentioned to spark new ideas.  I will let you know as things progress.”

Finally, the coach must invite commitment to any new actions by demonstrating their commitment to help.

MANAGER:  “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

BILL:  “Not right now.  I just want to keep going and get more customer feedback.”

MANAGER:  “That’s great, Bill.  I will circle back around in a couple more weeks to keep on top of this.  Good work so far though, keep it up.”

That’s essentially how the Refining Conversation goes.

In summary, to start, the coach must ASSESS how things are proceeding.  If things are going well, the coach should be sure to praise the efforts.  If things have stalled, they will need to get some idea as to what’s standing in the way of progress.

  1. “A couple of weeks ago we talked about __________, how’s it going with that?”

REFINE the plan with improvements or additions if possible.  This is another manifestation of the ideation theme.

  1. “Is there anything else you could do to make it even better?”

Close the conversation by inviting their commitment to any new actions by renewing your commitment to help them.

  1. “How can I help you?”

As you can see, in one conversation, the Defining Conversation, we get focus and define how we will proceed.  In the Refining Conversations, we follow up regularly to assess progress and refine the plan to continually find better and better practices.

This whole FoDAR/Two-Conversation process accomplishes several things.

  1. It engages employees in improving results and practices rather than commanding them from top down. This approach gives employees ownership and allows leaders to hold them accountable for specific results.
  2. It demands follow up in order to work. Follow up is what is usually absent and a key reason why so many coaching efforts fail.
  3. It gives managers a new view of their operation since employees see things very differently given their unique roles. Managers learn things they never would viewing things from their position alone.
  4. It is simple and uncomplicated. You don’t need a time-consuming class or a psychology degree to get going.  Although training can help to clarify things and give you practice, this method and process can be successfully employed without it.
  5. Finally, it provides a framework that is structured enough to ensure consistent results yet flexible enough to allow coaches to make it fit their personality and timing.

An Experiment in Culture Change

Related imageI’m always surprised at the number of people I see behind counters at stores, banks, limited-service-restaurants, and airports that just seem miserable.  They make no eye contact, mumble, and go through the paces of their job just checking off the boxes on a list of company- required actions.  What can be done?

I tried an experiment.  I thought, what would happen if I made the “counter experience” more human by mentioning the employee’s name?  The first time I did this, I had to muster up the courage.  It seemed odd to read their name badge and call them by name.  I mean, we were not best friends or anything.  No matter, I did it.  What I experienced was a person transformed.  When I said their name, they looked up, smiled, and changed their whole demeanor.  The misery was gone even if only briefly.

Since that first foray into the world of using people’s names, I now do it almost without fail.  And in almost every interaction, the result is similar to the first time; people look up, smile and become human again.

What’s the point here?  Well, it makes me wonder what has dehumanized their workplace.  Why is it that the simple use of their names by someone they’ve never seen before can make them smile and brighten up?  Is it that the company culture has made them drones?  Are they just servants of a paycheck?  My guess is that, while it may not be the entire reason, it is certainly a large contributor.

While it is sad, it is not a surprise really.  Over hundreds of years, the business world has used management techniques to try and get the best out of people.  It is a failed strategy, particularly in our modern world where people are better educated and customers value speed and ease more than ever.  Today’s environment needs employees who can think not just do.  Today’s environment requires employees to step up and lead when the time is right – teams of leaders rather than followers.

Experiment for yourself.  Go to a counter and use the person’s name.  See if it makes a difference.  If you experience it, see how you can make a similar, humanizing difference in your workplace.  Think about how that difference will impact your customers and how that impact will positively impact your business overall. By simply including people as people and giving them the respect of thinking not just doing, it can change the entire game for you, your customers, and your business.  Start the experiment today.

Demystifying Workplace Coaching

Related imageRecently, a manager asked me how to start a coaching conversation that provides clarity and doesn’t sound preachy.  Here is how I replied.

First, it is important to understand what coaching is and isn’t.  Workplace coaching is not, as some of our sporting examples might lead us to believe, about barking out the game plan.  It is rather about asking questions to draw out what people know based on what they’ve learned and/or experienced.  You may be wondering why this is the best way.  When you think about adults, the majority of your workforce, research in the last 30 years regarding adult learning suggests that they learn best when they can contribute their own thoughts and ideas.  This is opposed to children who, due to their relative inexperience, are more like empty vessels to be filled with new knowledge.   To approach adults the way you would a child typically demotivates them and makes them feel their knowledge, experience, and skills are not valuable.  Thus, in order to be most effective, it is best to use a questioning approach to drive as much input as possible.  This makes the role of coach more about guidance and facilitation rather than direction of all of the action.

Does this mean that workplace coaches never offer their suggestions or even teach?  No, not at all.  It just means that a workplace coach’s primary mode of operation is asking questions to guide and steer rather than providing answers.  In addition, they use this platform as a way to build confidence, praise good work, and drive self-direction.

Given that, let’s look at the details.  To begin and to be most useful, you, as leader, will need to do some LBWA (leading by working alongside) to observe the performance of your team members.  Only then, once you have a good idea of how they perform, can you begin to effectively coach.

There are many good coaching models out there, all with positives, negatives, and different formulas, however, the coaching models I have studied and experienced have three similar overarching themes that sit at their foundation – reflection, ideation, and commitment.  Overlaid on these three themes are steps that differ from one model to the next but the underlying themes are largely the same.  After establishing the focus of the conversation, the coachee reflects on how things are right now, the current state, and then ideates or brainstorms on ways they might make change or move to a more desired result.  Finally, the coach and the coachee commit to work together on next steps.

With these basics, here is a  simple method:

Begin with an icebreaker that opens the door to conversation.  A good practice is to begin with three pat-on-the-backs for things done well and then move to a focus area for improvement in a way that invites them to reflect and provide input from their unique vantage point.

MANAGER:  “Bill, I have been observing your work lately and you are doing a great job with completing customer calls, sharing creative suggestions, and following up and I think that if we improved the structuring of your proposals, we could really improve the customer experience.  What do you think?”

BILL:  “I think you are right.  I could use a little work on proposal structure as I have never really felt comfortable with how I am doing it right now.”

Next, invite them to ideate ways to improve given their experience.

MANAGER:  “What do you think you could do to make it better?  Do you have any ideas you haven’t tried?”

BILL:  “Well, I have always wanted to separate things by product function rather than just by product.  I have this idea about showing the customer how each part of the product works in sequence rather than just a string of parts on a list.”

MANAGER:  “That’s interesting.  What else can you tell me about that?”

BILL:  “It seems to me our customers need more of an approach that tells a story that fits their objective rather than just a grocery list with pricing.  I have an example I played with if you’d like to see it.”

Finally, invite the team member to commit to action by first demonstrating your willingness to commit to help them.

MANAGER:  “I love the idea and would like to see your mock-up.  How can I help move this forward?”

BILL:  “First, I would like you input and approval on my approach. Then, I would like to create my next two or three proposals in this style, show them to you so we are aligned, and then try them on customers.”

MANAGER: “Bill, that sounds fantastic.  I look forward to seeing your example and then to moving ahead.”

To summarize, here is the model:

  1. Get focus on an improvement opportunity and invite the coachee to REFLECT on the current state:

“I’ve observed your work and you do very well with 1, 2, and 3, and I think if we improved 4 it would make a big difference.  What do you think?”

  1. Define action steps by inviting the coachee to IDEATE possible solutions.

“What could you do to make it better?”

  1. COMMIT to help, and invite the coachee to commit to action.

“How can I help you make this happen?”

There it is, coaching demystified and uncomplicated with a few questions built on the three key themes of coaching.  Try it.

Customer Experience Isn’t About Thrill Rides

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“People don’t want experiences, that’s the stuff of Disney or cruise ships.  People just want what they want and they want it to work.”  I read that in a comment to a post on LinkedIn the other day and while I wasn’t overly surprised by the comment, I was surprised that it came from the CEO of a company.  It clearly reminded me of the fact that there are still people, and some in high places, who believe that only product concerns really matter. I am continually surprised by the ignorance of many business leaders who dismiss customer experience as a fad, however, dismissing it doesn’t remove the fact that experiences matter because they happen whether you think they matter or not.  They have since the inception of business and always will.

Imagine you have a leaky faucet in your kitchen and you call a plumber.  The plumber comes in grumbling about something or another, barely acknowledges you and simply asks where the problem is.  You usher them to you kitchen sink and they begin looking around.  They open the cupboard under the sink and begin pulling out everything while commenting that they have to get underneath to get it fixed.  Now sitting with your stuff littering the kitchen floor and the plumber sprawled under your sink you await some news as to exactly what to expect.  To no avail though, that conversation never happens, you just see the plumber madly working away and making a bit of a mess.

After an hour or so, your plumber announces that they have had to replace your faucet and the job is finished.  They pack up their tools and leave.  Of course, none of your under-the-sink items have been replaced, no, that’s up to you to get done.  In addition, your floor is a mess and you later find a small leak right around where the faucet attaches to the sink.  Now the product doesn’t work properly and you have to make another call.

Contrast that to this.

You call a plumber and they arrive.  They greet you professionally with a smile.  They are wearing those little “booties” to protect your floor.  They ask if it’s alright if they open the cupboard under the sink and explain that they will need to move everything.  However, before that begins, they take a picture and let you know they are doing that so they can replace everything the way it was when they came in.  Following that, they place small mats around the work area to keep things clean.

After surveying everything, they explain exactly what they will do, the costs and how long it will take.  When they are finished, they show you the completed work, test the faucet with you, encourage you to use it, and then replace all of your under-sink items exactly as they were per the picture they took.  Before leaving, they wipe up all around the work area and let you know they will be following up the next day to ensure everything is to your satisfaction.

Both plumber stories are examples of a stark reality, like it or not, for all of you disbelievers out there, customers have experiences whether they are designed or just happen by default.  And those experiences can be good or bad – and, by the way, they are all memorable, our brains don’t just dismiss them because the product is great and fault-free.

The comments by the CEO above show just how ignorant many business leaders are to the reality that the hubbub about experiences isn’t about making every customer interaction a thrill ride at a theme park, it’s about making the interaction with your business easy and pleasant while providing products and services that make customers successful.  Essentially, the experience is about getting customers what they need, how they want to get it.  It’s a two-pronged thing that involves product (what customers need) and interaction (how they want to get it), and again, like it or not, both of these elements have existed and will continue to exist forever, it’s just that business is only now coming to terms with the interactive piece and giving it the attention that has been neglected.

If you think about your business, how is your customers’ experience?  Is it easy, are your processes thoughtful of what the customer must endure?  How is the interactive, human element?  Do you welcome customers?  Do you accommodate their preferences?  Do you listen and allow customers to have input?  Do you provide information that keeps customers in the loop as far as what they can expect, pros and cons, how long things will take, etc.?

We don’t live in a product-centric world anymore, perhaps we never did.  Customers need things to be successful and they want them delivered in ways that make them feel good, confident and safe.  Is your business sitting in ignorance or is it moving forward with enlightenment?  Consider more than your product, consider the experience, improve it, and make the memory of your business something positive and noteworthy.

Three A’s for Making Your Customers Feel Safe

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Did you take psychology in college?  Do you remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?  If you do, kudos, if not, here’s a refresher.

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who reached fame in 1943 when he published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation where he set out the foundation of what would become known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This hierarchy postulates that all of us have basic needs that must be met in order to reach true happiness and fulfillment.  These needs include physiological needs, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization., a term that can be defined as reaching one’s potential.

Why am I strolling down memory lane to a psychology class of many, many years ago you might ask?  I want to look at one of the most fundamental needs on the hierarchy, that of safety.

How does safety fit into the customer/provider world?  Is it about making sure customers don’t fall or get injured?  Certainly.  But it also means more.  Every customer comes into a business looking for help to get goods and services and this comes with some amount of fear and trepidation. Think about your trip into a store, you have to have a certain amount of trust in them to have what you want, to provide good advice, to provide support over the longer term, to be fair in the deal, etc.  When you have no past dealings with the business, you naturally put up some guard.  Face it, you don’t know how good they are, you don’t know whether you might get ripped off, there’s some, even if it’s infinitesimal, amount of distrust.  The challenge for businesses is how to create that feeling of trust, or safety, from the beginning.

Here are three As – Appearance, Attitude, and Ability – to lead the way.  If your employees demonstrate these three things, customers will be more likely to trust and feel safe so you can proceed in building the relationship.

Appearance

Imagine you need a lawyer so you make a call for an appointment.  The meeting time arises and you go to meet this person for the first time.  The lawyer steps into the room looking disheveled wearing ripped jeans, a t-shirt and a tatty old ball cap. How do you feel about entrusting them with whatever important legal action you need to accomplish?  Do you feel safe?  Do you want someone else?  Appearance is usually the first indicator we have in the trust journey and a poor appearance can be very hard to overcome.  In fact, a poor appearance can end any further interaction immediately. How do your employees appear?  Do they send a message that your organization is trustworthy or do they just send up flags of distrust?

Attitude

What attitude do you want when someone is serving you?  How many times have you experienced indifference or that fake smile that says “I’m smiling because I have to”?  The best attitudes I’ve found in people serving customers are ones that say “I want to help you”.  This requires a mindset that first understands that customers are not a means to an end or obstacles to getting work done.  Rather, it’s a mindset that understands that customers are unique human beings with their own objectives, needs and challenges.  It’s a mindset that understands that customers, like all human beings, have bad days, frustrations, personalities, hopes, dreams, fears, the list goes on.  The key here is using this understanding of people to inform that overall desire to be helpful, to always be looking for ways to make others successful and life easier.  How much safer might customers feel when they genuinely feel your employees truly have their best interests at heart?  How much more trust might they have in your business if they experienced that attitude?

Ability

Last, your employees must not only express that they want to help, they must demonstrate that they can help.  Your employees must be trained in your products and services so they can provide good advice and counsel.  They must be trained to troubleshoot and provide answers and solutions to problems.  And as a mandatory outcome to training, they must be empowered to make decisions on the spot to do what’s necessary to make customers successful.  This means trusting employees to do the right thing and supporting their decisions.  However, if that idea sends chills up your spine thinking about the possible bad choices that could be made, you need to assess your leadership and make some changes.

Good leaders help employees learn to see things the way they do and make the decisions they would make.  This means showing them how to do things in real life, not role plays, real life.  It means getting out there and demonstrating how to do it.  People need models to clearly see what’s expected. Then, to refine the behavior, they need coaching.  And by coaching I don’t mean more telling them what to do, I mean asking them questions to draw out what they know so that they get engaged and take ownership.  As with attitude, how much safer will customers feel when they know your employees can quickly solve their issues without undue complication?  How much more trust might they have in your business if they knew that they didn’t have to wait for answers or solutions?

Three simple As – Appearance, Attitude, and Ability – that can build initial trust and make customers feel safe working with your business.  Is it worth it to you?

What Is Service Excellence?

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?