Customers now have more choices than ever on where to spend their time and money. Having strong voices in social media and on-line rating sites have further shifted the balance of power, creating the “hyper-empowered customer”. With intangible, often borderless, services representing 65 -75% of global commerce, organizations large and small are keen to drive exceptional customer experience by creating cultures that are inherently committed to excellence and customer-centricity. We call this Service Excellence. For perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands, this means going beyond traditional change management to adopt Service Excellence as an “organizing principle” that fundamentally re-sequences organizational and operational DNA.
In virtually every measurable category, perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands simply outperform the market and their peers. Valuations for leading service and customer experience brands grew by 32%, while laggards grew at 3%. Correspondingly, while total returns for the S&P 500 were 20%, these leaders delivered returns of 34%, while laggards delivered 5%. With increased customer retention, referral sales and repeat sales on the revenue side are combined with reduced customer acquisition costs, cost-of-sales and cost-to- on the profit side, the underlying business case for service excellence becomes even more compelling.
Leveraging the power of service excellence to drive exceptional customer experiences is no trivial task. According to Harvard Business Review, putting customers back at the center requires more than cosmetic changes, executive fiat or internal re-orgs — it requires embedding service excellence and customer-centricity into the corporate culture to unify, align and mobilize all parts of the organization. In practice, this translates into a fundamental resequencing of organizational and operational DNA to the point where decisions, actions and ways of working are prioritized around the customer, and where every customer interaction is predisposed to: 1) consistently deliver on customer expectations, relative to brand promises; 2) routinely deliver elevated or exceptional experiences that delight at moments that really matter to customers; and 3) occasionally provide those memorable, shareable “WOW” experiences that truly surprise.
In the context of closing the gaps between what customers expect and what they actually experience when engaging with an organization’s service propositions, service excellence becomes a powerful strategic aspiration, and a durable source of deep differentiation and competitive advantage. However, despite the strong correlation between service and experience leadership with distinctive marketplace performance and superior business outcomes, many organizations lack the basic ingredients – mindset, mandate and models – to catalyze and sustain service excellence and customer-centric culture at the level of perennial service and experience leaders. Accordingly, service excellence culture can be an efficient, organic centerpiece in renewing the fortunes of mature organizations. To that end, effective activation of service excellence culture starts with leaders to promoting the right mindset, delivering a clear leadership mandate and leveraging the right deployment model– the “3Ms” of activating service excellence culture.
Behaviors. Good enough has become enough in many organizations. However, with the need to deliver exceptional customer experience, mere adequacy will fall short, create negative sentiment and increase the potential for customers to become vocal detractors. Service Excellence allows organizations to reframe the delivery of elevated experiences from one perceived as a costly and unnecessary proposition to one that is fundamental to the organizations strategy, brand and ability to create value. The customer-centric behaviors inherent to service excellence cultures allows organizations to expose and resolve hidden sources of customer frustration and dissatisfaction by recalibrating the traditional tolerance for mediocrity while internalizing the benefits to customers, individuals and the organization.
Beliefs. A second element of the service excellence mindset is the question of what the organization believes. Simply put, many large or well-established organizations simply don’t view themselves as capable elevating customer experiences. Rather, they may see themselves as prisoners of their prior success that simply trade on past accomplishments. In contrast, the very human aspiration for excellence introduces the belief that “anything is possible.” With this new belief system, organizations are able to stretch their thinking to not only re-imagine what they are capable of, but also to turn that aspiration into reality.
Habits. The commitment to excellence and customer-centricity embedded in the service excellence concept helps organizations and individuals take a more pragmatic view of the customer experience challenge by accounting for the many interdependent factors that actually drive those outcomes. Unconstrained by the logic of orthodoxy, organizations can hone new instincts to detect hidden signals, empower employees closest to the customer and make the value leap to deliver an anticipatory (vs. reactive) service experience.
Permission. Service excellence requires the adoption and advocacy of several key leadership principles that create a climate where:
Practices. Leaders can mobilize individuals, teams and the entire organization around service excellence by taking specific actions related to human capital development to include:
Prioritization. Leaders must encourage service excellence by prioritizing resource allocation decisions that:
Deployment Models. Organizations require deployment models that guide how service excellence impacts and interacts with existing norms at the individual, team, function and enterprise levels. Within this context, selected models apply, not only to the underlying elements of a new service excellence culture itself, but also to how the culture co-exists and enables other organizational and operational systems. Therefore, it is imperative that leaders recognize that individuals, teams, functions or enterprises may have unique sub-cultures that must be considered.
Leadership Action. The service excellence model that an organization might deploy depends on considerations in the area of leadership empowerment and ownership. Each organization must deploy a model of empowerment and ownership that are based on their unique operational and organizational considerations. Leadership can use the selected model to focus on closing the translation gaps between an existing levels of empowerment and ownership and those models that are desired in the future.
To learn more about the power of service excellence culture, leadership operations, customer experience culture, memorable customer service and employee engagement read the full article by Wayne Simmons of Opptiv – The Service Excellence Company on CustomerThink:
This article was informed by personal experiences as the Global Head of Service Delivery at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center and working with businesses and brands on their must urgent customer and service challenges.
About the Author:
As co-founder and Chief Experience Officer of Opptiv, Wayne Simmons was previously the Global Head of Service Delivery for The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. As a thought leader, change agent and an expert experience strategy consultant, he led a team dedicated to delivering the legendary ethos, practices and systems of the Ritz-Carlton brand for client organizations across industries. Wayne leverages the principles of Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and creator of that brand’s legendary reputation for service excellence and customer-centric culture. As a Trusted Advisor working at the intersection of HR, CX and C-Suite leaders, Wayne coaches, trains and consults with businesses and brands on their journeys to maximize customer growth, loyalty and attain competitive advantage through service excellence and customer experience culture, leadership and operations. The Service Excellence Company, dedicated to helping brands turn service into competitive advantage.
Opptiv is the Service Excellence Consultancy. We help businesses and brands win through service excellence culture, customer-centricity and exceptional customer experience. Unique in the industry, we take a playbook approach to help clients achieve business outcomes at enterprise scale. We start by applying Design Thinking to activate leaders and engage frontline talent in the co-creation of purposeful culture platforms and unique service propositions that all levels can understand, embrace and hold each other accountable for. We then create brand-aligned playbooks to document the underlying elements of the culture as actionable guidance, practices and function-specific “plays”. Finally, we use these playbooks to inform the internal communications and tailored training needed to align, integrate, reinforce and sustain service excellence across all parts of the business.
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