Can You Really Overhaul a Nation’s Customer Service Culture? Part One

In a harsh global economy, great service is the price of admission. Companies whose cultures aren’t built around the ability and the willingness—no, the eagerness—to delight the customer won’t survive. You know this. And if you’re a leader at global enterprise, no doubt you’ve gained more than a few gray hairs worrying about it. It’s true: Transforming a culture that crosses many boundaries is no small task. But I have a question that might put it all in perspective: If an entire nation can build a service-based brand and culture, what’s stopping YOU?

If you’ve never heard of Mauritius, take note. This small island nation is now doing what your company can and should be doing—and it’s starting to do it very well.

Before the global recession, Mauritius was a popular vacation destination for Europeans. In recent years, though, it has struggled to compete for the reduced number of tourists coming out of Europe. So one of the nation’s largest hospitality companies, LUX* Resorts (at the time named Naiade Resorts), decided to take on a gargantuan task—to contribute to the national culture with a powerful dose of uplifting service.

Mauritians are naturally hospitable people—so much so that cruise companies regularly recruit them to work on their ships. But the competition in global tourism is intense, with the Maldives, Seychelles, Bali, Phuket, Jamaica, Bahamas, and many other locations offering sun and sandy beaches. The nation and the people of Mauritius needed to set themselves apart, to express their service brand and culture to the rest of the world.

So LUX* Resorts kicked off an uplifting service transformation, challenging themselves, the nation, and every member of their team to break away from the past. Using “caterpillar to butterfly” as its metaphor, the company transitioned from Naiade Resorts to LUX* Resorts and transformed its culture through actionable service education programs. Then, the national airline, Air Mauritius—where Mauritius reaches out to the rest of the world—followed suit with a similar program called “Stepping UP Together.”

Why did the people of Mauritius think such a cultural transformation would even work? Because Singapore, with the vigorous help of my team and I, had blazed the trail before them. During the 1990s when manufacturing and administrative jobs were being outsourced (sound familiar?), the city-state needed to reinvent itself. And so, starting with its Changi Airport and expanding to businesses throughout the nation, Singapore set out to become the uplifting service capital of the world.

It was a transformation of attitudes from command to creativity, and of behaviors from compliance and control to compassion and concern. This national effort has become increasingly successful through the years. And because Singapore is a microcosm of the world, what works there can work in your company, your organization, your career, and your life.

These nations should serve as harbingers of hope for corporations struggling to keep customers happy in an increasingly competitive global economy. When you can’t compete on product or price, you can always compete on service.

For Singapore and Mauritius, the literal survival of their citizens depended on their making a change. Well, for companies that want to be around five years from now, the imperative is just as great. Own a service brand. Build your service culture. Find ways to continuously add service value, or your company will not survive.

As I have worked with countless organizations and governments over the years, I discovered a clearly defined architecture for engineering a powerful and uplifting service culture.

Here’s how nations and large organizations can engineer an Uplifting Service Culture…