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A Customer-Focused Structure Leads to Success

A great service culture is always a product of a whole architecture that includes education, service processes and structures that support customer-focused behavior.

Most customer-service improvement efforts fail to provide this type of architecture because their design misses, in particular, the strong impact of structure on behavior. Structure may include reporting relationships or physical structures that best facilitate service process. The designers are wary of changing structures to support service outcomes because such change is emotionally charged, takes a significant amount of effort and requires intense commitment. Yet, few individuals or departments can be effective and shine unless their organizational and physical structures are aligned with their brand’s customer service promise.

Heated discussions in the executive suite often revolve around costs and customer service: “Why do we still have service failures when we’ve spent so many resources on solutions?” These discussions are painful and often are replayed over and over again in different ways. They are more likely to spread frustration and create a mood of resignation in managers than produce new or better results.

Emotionally charged territory

Organizations that have difficulty improving service culture and improving the service experience often have a strong hierarchical reporting structure. For an existing hierarchy, the shift from organizational lines of authority to an emphasis on service process and service culture is emotionally charged territory. The change to process-driven service management affects how people work, how they are managed and how their efforts are evaluated. Process-driven management alters the power and influence of individuals and units.

Even managers who haven’t been educated in service processes or in leading a vibrant service culture recognize intuitively that a shift to process management will rock their world. As a result, it is common to find managers who would rather talk about process improvement and work at the edges of the issues rather than implement a complete customer-service solution.

When an organization shifts to process orientation without updating its structure to support the effort, failure can be expected and, indeed, is common.

Process is not difficult to understand, and customer-service process failures are comparatively easy to analyze. With skillful analysis, implementation planning and effective mobilization, the task of finding ways to improve processes is rarely out of reach.

Changing structure and service culture, however, presents an entirely different challenge.

Mom was correct

When your mother reminded you to stand up straight, it turns out she was deeply aware of the power of structure. In our bodies, good posture equals effective structure. People with good posture digest their food better than those who slouch. With good posture you can throw a ball farther and with more accuracy, and you are less prone to injury. It is the same with organizations. Structure that is aligned with what we promise our customers enables a healthy service environment.

Here is an example of the impact of physical structure on service delivery.

In hotels, the concierge is a center of hospitality. A concierge’s primary job is to provide for the needs of guests and to anticipate what will make their visit more satisfying. He or she can help shape guests’ choices to complement their current mood and needs. This offering is an exquisite gift and when executed well, it is service of a very high order.

We recently found concierge desks that were redesigned to reflect a modern architectural look. They are beautiful, but the structure of the redesigned desk works against the concierge. Instead of having all materials right at hand (as the former desks did), the arrangement of the new desk often forces a concierge to leave the location to retrieve basic items, such as packing slips, small-size envelopes and boxes for overnight courier service. The result is that when a guest approaches the concierge with something to send, the concierge grimaces ever so slightly because he must leave his station to fulfill the request instead of naturally opening up the moment of service. A concierge knows that while she is gone, this guest will be kept waiting—actually a lack of service—and there is always the chance that others will arrive and find no one at the desk, making their first encounter empty instead of fulfilling. The structure of the new desk has shaped behavior in a negative way. Those of you who have frontline experience can think of many similar examples from your own work.

Structure can intentionally be shaped to be constructive and to nourish those involved in delivering their company’s service promise. The key is to start with the customer service promise and develop processes that enable 100 percent delivery on that promise. Design reporting relationships to effectively manage these processes. Test the physical structures to see if they efficiently support on brand service. Teach service principles and practices to drive a strong service culture. Together these create a solid platform that makes your best service efforts shine.

Want proof? Look into the companies that you most admire. You will see that their processes are aligned with their service promise and that those companies have intentionally designed an infrastructure that facilitates excellence in the individuals who serve their customers.

Copyright, Todd Lapidus. Contact the author at www.c3corp.com

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