We all live in a world of service. Most of our interactions involve serving others in some way. Service is simply taking care of the needs or concerns of those around us. We define service as “taking action to create value for someone else.” And we all want this. We expect it as customers. Yet many of us are frequently disappointed by service and may even find it difficult to practice good service ourselves.
Some of the best organizations in the world, however, have leveraged service as a key differentiator. They have built a culture of service excellence where everyone is consistently taking MORE action to create MORE value for everyone else. It is easy to think of the companies where we experience this service priority; Apple, Zappos, Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Amazon, and more.
At these companies, the service culture ensures that all employees are recruited, promoted, and motivated to step up the quality of service they provide. This in turn leads to engaged customers having a fulfilling experience. These customers become loyal customers who continue doing business and referring new customers to the organization. Business grows, profits rise and employees, suppliers and stakeholders all become increasingly engaged finding new ways to serve each other. This cycle continues, building an ever growing partnership of service value where everyone wins.
How do these successful organizations create a service culture? Let’s consider the construction of a building. Before construction there is a broad design illustrating what the building will look like. Structural engineers then create detailed designs for materials selection and work out how all the components and systems of the building will fit together. Project Managers then create this building from the plans, meeting milestones and inspections along the way to completion. Done correctly, the foundation is strong, the support beams are straight, the plumbing and electrical systems work without fail and the roof does not leak.
Building a culture of service excellence happens the same way. Leaders define what service will look like for their customers. A proven architecture is used to design the required language, knowledge, behaviors, and actions, and a plan is created that fits them all together.
The foundation of a service culture is built on service education. These fundamental service principles ensure everyone is speaking and understanding together. The walls and internal systems of a service culture are the practices, which we call The 12 Building Blocks. These keep the organization aligned so that service providers are encouraged and supported, and service itself is improving.
The roof is an active and engaged leadership team — driving, supporting and role-modeling service. They protect the organization’s key assets – the people inside who make service excellence possible. The result is a sturdy service culture built on proven principles.
Constructing a building is one thing. But how do you sustain it over time? How do you the sustain a service culture to keep employees and customers engaged? Like any building, once it is built the work to maintain and improve it does not end. Constant care and attention are required.
There are daily actions such as cleaning. Weekly or monthly actions like gardening the grounds, electrical inspections, or testing safety equipment. There are yearly checks for cracks in the foundation and loose roof tiles, and applying fresh paint. In the long term there is upgrade of furniture, the renovation of meeting rooms, the addition of any extensions and the installation of green technologies.
The same is true for successful service organization. Building and maintaining a service culture is not a one-time event. It is not a launch or a training exercise alone. Like a building, the culture will fall into disrepair if not looked after continually over time.
Just as building codes must be maintained, leaders must drive and reinforce service behaviors. This means employees are continually educated to understand service. Practices and communication in the organization must be reviewed and refreshed to ensure they support team members and customers over time. If ignored too long, any structure will crumble and will need to be built again.
There is hard work needed to build a strong culture and like an excellent building, it takes ongoing work to maintain and improve it for the benefit of everyone. But the benefits are tremendous. Taking action to create value in every interaction creates the engagement and partnerships we want and the service our customers expect.