Ron Kaufman, Founder & CEO of Uplifting Service, and author of The New York Times bestseller ‘Uplifting Service’, talks to Culturama in an exclusive interview of India’s path and role in building an effective service culture.
WHEN somebody who has been voted the ‘Top 25 Who’s Hot’ speakers by Speaker Magazine says that “there is now a crisis of service that exists” in the world, you sit up and take notice. Ron Kaufman, a leading exponent of the importance of building service cultures as the foundation for success, wears many hats—of a speaker, educator, motivator, leader and author.
What drives him is a vision of “a world where people are educated and inspired to excel in service” and he believes that India is no exception to this. “In a country like India, the whole focus of service is not on what is in it for me, but what I can do for you. There are powerful icons in India like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and others whose lives have been made meaningful and are full of richness by serving others. Indian culture is passionate about learning and academics. When service is taught as an area of study, as a discipline based on an anchorage in fundamental service principles, people will then have the opportunity to engage with the idea of service to create value, and that becomes the key to personal advancement,” he says.
In a world where boundaries are fast shrinking and distances are defined in microseconds, a central idea of “service” might be idealistic in its approach and ambitious in its reach, but Ron begs to differ. “If one culture values speed and transparency and another values patience and diplomacy and so on, one can legitimately say that different cultures value different things. But service holds the same meaning, whatsoever. It is creating value for others. This is to be understood and is the reason why we want an educated world where people are inspired to excel.” A challenge indeed for India, not just in terms of the battle with literacy but also with the very perspective of service that is often coloured by an overture of hierarchy, at least at the workplace. Given that, corporate India certainly has its hands full, but Ron believes the answer to that lies in breaking away from the traditional adage of ‘customer is king’. “We need to terminate the notion that being in the service industry makes you subservient. If the customer is king, who is the service provider? A slave? Every one of us provides service and is the recipient of services. That is how the world works. Addressing the issue of hierarchy, it is outdated. How is it that people from lowly backgrounds have successful careers? And is there a guarantee that people from historic backgrounds always fare well? Creating commercial success is creating value for people and that is service. I have been coming to India for the last 22 years. I have seen how it was and I am seeing how it is now. I not only think it is ready but we are also ready to see Indian companies lead, grab opportunities, commit and also break away.”
Corporate India’s Three Fold Path
(i) Understand fundamental service education:
It is essential to build a successful service culture. It is not taught in schools or professional courses. That is why corporates are burdened with this challenge of educating not just the people who handle customers but also all the employees in an organisation.
(ii) Twelve Building Blocks:
They are culture building activities like Recruitment, Rewards and Recognition, Voice of the Customer, Service Recovery that every organisation is already doing. It is essential that these are evaluated, improved and aligned to support the education and to incentivise the desired behaviours, and successfully engineer the service culture.
(iii) Recognise that there is a fundamental leadership role that everyone has to play:
That includes not just walking the talk as an excellent service provider to colleagues and customers, but also ‘talking the talk’. Every leader must understand and apply the fundamental service principles.
Excerpt from ‘Uplifting Service’
The Problem with Service Today
We are facing a crisis of service all over the world. Huge economies are transforming from manufacturing-based to service based at record speed, and our populations are largely unprepared. Customers are angry and complain to anyone who will listen. Service providers are irritated to the point of resentment and resignation. Countless organisations promise satisfaction to external customers and then allow internal politics to frustrate their employees’ good intentions to deliver. And our early educational systems don’t even recognize the subject of service as an area for serious study. Yes, we face a service crisis. But, how can that be? Service is present in every aspect of our lives from the moment we are born. We enter this world completely dependent on other people care, education, and affection. Longer than any other species on earth, young people are dependent on constant service from parents, teachers, doctors, and community leaders.
As we grow, we go to work, become professionals, and get jobs, earning money and building our careers in successful service to others. When we become parents, we are service providers to the next generation. And when we become caregivers to our own parents, the roles are reversed and we are service providers to those who first served us.
We live and work in a world that is completely infused with service. In commerce this includes customer service and colleagues providing internal service. We have roadside service, desk-side service, counter service, delivery service, and self-service. In our communities we depend on the civil service, public service,government service, military service, and foreign service. When we gather to worship it’s called a religious service, and when someone dies there is a memorial service. Service is all around you; it’s everywhere you look and live. But still, there is a vast disconnect between the high volume and the low quality of service we experience every day. In fact, there is a twofold catastrophe in our lives that makes very little sense. First, many individuals and organizations are unable to provide consistently satisfying service to customers, clients, and colleagues. And, second, many service providers complain continuously about jobs they dislike. With service all around us, and so much a part of our daily lives, why aren’t we doing it better? Why is service in this abysmal state? What is the problem?