The nature of work keeps changing. And it’s determining who wins and who loses.
Mass production defined work in the 20th century. Jobs became a well-defined set of tasks organized into a scalable working structure. Even now we continue to improve the quality and efficiency of our work by precisely measuring, regrouping, and even eliminating jobs.
Work involves two underlying interactions – making and responding to requests. As a customer or colleague, I request something from you. As a provider or partner, you deliver something to me. This could be a standard product, a complex project, or a simple question and answer. The focus of many organizational efforts is to create systems, processes, and even cultures that enable these interactions as seamlessly as possible.
We have gotten very good at this. To continuously improve quality and efficiency we anticipate questions, variations, and breakdowns. We train people to respond to customer concerns and problems that we have already defined. Simply look at the range tools and process maps used for production and delivery. Count the standard scripts used for marketing, sales, and service. We have created standards and systems for consistency, efficiency, and scale.
But today, more than ever before, technology has disrupted this world of consistency and efficiency. Technology has given people access to new ideas, customized products, and boutique services everywhere, and from anywhere. At the beginning of my career, most companies served customers in their local region. Suppliers were located across nearby. Sales calls were conducted in person or over the phone. Proposals were typed and mailed with little variation.
Now everyone has access to global markets and almost infinite customization. Today I communicated with partners and customers on four continents. Individually I can order almost anything online and have it on my doorstep tomorrow.
With access to so much choice, we expect and receive customization. Customization of the product. Customization of delivery, Customization of use and implementation. Today we expect, and receive, what we want, the way we want it. Offering the best product or the lowest price is no longer the most important predictor of success.
Today, the experience of our customer has become the differentiator. High quality, customized products and services, rapidly delivered, are now basic requirements just to play in the game. Our relationship and the experiences you create for me are why I will choose you over others. Our relationship and the experiences you create for me are why I will pay a premium to be served by you.
This is where our historical business systems are breaking down. We are trying to evolve into nimble organizations that can build partnerships with each customer based on their unique wants and needs. We are moving from organizations built on standard processes and increasing scale to organizations providing greater value through innovation, customization, and delivery of excellent service experiences. But this is not easy.
This challenging transformation is occurring in nearly every industry. In hotels and retail banks. In manufacturers and distribution companies. In telecommunications and healthcare organizations. In shared services and business services. In the virtual world and in the real-world. The need everywhere is the same.
What we all need is people – and technology – that think and act differently. Quality work, attention to detail, and skill to react to known problems remains important. But it is not enough. Now we need people who can think creatively, imagine broadly, and collaborate easily, outside already defined jobs and expectations.
We need leaders who inspire innovation as well as quality, and productivity. We need employees who enjoy thinking beyond known problems. We need people who appreciate the customer’s experience. And we need team members who view customers as partners, not merely as targets or problems.
What does this have to do with service? This is service.
Service is any and every action taken to create new value for someone else. Taking action to create value occurs in nearly every business interaction, with internal partners and with external customers. Service occurs at every level, in every function, and in every situation.
Organizations that delegate service to a single department are taking an enormous risk.
Businesses that understand service as merely being friendly and polite do so at their peril.
Leaders who think service is a practice rather than a source of value are destined to become obsolete.
Only organizations with a culture of continuously adding new value to products, services, and the experience of customers and employees will thrive. Only leaders who learn how to inspire and enable these cultures will survive.