It should come as no surprise that the primary driver of our economy is no longer what we make but how we serve each other. Eighty percent of jobs in the U.S. and 80 percent of the gross national product are currently tied to the service industry. Further, not only is service our primary economic function, but according to psychologists, it’s also a core human ambition – we are born with an innate desire to help each other.
And yet when you zoom in on our day-to-day interactions, the majority of our service experiences are overwhelmingly negative. So, why the disconnect? Why is great service still so rare?
In UNCOMMON SERVICE: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business (Harvard Business Review Press; hardcover; February 7, 2012), authors and experts Frances Frei and Anne Morriss argue that despite the fact that we’re wired for service, it’s not enough to simply demand service excellence from your employees. Instead, companies must design excellence into the very fabric of the organization.
“It’s easy to throw service into a mission statement and periodically do whatever it takes to make a customer happy,” write the authors. “What’s hard is designing a service model that allows average employees—not just the exceptional ones—to produce service excellence as an everyday routine.”
In UNCOMMON SERVICE, Frei and Morriss offer just that – a system that allows companies to deliver consistently great service, regardless of the industry, employee, customer or positioning. They argue that taking care of customers is not the exclusive domain of high-end companies; rather, it’s a basic imperative for anyone who wants to survive in a volatile economy, where the old rules of competition no longer apply.
Combining their two unique perspectives – from Frei’s academic research and in-the-trenches experience with executives, to Morriss’s work on the front lines of mission-driven organizations around the globe – the authors identify the four universal truths for delivering uncommon service:
- You can’t be good at everything. Striving for all-around excellence leads directly to mediocrity. Achieving service excellence requires underperforming on the things your customers value least, so you can over-deliver on the dimensions they value most. Decide what trade-offs you will make – where you will do things badly, even very badly, in the service of great – based on deep insight into who your customers are and what they need operationally. Then be unapologetic about it.
- Someone has to pay for it. Great service must be funded, or you risk giving it away. Either find a palatable way to charge your customers for it, reduce costs while improving the experience, or get customers to do some of the work for you. Choosing among these strategies will depend on both industry dynamics and the specific relationship you have with your customers.
- It’s not your employees’ fault. Too many organizations have designed service models for phantom employees, superstar employees they wish they had but actually don’t. Hiring those superstars – or getting your current employees to act more like them by “trying harder” – is not the solution. Instead, you must design a service model that sets up average employees to deliver excellence as a daily routine.
- You must manage your customers. Customers are major players in any service experience. They don’t just consume or purchase the service; they help create it, even if it’s just by showing up for an appointment on time. You need a strategy for managing them, just as you need a strategy for managing your employees. You and your customers must work together to deliver great service.
The authors also offer a plan for shaping the other half of the service equation – organizational culture. Culture defines an enormous part of the customer experience. Design and culture must work together, and today’s leaders must ensure their alignment.
“A great service organization needs to get both right, the service design and the culture that animates it,” write the authors. “Both must be pointing in the same direction, toward the outputs you’ve identified as critical to your organization’s success.”
Rich with actionable advice, UNCOMMON SERVICE makes a powerful case for how any organization can increase profitability, satisfaction and competitive advantage by delivering consistently outstanding service.