Sustaining Exceptional Service

By Jean Marie Johnson

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a great service provider? How do they consistently provide service that goes beyond customers’ expectations?  What makes it possible for some organizations to deliver consistently exceptional service?  At my company, we have dedicated ourselves to finding the answers to these questions for years, and we are pleased to share our findings with you.

Certainly, developing the skill base of frontline, customer-facing associates is essential, but something extraordinary goes on in organizations that are able to sustain great service over time. With the help of an independent research firm, we uncovered the core organizational competencies that great service providers have in common.

From these, we have identified five pillars to sustaining exceptional service that, taken together, form the five pillars of a service culture. By evaluating how your organization measures up, you can determine your own ability to provide exceptional service.

1. Shared Vision and Values: Top service providers have a clear and concise customer service vision, outlined from both the caller’s and the agent’s point of view. A corporate-wide service vision is the foundation for inspiring great customer service behaviors.

Executives at one financial services company have been able to do just this. They developed a service vision that included the overarching direction and commitment for the organization. As they rolled out the vision, energy accelerated as each department engaged in a team dialogue to explore the question, “What does this vision mean to us?”

The answers were captured in a rainbow of departmental vision statements, all inspired by the service vision. With this type of vision and support from the management team, all of the employees could articulate a common theme of what great service meant to them and their customers.

2. Service-Focused Leaders: A recent study associated a key driver of organizational change to respected leaders modeling the behaviors they ask of others. If leaders want their employees to focus on service, they need to practice what they preach.

Without examples to follow, employee morale and motivation will suffer. However, if across your organization everyone from frontline agents to senior managers models great service, you will achieve greater consistency in your service and overall higher customer satisfaction ratings.

3. Consistent Service Delivery and Measurement: Organizations that excel in service delivery do a great job of translating their service vision into clear, consistent, and integrated standards. Establishing measures for face-to-face, phone, and e-interactions will help you monitor service quality and consistency.

Apply these measures to interactions between each employee and client. Then monitor these measures on an individual, employee-by-employee basis. You will find that not all employees truly understand the service vision, and this will hinder your ability to provide consistent service.

One of the nation’s largest homebuilders and providers of an array of loan products has developed a set of measurements to monitor service quality. Their goal is to provide a seamless service experience for all customers through every customer touch point. Creating measures for each interaction with clients has enabled them to ensure a consistently superior customer experience. Through monitoring these measurements and making continuous improvements, courtesy and customer satisfaction scores, along with market share, are on the rise.

4. Developmental Training and Coaching: Approaching training as a process versus a one-time event is a key differentiator between organizations that consistently deliver exceptional service and those that do not. Quick fix, silver-bullet methods can, at best, achieve short-term results. Behavior follows mindset and attitude instilled by ongoing training and development.

Coaching must also accompany training. Paying individual attention to what and how employees contribute to service and coaching them to hone their skills and abilities will boost morale, confidence, and service delivery.

An information management software and services company implemented an integrated training and development process to raise the skill level of their associates. They did not just do training, however; they ensured that there was continuous monitoring and coaching linked with the training. Now the company receives letters on a daily basis from clients thanking them for the high level of service provided.

5. Constant Systemic Improvement and Reinforcement: The best of the best service organizations are nimble. They have honed their ability to course correct in the interest of their service vision. Organizations must continuously consider how systems and processes are contributing to the service experience along with how the service vision is being reinforced. In the best service cultures, much work is done behind the scenes to address obstacles that may exist in human resource practices, workflow, IT, and so on.

Consider a cross-functional team in Los Angeles that used their newly crafted service vision as a reference point for reviewing every work handoff in light of its impact on the customer. Everybody could clearly see how what he or she does (and what everyone else does) affects the customer experience.

Creating the Service Culture: Apply these pillars at your organization, and you will foster exceptional customer service. It will not be easy, and there are no quick fixes, but the results you can achieve will be worth the effort – not only to your clients and your agents, but also to your organization’s bottom line.

Jean Marie Johnson is a vice president at Communico Ltd. (, a customer service training and consulting company that delivers measurable results for customer service organizations and call centers. To learn more about creating a service culture, Communico’s new book, How to Talk to Customers, is now available.

[From Connection Magazine January 2008]