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Company culture is important. In fact, it can make or break your company. Studies have shown that companies having an adaptive culture that is aligned to their business goals routinely outperform their competitors, sometimes up to 200%. How can that be? When a group of people have shared values and practices, it is much easier and quicker to make decisions and instinctively know the best course of action to take. There is not as much time spent waiting for approvals, indecisiveness, or hidden agendas – everyone knows the goal and how to get there.

Look at Ritz-Carlton hotels and Nordstrom department stores, both well known for the delivery of consistent superior service. The culture of customer service has been so well-defined in both of these organizations that customers don’t worry about what kind of service they will receive whether they are in a Seattle location or an Orlando location. The service will always be the same high-level, seamless experience. It starts with having a Service Philosophy (the emotional connection) and Service Standards (defined behaviors that if done consistently will achieve the Service Philosophy.

It is certainly easier to create a culture of great service in a brand new organization vs. an established organization that already has a culture. The established organization will require an unfreezing of the old way of doing things, replacing it with the new way, and then a refreezing of the new way. The leadership of the established organization will need to be very prepared to explain why the old way of doing things is not the path to the future success of the organization. However, most organizations I work with are not those that are doing terrible in the delivery of customer service; more often than not, they are already doing quite well in this area, but are looking to enhance and raise the bar on current service levels.

Regardless, if you are looking to create a culture of service excellence or change/enhance your current culture to a higher level of excellence, following are seven steps to allow you to structure and guide the creation. It will start with identifying a group of people to be responsible for leading the initiative. This Service Excellence Team (SET) should be composed of a cross-functional, high level group of people who have a desire to lead and make this culture a reality. In essence, they will become the conscience of the organization in keeping the sight and focus on the end result.

This Service Excellence Team will design the following steps to be tailored to fit the organization, educate all employees on the systems and processes, and finally ensure execution of each step throughout the entire organization.

Step 1 – Communication and Awareness
This step ensures that all employees of the organization are on the same page regarding the service process and are kept up to date on all developments. Employees need to be introduced to the service excellence process – why it is happening and what the plan is. It is important to establish the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) for employees to want to become engaged and involved.

Step 2 – Orientation and Training
This step leads the effort to build customer service into every training opportunity offered by the organization. The result is a continuous focus on the customer and improving the customer experience. It starts with the orientation of all new employees to ensure customer service is incorporated and highlighted into the new hire process.

Step 3 – Recruitment
A culture begins with the people you hire. This step involves developing a consistent interview and selection process across the entire organization. It will include benchmarking with service “superstars” already in the organization and creating an interview process that increases the likelihood of hiring strong performers.

Step 4 – Recognition and Celebration
This step focuses on recognizing employees who demonstrate the service values of the organization. This includes formal recognition programs as well as on-the-spot recognition opportunities. Without reinforcement of behaviors that are aligned with the service excellence process, employees typically revert to the old way of doing things.

Step 5 – Management Accountability
The number one reason that service initiatives fail to achieve their desired results is a lack of accountability. Ultimately, service excellence behaviors must become non-negotiable. This means that all accountability mechanisms, both formal and informal, must include elements of the service excellence process. This step will ensure job descriptions and performance appraisals significantly highlight customer service issues. It will also make coaching and counseling for leaders of the organization an on-going habit.

Step 6 – Measurement
Measuring customer service levels is not an easy process. This step focuses on formal measurements; such as satisfaction surveys, and informal measurements; such as how many times did we get customers to smile? The point is to measure things that have a direct impact on customer delight and just as important, communicate and display the results to employees. The key is to have branded measurement charts measuring customer service within every work group to build a sense of ownership.

Step 7 – Service Obstacle System
Most service obstacles can and should be handled at the lowest level. Some obstacles to delivering great service; however, are systematic and require a coordinated approach to developing a solution. This step develops a mechanism for collecting information about service obstacles, getting the right people involved in solving the problem (permanently) and communicating the solution back to the field.

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