What constitutes a good culture for service - and how can service design help?
In this extract from their book Woo, Wow, and Win, Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell explain how to apply the principles of service design to develop the instances, rituals, spaces and tools that constitute a culture.
Companies rightly boast when they make one of the “great places to work” lists that have proliferated in recent years. Prospective employees are right to check out what people say about a company on social media or sites like Glassdoor. Culture is frequently judged by the quality and quantity of employee perks (Free snacks! Bring your pet to work!) rather than how well employees are supported in doing their jobs.
But the best-stocked corporate pantry cannot compensate for the absence of the basics. If you want to know whether you have a good culture for service, judge it by these things:
- Clarity: Do employees understand your value proposition and how it is manifest in customer experience? Is there a clear connection between your customers’ experience and the behavior you expect (and reward) from employees?
- Understanding: Do your employees know what they need to do at every step of the customer journey to deliver that experience? Do they know which touchpoints are most critical?
- Leadership: Is senior management both engaged and engaging in providing delightful experiences? Do they pad their wallets while preaching frugality? Do they know and celebrate people lower in the ranks - men and women who exemplify the behavior they want?
- Transparency: Do employees at all levels have visibility into the issues that affect their - and your company’s - ability to serve customers/clients? Are customers/clients able to see the link between your employees’ behavior and your value proposition?
- Uniqueness: How can you ensure that your corporate culture underscores what makes you different, instead of undermining it?
- Relationship: What kinds of internal relationships (competitive, egalitarian, etc.) do you want to foster? What kinds of customer relationships (cool, warm, etc.) do you want to foster?
- Empathy: Do employees throughout the company hear the “voice of the customer” directly or indirectly and whenever decisions are made? Does service design start with customers, or with internal activities?
Executives often treat culture as something apart from the business of doing things and making money. They focus on strategy and operations, then do “the culture piece.” That is a mistake. The ligaments of your culture are laid alongside the lines of your organisation chart and service design map. Your culture comes to life, bone to its bone, when the phone starts ringing and you decide who will answer it, what you will do for the caller, and who will get the credit.
Culture is the sinew that determines how your organisation moves. You should apply the principles of service design, therefore, to develop the instances, rituals, spaces, and tools that constitute a culture.
The first principle: The customer is always right... provided the customer is right for you
Organisations should encourage the customers they want and discourage the ones they do not.
Go through your incentives and rituals and do an audit to see if you are celebrating or incentivising the wrong behavior, or doing things in service of the wrong customers. What would or should be done differently in recognition that you are selecting and segmenting customers? And what would or should be done differently when you have the right ones?
The second principle: Don’t surprise and delight your customers - just delight them
Excellent service begins by getting the basics right, so that you can meet the expectations you set every time; it is the product of customer experience and technical excellence; it feels inevitable. The process begins with expectations, which are the bar your company and culture must clear. Customer expectations need to be translated into employee expectations. Even the most able, skilled, competent employees cannot succeed if they do not know what they should - and shouldn’t - be doing.
Consistency across the organisation is also critical. This means objectives and measurements need to be aligned. You should not design metrics just to track the activities of an individual department, but instead so that you can manage touchpoints and stages of the customer’s journey. If salespeople are incented on customer satisfaction, but call center support is measured on reduced call times rather than call resolution or satisfaction, you’re going to have conflicting objectives, poor outcomes, and a poor customer experience.
The principle of delight should shape whom you hire. This is not about technical competence, which can be acquired. It is about something more intrinsic. Are their motivations and values in line with your company’s?
The third principle: Great service must not require heroic efforts on the part of the provider or the customer
A good service culture works for employees as much as for customers - because services are delivered, mostly, by people, whether consultants, colourists, or cooks. A design change that makes life better for customers but worse for employees will flag - the culture will kill it, often by going into a passive-aggressive mode that makes it almost impossible for management to respond. The employee culture, designed for survival, will adapt as needed, so it is critical that senior management set the right tone.
Culture is codified and conveyed by stories, and these telltale moments can help everyone see what behavior you want.
The fourth principle: Service design must deliver a coherent experience across all channels and touchpoints
Everyone who interacts with a potential client or customer has a responsibility to help deliver the experience you have promised regardless of their decision-making authority - and regardless of where in the organisation they reside.
The fifth principle: You’re never done
Every company’s culture has an innovation gene waiting to be expressed; often it is turned off by work rules and policies - especially policies that strip frontline workers (so important for service) of initiative and autonomy.
But even in these, a spirit of customer-centered improvement can be brought to life.