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GPS: Annoying Mechanical Voice or The Path to a Truly Customer-Driven Organization?

6 Apr, 2015 By: Shelley F. Hall, Catalytic Management

While driving several years ago from North Carolina to Ohio to visit a relative, I took a detour. Not an intentional detour... one of those “Geez, is that what the map meant?!” detours.  Yes, I had a map, and yes, I thought I was following it. But that’s the trouble with a map. It’s neither definitive nor directive. You must decide which of the many possible routes to take to reach your destination and, in my haste, I chose the wrong option. Thus the emergence of a GPS system in an effort to guarantee I wouldn’t get lost again.

To move faster to your goal of becoming a truly customer-driven organization, I’m going to act as your GPS and hand you the directions to your destination. First, let’s discuss what it means to be customer-driven and not merely customer-focused.

Being a customer-driven company means you:

• Build products, systems, policies, and procedures to support the customer’s needs more than just yours.

• Deliver more than just good customer service – you deliver service that differentiates you from your competition.

• Consistently ask your customers how you’re doing, then act on their suggestions.

• Rewrite jobs, roles, and responsibilities to include customer service standards and expectations.

• Define, measure, and evaluate service performance to insure accountability.

• Sell and market on the premise of meeting customer needs.

• Build and structure customer relationships for the long- term.

And how do you achieve service nirvana? Take the following steps:

1. Create a Service Vision. Your company and/or team must understand your vision and be able to “feel it” the way that you do. Everyone needs a working vision, a mantra to guide their everyday work.

One of best examples of this is the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Its service vision was written years ago to tell employees how to act, make decisions, and service customers. Witness the Ritz Carlton service mission statement:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz- Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpected wishes and needs of our guests.

Now THAT’S service! And to make it easy for its staff to remember and act upon the mission, the Ritz-Carlton created this simple service statement:

We are ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentleman.

Powerful stuff. Your journey to service excellence begins with your vision and action statement. Take your time. Consider including customers in the creative process. Your service mission statement will become the foundation for all future actions.

2. Clearly Define Your Customer Profile. Draw your staff a picture of both your ideal internal customer and your ideal external customer. To define the actions you need to take, you and your staff must really “get” these ideals and build to their needs. Think of your most difficult customer and aim for perfection by creating service that will make her happy. A boss once told me, “You’re only as good as your most difficult customer.” Your clearly-drawn picture of the internal customer will provide guidance in hiring and promoting staff, and will reinforce the idea that superior internal service will deliver excellence to your external customer.

3. Benchmark Your Competition. What service level does your competition deliver? Where are they deficient? How does your industry compare to others? What can you learn from other industries? And remember, delivering the same quality service as your competitors is just an ante, merely table stakes to get into the service game. Going beyond that bet into better quality service means that you will take the whole pot.

4. Define Differentiated Service. Where can you excel? What can you do better or differently than the market? Delivering differentiated service is the real goal. The Ritz-Carlton is the gold standard in service, that which other hotels attempt to emulate. You want to be the gold standard in your industry.

5. Develop Defined, Specific Service Standards. Each role within the company should have written service standards; not just the obvious ones like the time frame for returning phone calls or how many times the phone rings before it must be answered. I’m talking about deep standards that drive performance excellence. Set a standard for accuracy in billing, for proposal turn around, for problem resolution – for every department in the company.

One of my clients wanted to improve the accuracy and quality of its shipping and packing. It created a “Know Your Packer” program in which every packer placed in his/her boxes a note with his/her picture and a request to call him/her directly if the customer noted a packing problem. Errors dropped significantly and a sense of pride in the department became prevalent. Innovative deep standards beget better workers and better service.

6. Measure for Accountability. Service standards should be measurable and part of everyone’s performance appraisals. Accountability is a must if you are serious about achieving service superiority.

7. Develop a Written Problem Resolution Process. In addition to cross-department, company-wide problem resolution processes, each department should have its own internal system. As you do this, push the authority to solve a customer’s problem, including financial compensation, down to the customer interfacing level. Don’t make a customer have to ask for a supervisor to get a resolution. After all, what does this ultimately tell the customer about you and your company? Two things:

  • You don’t hire people who are prepared or capable of truly servicing me, and
  • You don’t trust your staff to act professionally or rationally.

Both of these concepts are huge negatives in my book. If you’re worried about the service team giving away too much of the profit to make a client happy, then set a dollar ceiling after which the problem must be escalated. Clearly define this escalation ladder, and be sure that someone who can solve the problem is always available.

8. Create a Reward System. Like any behavior you wish to create and reinforce, you need a reward system that says “damn good job!” It need not always be money: recognition goes along way. But a word of caution: never – I repeat never – create a “service employee of the month” award. After three months, these fail to garner enthusiasm and the belief that you “had” to pick somebody takes over. Rewards are most effective when they are unexpected and are given in the moment.

So, now you have your GPS for driving the company toward service superiority. How you implement these steps will be and should be unique to your culture, your products, and your industry. You might experience detours along the way, so stay focused on the goal and allow yourself and your company occasional failure. Failure is how we learn.


Shelley F. Hall, author of Brick Wall Breakthrough – What The @#$% Do I Do Next? Actions for Exceptional Sales and Service (Page Court Press) is Principal, Managing Director of Catalytic Management LLC, a leading management consulting firm delivering consulting and training that accelerates business growth through improved sales, service and process improvement. She is considered a leading expert in the field of "customer-focused management." As a thought leader, Shelley writes frequently for major business journals such as Business Performance Management Magazine, CEO.com, The Handbook of Business Strategy, Women's Business, ManageSmarter and Sales and Service Excellence, Chief Learning Officer and is a sought after business advisor and speaker. Visit  www.CatalyticManagement.com

About the Author: Shelley F. Hall

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