Articles

STRATEGIES FOR CREATING A SERVICE CULTURE IN ORGANIZATIONS
By Ben Henry
July 20, 2006


In our current competitive environment, the issue of quality customer service is one that Jamaican companies ought to take seriously. Our private sector is vulnerable to the effects of global competition since its market is the world with infinite options of products. Survival in this century and beyond depends on four factors: customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, leadership and continuous improvement. Only those Jamaican companies that deliver quality service consistently will survive. How does a Jamaican company get to join the small enviable group of homegrown quality service organizations like Sandals and Beaches Resorts, Jamaica International Insurance Company, and Jamaica Money Market Brokers? By adopting several strategies for creating a service culture, outlined below:

1. EXPLORE THE VISION: 
According to Bennis and Nanus, a vision articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization, a condition that is better in some important ways than what now exists........with a vision, the leader provides the all important bridge from the present to the future of the organization
A vision therefore describes the image that the company intends to fulfill. The four factors mentioned above as critical to the survival of the company should be included in the vision statement.

A vision is more than a set of strategic objectives or a business plan. It captures a long term view and describes the finest expectations that the owners have for the company. It serves to challenge people to do their best and improve their best; affirm the company's core values that underlie its decision and performance and help people identify with purposes and goals that transcend anything that they could accomplish on their own.

2. COMMUNICATE THE VISION TO EMPLOYEES AND CUSTOMERS: 
The vision of an organization maps out where it wants to go, and the organization then communicates and sells that vision internally, get ownership of it at all organizational level, and then execute it.
A vision must be understandable, credible, and uplifting. Great leaders often inspire their followers to higher levels of achievement by showing them how their work contributes to some worthwhile outcome. In 1981, when Butch Stewart went into the hotel business, he articulated his vision of Sandals as follows: to be the best all-inclusive hotel group in the world. Mr. Stewart's mandate to management was: "Give the customer more than he or she expects"

Armed with the chairman's verbal and financial commitment to quality, the Sandals management team went to work to fulfill the vision.

3. DISCUSS GOALS AND EXPECTATION WITH EMPLOYEES: 
Managers and supervisor should transfer five kinds of data to employees:
i. Specific instructions about what to do and how to do it;
ii. The reasons for the particular job and how it relates to other jobs;
iii. Policies and procedures;
iv. Performance feedback; and 
v. Corporate goals and objectives 
Customer satisfaction standards must be developed and employees trained into these standards. These service standards must be part of the job description, to demonstrate to employees that the company is serious about customer service. Furthermore the service standards must be a part of the employee's performance appraisal; thereby giving these standards added importance in the eyes of the employee.

4. EVERY SUPERVISOR MUST BECOME AN EXPERT IN HIS/HER FIELD: 
This will enhance the supervisor's role as a trainer, a coach, a cheerleader and nurturer of champions. Supervisors must engage in lifelong learning if they are to excel in these roles and maintain their credibility in the eyes of employees. 

5. DEMONSTRATE COMMITMENT: 
The CEO must demonstrate commitment to creating a service culture in his / her organization by releasing the resources in order to effect the implementation. Lip service won't do it. Releasing the necessary resources to train and develop the staff, sends a powerful signal that the man at the top is truly committed.

In addition, the CEO should write a letter to all employees outlining his philosophy and commitment to quality customer service. The letter should not be a formal letter, no "Dear Employee" letter, but a letter addressed to the individual employee and signed by the CEO. 
The CEO should also hold meetings with employees to communicate his philosophy and values about customer service. He / she should have lunch with employee s when possible. Wandering among employees at all levels, getting to know them informally, send a powerful message to employees.

Management should become role models, teachers, coaches, and nurturers of champions. New criteria for recruitment, selection, promotion, retirement and separation should be developed. One of the most subtle yet most potent ways in which culture gets embedded and perpetuated is the initial selection of new members. For example, for customer contact employees a set of service-oriented characteristics should be developed, and new employees for such positions would be hired by that standard.

There must be commitment to hiring smart, training employees, empowering them, motivating them, and rewarding them. There must be commitment to making continuous improvement a way of life in the business. And there must be commitment to managing and supervising the service encounter daily.

6. PARTNER WITH CUSTOMERS: 
The company should get verbal feedback from customers about service delivery. Solicit ideas from customers about how you could improve the service. Convene focus group meetings quarterly and look your customers in the eye and ask them what you are doing right so that you can continue to do them, and what you are doing wrong so you can fix them.

7. CONDUCT DAILY BRIEFING SESSIONS WITH EMPLOYEES : 
Companies especially those that are visited by customers such as supermarkets and pharmacies should, conduct 5 - 10 minute briefing sessions with employees prior to opening their doors to customers. Remind employees of the company's vision, mission, and the importance of delivering exceptional customer service. Let them know that you will be observing them during the course of the day and will give them feedback at the end of the day.

8. OBSERVE EMPLOYEES AND DOCUMENT GOOD AND BAD SERVICE : 
Carry a small notebook and make notes. Employees "caught" delivering exceptional service should be given immediate praise. Those "caught" delivering bad service should be given immediate 
non-threatening corrective coaching.

9. CONDUCT REVIEW SESSIONS AND GIVE FEEDBACK: 
At the end of the day, conduct a 5 - 10 minute review session to give feedback. Begin by giving positive feedback. Praise those you already praised one - on - one by naming them. Then give negative feedback. Let the group know of any shortcomings in service delivery for that day. Never name names here. Those who gave bad service already know who they are and were given corrective coaching. Delivering negative feedback to an employee in front of their peers should never be an option.

CONCLUDING :
It is easy to detect the presence of a service - oriented culture. When a service - oriented culture exists, the operational policies, procedures and processes of the company will all reflect obsession with service quality. As soon as you walk into that business you can feel it all around you. Go into Jamaica International Insurance Company on Knutsford Boulevard and you will see what I am talking about.

Creating a service culture does not happen overnight. It can take several years to achieve. The development of a service culture in a company can be stopped in its tracks when a CEO who is committed to service is replaced by one who has no clue what service is and its critical importance to the company's long term survival. Top management support and leadership is not only critical to the transition to a service culture but remains critical for its maintenance. Jamaican companies who take the bold step to develop a service culture and ensure its maintenance are the ones who will see the 21st century through as economically viable enterprises.


Dr. Ben Henry is Managing Director of Customer Service Academy of Jamaica Limited, a customer service and management consultancy based in New Kingston. 
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