Promoting A Positive Service Culture

, Magazine

By Ebunoluwa Bolodeoku

It’s been said by many that you can only provide good service when you have an understanding of and have experienced good service. I dare say that it goes even further to being able to differentiate between good service and bad service. After all, if you have never experienced good service, what will the standard for evaluating if the service you are receiving is good or bad, what will be the basis for comparison? The experience of consumers and general feedback in Nigeria, across all sectors is that we there is still a lot of work to be done regarding defining service standards/expectation, understanding what good service is, providing good service, expecting good service and generally promoting a service culture. 

Businesses provide service to their customers in one form or the other; directly or indirectly. Service businesses are different from businesses that manufacture or produce an end product. Pure service businesses primarily sell services e.g. banks, airlines, hairdressers, law firms, consulting firms etc., as any transfer of a physical product is an accompaniment to the service being rendered by these businesses. Businesses that manufacture end products while not being pure service businesses also have to provide service as it relates to consumers of the sales and/or use of their products. In essence, service is integral to the running of any business – pure service or not. 

A service culture is in existence and being promoted when every activity is completed with the customer in mind, regardless of whether they’re directly impacted by the task at hand or not.  Employees of organizations’ with a distinct or defined service culture, put people first, prioritize quality, and always maintain a high level of integrity. Service culture can also be said to be a state of mind, a set of beliefs, and a core value for employees to rally around. 

The lack of a service culture is traceable to the non-definition of service standards/expectations for businesses, sectors and industries. We all agree that what gets measured gets done! For every business – pure service or not, there is a need to conduct a deep-dive into what the business stands for define the service standards which will require and what will the elements of good service look like. In a fast food restaurant those elements could be – pleasantly greeting or welcoming a customer before providing a service, complimenting customers from time to time, ensuring a customer does not spend more than a maximum of X minutes on the queue before being served etc. The definition of service standards/expectations and elements of good service is relatable and an essential part of any business’s service delivery framework.  

The model below by Arizona State University highlights the process of forming service standards/expectations. Following the definition of the standards/expectations, there is a need to take deliberate steps at identifying behaviors’ within the business which will be examples to be used as models what service standards/expectations are acceptable. Best-in-class processes, and ongoing communication facilitate the application of these standards/expectations with campaigns to all that are involved in service delivery. 

Providing excellent service can be a competitive advantage, so the key question is not how to improve service performance, but how to create a culture of continuous service improvement with an unwavering focus on customer experience. To successfully – and sustainably – differentiate based on service, improving customer experience must be the responsibility of the entire organization, not only a customer service department.  Businesses have to create an environment to motivate, support and recognise employees for consistently taking action to create value for customers and colleagues. A service culture also creates a better place to work. This engages and motivates employees to improve performance and helps organizations’ attract and retain superior talent.

A service culture can only be promoted if driven by leadership…the top down direction of creating and promoting a service culture cannot be over emphasized. Business leaders must “walk the talk” in promoting a service culture by being service leaders who get out to the frontline, as required, as this goes a long way to model behaviors’ across the business. 

Sustainability of a service culture is deeply rooted in the ongoing gathering, analysis and reporting on service performance indicators for each of the service elements / areas that have been defined based on the service standards/expectations set for the business. The results of the analysis become useful tools for future planning and improvement.

Every strong culture will have some customs and activities, which reinforce what is acceptable, admirable and important to the Group. These become enduring customs and any business that is serious about promoting a service culture should create strong customs to constantly reinforce the importance of providing excellent service. 

At Raffles Hotel, the daily “line-up” briefing is not to remind waiters about what’s on the menu. It’s a daily ritual to reinforce SERVICE as the main ingredient of their success.

At Singapore Airlines, the “round-up” with cabin crew before each flight is not to remind them where the plane is going. It’s a carefully scripted, participatory ritual requiring every member to offer a SERVICE tip and commit themselves to fulfill it.

At World of Sports, a brass bell hangs near the cash register. A colorful sign invites customers delighted with the service they received to “Ring the Bell!” and express their satisfaction. Every time that bell rings, this customer-involving ritual reinforces the staff’s passionate commitment to SERVICE.

There are many suggestions of ways that a business can reinforce culture with customs: “Service Hall of Fame”, “Staff of the Month”, “Service Provider of the Week”, “CEO Dinner with Our Service Award Winners”. It is created, named, and built by repeating it again and again. To promote a positive service culture, an organization should create better customs to promote and reinforce SERVICE.