Bestselling author, Ron Kaufman was recently in Karachi to conduct The Service Leadership workshop. Here he talks to Marylou Andrew about the correlation between service and profit and why companies must create a self-sustaining service culture.
MARYLOU ANDREW: You have written a bestselling book called Uplifting Service. What is ‘uplifting service’ and why call it ‘uplifting’?
RON KAUFMAN: To me there are two parties involved in service: the one receiving it and the one giving it, often referred to as the customer and the service provider. Uplifting service means that you are creating a better, more uplifting experience for the customer. However, it should also be an uplifting experience for the person providing the service. So you need an uplifting service culture as well as providing an uplifting service to whomever it is you serve.
MLA: Do you need an uplifting culture before you provide an uplifting service?
RK: Not necessarily so; in other words you could have a ‘hero’ – someone who goes beyond the call of duty or goes the extra mile and delivers great service even if the culture of the company is not strong. Is it possible? Yes. Is it sustainable? No. And that is why you need the culture otherwise those good, heroic people are not going to stick around. What you want to do is create a culture that attracts people like that. There is another reason that the book is called Uplifting Service, the word ‘service’ itself – many people hear it and think this is something below them. But the reality is that the purpose of every profession is to serve someone in some way.
MLA: How does uplifting service correlate with having competitive advantage?
RK: In today’s world, commoditisation and globalisation have resulted in the rapid reduction of prices for everything. Even Apple has to wrestle with the fact that Samsung is there and both Apple and Samsung are wrestling with the fact that Taiwan is talking about having a $35 smartphone. So all of a sudden it is not about getting your profitability on a sustainable basis, based on the margin from any one sale of a product. It has got to be on having a relationship with your buyers so that they keep coming back and they are not going to keep coming back if you are only offering the best product or the best price. They can get this anywhere. They are coming to you for that experience and that means there is a service element involved. I don’t think of service as the smile, eye contact, body language part – service is taking action to create value for someone else. That action could be by giving the right product, delivering on time, by being friendly and helpful or by knowing what the customer needs and then making a good recommendation for the next purchase.
MLA: Why do companies spend so much money on marketing, product development, sales etc., but neglect service?
RK: It is an old paradigm that says marketing, product development, advertising and sales activity all takes place before the sale, so it looks like the more I spend the more I make; whereas customer service care, follow up, follow through and attention to existing customers, that is all after the sale, so it looks like the more I spend, the more my profit is being reduced. But what that misses is that the people who have already bought from you are the ones who are most likely to buy from you again so you have to keep them. Meanwhile, every other company is out there with their advertising and marketing trying to take your customer away. So putting more investment into the after sales side of service will pay off tremendously.
MLA: What are the principles behind creating a self sustaining service culture within the organisation?
RK: There are three major elements. Think about it like a house; you need a foundation, a roof and all the elements in between. The foundation is proper service education – not training – actually teaching people how to think about service. It means having people understand that if service means taking action to create value for someone else then the most important thing is ‘who is the someone else’, not ‘what action should I take’, not ‘did I follow the checklist or the procedure’. The roof is service leadership and there are seven rules that service leaders need to follow and those are the behaviours of excellent service leaders. Some are as straightforward as being a good role model and others as provocative as removing the roadblocks to service. Everything in the middle is what is called the 12 building blocks of the uplifting service culture. These are having a common service language because every department has their own language, having an engaging service vision, recruiting people who are genuinely switched on to be part of your vision, having an orientation experience for new people so that within the first week they are saying, ‘I am so glad I joined this company’, service communications (what is on the wall, in the newsletter, etc.), service recognition and reward (the pat on the back, the bonus, the bravo), voice of the customer (how do we find out what customers are saying and feeling about us), measures and metrics (what are we keeping track of that are leading indicators of good service), service improvement process (contests, suggestions schemes), service recovery and guarantees (what do you do when things go wrong?), service benchmarking (looking at what other people in other industries are doing) and the last one is service role modelling.
MLA: You talked about the top of the house where the leadership is responsible for role modelling. Is that the key to maintaining a sustainable service culture?
RK: Absolutely; we did a big project with a large software company, but as we tried to move up the very senior people only wanted to know about sales. As a result they would frustrate people who wanted to come up with new ideas.
MLA: So what you are saying is that a shift in mindset from being purely profit oriented to being service oriented is required.
RK: Profit is the applause you receive for the service performances you have already delivered; if you want more profit focus on the service. But that is not how senior leaders look at it because they are focused on share price and profitability, because that is how they are being compensated or judged by Wall Street, their investors or peers. But the thousands of people within organisations don’t deal with that every day; they deal with a real person, a real situation, and that is where the focus should be.
MLA: What impact does uplifting service have internally?
RK: One of the mistakes companies make when they want to improve service is that they focus on the customer facing employee. It seems obvious because he is the one talking to the customer. But if you go to that person and tell them ‘here is what we want you to do to give better service’, and that person is not getting good service from HR, finance, IT, admin, etc., then at a certain point you are going to frustrate him because they need better service supporting them, even if it is just at the level of a higher morale to be able to go out and do what you want them to do. But if you start improving service from your internal service providers to those who are facing the customer then they are will be like ‘yeah, I am getting such great support from my colleagues so I can go out and be a champion for the company’.
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