Having a service culture takes more than just talk

Just saying “We deliver great service” doesn’t guarantee employees are really wowing customers and clients. Words like “service” and “excellence” don’t mean anything unless your staff lives and breathes those commitments.
Great service is rooted in a culture shared by everyone in the organization – front line, back office, and management.
Culture provides a frame of reference for people and establishes formal and informal ‘rules’ for how people live in a specific environment, be it family or workplace.
Having a service culture is a much stronger commitment than just telling people to provide great service.
A culture is established at every level of the organization. It’s supported by written policies and procedures and demonstrated by people’s interactions on a daily basis. In a large organization, there can be several subcultures going on at the same time.
The business as a whole has a culture and different branches or departments may have their own distinct cultures. This is something to be aware of so that the values around service remain intact, no matter where the business is being conducted.
In a strong culture with consistent values for everyone, people are motivated to operate in a way that supports the status quo and it applies to everyone, no matter what the position.
For example, the Human Resources Director sees employees as customers and is challenged to meet the same service expectations that an employee who works with external customers is expected to meet. By approaching service in this way, people develop a stronger investment in the organization because they personally experience great service and know how it feels. Hopefully, they want their customers to feel that way as a result of the service they receive.
A positive cycle gets created and people want to continue dealing with each other.
A service culture uses service as the core value that guides all decisions as they are made. When determining whether a new product or service is going to be offered, one of the most important questions should be: How does this positively impact our customer?
Policies and procedures are always evaluated in light of how they support service to customers. The culture supports the belief that my customer is anyone who isn’t me.
This means there is a commitment to providing the same level of service internally to each other as there is to the external customer.
In a service culture there is clarity about the core values of the organization, its mission, and the expectations. People are taught what service looks like from their first day of work.
It’s one thing to say, “We provide great service.” It’s another to define behaviorally for employees what that looks like.
Examples of defining specific behaviors include responding to every suggestion with a phone call within two business days, following up with a thank-you note to every new customer within three business days, checking back with a customer that may have had a problem to make sure everything is now resolved.
Very small actions can make a huge difference in people’s perceptions. Training employees to think creatively about how they can positively impact someone who does business with you will benefit everyone; it’s a win-win situation. Next month, I will focus on the role of the leaders in an organization to make sure the value of service stays alive and well no matter what.

— Kathy Washatka is the former VP of Operations at WECU. She is the owner of The Washatka Group, a consulting and training company specializing in leadership development, planning, and customer service.

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