Don't Promise Service Excellence If You Can't Deliver It In a world characterised by fierce competition for market share, the quality of the services an organisation provides is often its only differentiating factor. The truth is, while most organisations preach service excellence, few deliver it.
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While companies that sell sought-after brands may well be able to get away with poorer-quality service, the services industry relies on service excellence to create a good impression and ensure repeat business.
A word-of-mouth industry
It's accepted that the service industry operates largely via word of mouth. While competing organisations may offer similar services on paper, it's how they deliver them that makes all the difference. When clients receive excellent service, they will refer the business to others.
Organisations must, however, ensure that if they punt their service as a differentiating factor, they need validation from their clients i.e. Do they offer the personal touch; do they build strong relationships with key players in the organisation; are they strategic partners; and is their service better than anyone else's?
Service excellence needs to be a top-driven value
Organisations are often quick to point out that client facing staff must provide excellent service. The reality is service excellence should start at the top of the organisation and be a clearly defined value for every employee, from the CEO to the office cleaner. This will ensure it informs all the activities and interactions of employees at every level.
Recruit the right attitude
It's often said "employ for attitude' because you can develop the skill. While some organisations may need a minimum professional qualification, employing for attitude is an important consideration.
Employees should take pride in their work and be passionate about their careers. A high performing team lives, breathes, eats and sleeps service excellence. It's second nature for them to go the extra mile to ensure their clients' satisfaction.
Induction is not a quick fix
How new employees are inducted sets the tone for how they will perform in the long run and informs the quality of the services they will deliver to clients. The concept of service excellence is different from organisation to organisation.
It's critical that new employees understand and buy into the various nuances of what defines service excellence in their new roles.
In our organisation, induction is not a one-day session in the boardroom. It includes an initial induction process combined with ongoing coaching on how to translate every action and activity into service excellence. We want our people to understand and align themselves with exactly what we mean by service excellence.
Train for high performance
How employees are trained is critical to the quality of service they deliver. If we accept the premise that service excellence differs from one organisation to the next, it's self-evident that someone who was employed as an attorney at one consultancy will not automatically understand how the same role will need to be fulfilled — from a service excellence perspective — at another consultancy.
This is where ongoing training comes into play. It needs to constantly evolve. This allows service excellence to become deeply entrenched in employees' everyday working lives and ensures you develop high-performing teams.
Employees need to feel valued
Happy employees translate into happy clients. Happy employees are not necessarily people who are never reprimanded or don't experience stress. They work long hours and go out of their way to deliver on massive projects because they buy into what the organisation stands for and feel valued, recognised and well remunerated.
Only when employers treat their staff well, remunerate them fairly and invest in their development, can they expect the highest quality of service from them.
Leaders need to have the right discussions with their people. These should not only be about targets and how much money needs to be made. They should also centre around service excellence. Good leaders explore topics with their employees and check in with them to see if they are still aligned with the organisation's values.
Internal service levels are as important as external ones
The quality of services that employees provide internally, is directly correlated to the service they will provide to clients externally. The way they view service within the business sets the tone for how they view service excellence at large.
Get support structures right
Organisations need to ensure their internal structures, processes, procedures and policies support service excellence. Sometimes a procedure or process can create a bottleneck, which obstructs employees' efforts to deliver excellent service and disappoints clients. Continually re-evaluate your internal structures to ensure seamless service delivery.
Know thy client
This is the first commandment of service excellence. Many organisations say they provide superior service, but do they understand their clients' businesses?
Do they take a personal interest in the people they interact with? Do they get their views on how they perceive service excellence? Following up with clients is paramount.
Are their expectations being met? Do they have unrealistic expectations? Are some employees delivering and others not? Are there issues that need to be addressed?
Is the company over-promising and under-delivering? These can only be determined if you are close to your clients and communicate with them regularly.
Commit to agreed deliverables
Time is money. Our technology-driven economy means clients expect superior service, delivered within quicker timeframes. To meet clients' expectations, turnaround times need to be agreed on and met.
It's critical that all employees deliver a standardised level of service. If only one or two people deliver service excellence, a perception of service excellence can be shattered.
When deadlines won't be complied with, communication is key. The reality is that sometimes service expectations cannot be met. Your client should not have to chase you for an explanation of why something has not been delivered. It's up to you to keep them informed.
Don't sell what can't be delivered
Often the sales process sabotages service excellence. When there is no congruence between what sales people promise and what employees can deliver, there is a very real danger of not being able to meet clients' expectations. Ensure your sales people are equipped to sell your offerings and have in-depth knowledge of what you can or can't do.
Respond to clients' complaints
The way service providers deal with clients' complaints differentiates top performing businesses. Clients need to know their complaints are taken seriously and dealt with at the highest level. Communication is key and the more information you glean, the easier it is to solve the problem.
Consistency is key
The services companies deliver to their clients should be reliable, consistent and underpinned by integrity. By building strong relationships with clients, and understanding their needs, service providers can position themselves as invaluable strategic partners.
Ultimately, consistency of excellent service delivery builds trust and trust keeps clients coming back for more and strengthens brands.