Early in my career, one of my first mentors and supervisors was the COO for a $1.5 billion organization in the Chicago area. He was extremely passionate about providing superior service. So much so he would regularly highlight one of our service standards during our weekly all-staff meetings.
One of the company values was timeliness. Therefore, a primary service standard was “We will answer the phone within two rings”. We never wanted any client or prospect to waste time hearing ring after ring wondering if we were even still in business. Therefore, we were required to forward our phones to someone who could answer it if we left our desk, or at least have calls forward to voice mail after one ring.
I found out just how passionate the COO was about our service standards when I was speaking to him about 50 yards outside his office and the phone on his desk began to ring. He had forgotten to forward his phone and was concerned about setting the wrong example. After he almost blew out a knee traversing three desks, two other employees, and a table with a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts on it, he made it to the phone after the third ring. His first remark to the caller was an apology for not answering the phone within two rings. There was never a question again as to how important it was to follow the service standards in our organization.
Later, the service standards formed the foundation for our ad campaign and sales strategy in our neighboring market. After gaining more than 10% market share in short order, our strong brand compelled our competitor in that market to begin merger talks. Unlike the experience from their current provider, our new clients received a consistent level of service they had not experienced previously.
Consistency is the core tenet of every brand. The creation and adherence to service standards are a key to establishing that consistency and to Branding the Experience for your customers. Here are a few steps to get started:
- Define the core values of your organization. Values are the “Who we are at our core”. Service standards are the “How we live our values, vision, and mission every day.”
- Share and explain these core values with your staff. Then challenge them to use those values to create service standards. Break them up into teams and give them examples. For instance, a core value of punctuality may translate to a standard of “We will return all calls within 24 hours”. A core value of engagement may lead to a standard of “We will greet all customers as they walk through our doors”.
- Review all service standards suggestions and condense them into one document. Getting staff involved is an important step to Branding the Experience. When they draft service standards it creates instant buy in. This isn’t yet something else handed down to them by management but something everyone is involved in. However, while there will be a number of great ideas produced, there will be some duplication and some suggestions that just won’t fit with the brand and culture. The final draft needs to be approved by management.
- Introduce the final draft of service standards by celebrating them. Post them where everyone can see them and hold each other accountable.
- Religiously reinforce the service standards. Remind staff that everyone took part in their creation and by following them we also produce a unique experience together.
Keep in mind that as with any strategy, it’s only as good as its implementation. A simple list of service standards that people understand and adhere to will always be more effective than a complex document that no one follows. Following them could be that one difference that creates a unique experience from that of your competitors and gives your organization an edge.