Ron Kaufman, one of the best-known customer service consultants in the world, sat down for an exclusive interview with Business Review on his last visit to Romania. We talked about the best practices that companies can adopt to provide the best services for their clients and where most managers make mistakes when trying to please everyone.
What is the architecture of excellent services and where do most companies fail?
The Uplifting Service Architecture – it’s like a house – with a foundation, a roof and pillars.
The foundation is teaching people what it means to be in services, and what service excellence is, by giving them the principles and the tools to be able to achieve excellence in service whenever they serve a customer or a colleague.
Imagine now the roof of a house built on that foundation that has to do with leadership behaviors. There are seven fundamental rules of service leadership, all of which are articulated in our architecture, and then between the roof and the foundation are what we call 12 building blocks, which are the areas of activities that surround every member of your team, every employee in your organization.
So let me give you an example: at the foundation is the definition of service, taking action to create value for someone you care about. As the roof, you have the rules of service leadership, for example, you’ve got to be the one that declares service a top priority. You’ve got to measure what really matters, which is the number of new ideas and new actions to continuously improve service.
You’ve got to be a great role model who not only speaks about great service but walks the talk. That’s one of the seven rules. As for the 12 building blocks between the foundation and the roof, these are things like recruiting new people with the right attitude to join your organization and then giving them an outstanding onboarding experience so their first impression is that kind of positive service experience that you want them to offer in turn to their colleagues and, of course, to your external customers.
The 12 building blocks are categories of culture-building activities that exist in all large organizations. Your activities in the 12 categories must be continuously aligned and improved to build and reinforce a superior service culture.
Now to the question of where most companies fail: it’s not actually in taking responsibility for teaching people what it means to provide excellent service.
So few people have a good understanding of what service excellence means. They think it’s a standard, a level, an excitement, a wow. It’s nothing of these things.
Service is taking action to create value for someone you care about. Service excellence is taking the next action to create more value for the people you serve. Which means that excellence in service is the continuous focus on improvement. How can we be more proactive, more responsive, more creative, more collaborative, to figure out and take the next actions that create more value for someone else. That is excellence in service. And that’s the kind of service culture you want to create. That will allow you to not just earn loyal customers but also to be a step ahead of your competition.
To create quality services, most of the time, you will have to spend more. How can companies that want to spend as little as possible manage to also provide excellent services? Is there any solution to this?
You say that to create quality services, you will have to spend more. That is simply not true. Many people think of improving services and improving productivity as diametrically opposing objectives.
Increasing productivity means doing more with less, which means reducing service levels. Meanwhile, upgrading service means doing more than before, which causes productivity declines.
These views may be common sense, but they are also incorrect. Improving service and productivity go hand in hand and are easy to accomplish when you have the right understanding of what service really means.
Here’s our definition: Service is taking action to create value for someone else. With this definition, any action taken inside a company that does not create value for someone else is unnecessary, it’s not productive, and should be classified as “waste”. Yet there is a tremendous amount of wasted activity inside large organizations. This occurs as a result of ignorance (“I’m just doing what I’m told to do”), or legacy processes (“Because we have always done it that way”), or misaligned metrics of performance (“I’ll do whatever is needed to hit my KPIs”). And in many companies these behaviors persist year after year, because no one asks the right questions about who and how we serve.
In a country like Romania, how can public companies improve services to the population as to compare to those provided by private companies?
I believe the answer here is in what I call <<service benchmarking>>. In other words, looking outside of your industry to see where service is improving in other industries and what you can learn from that.
For example, if you’re an existing customer of Amazon.com now, you can buy something with one click. Now that’s a very good benchmark for a public company or for a government organization. To say <<If we already have the citizen or an employer or an employee, that is a consumer of our public services and they come to our website to be able to change an address, bring a new licence, submit plans for something – how fast, easy to understand and simple can we make that online interface?
A good benchmark for this within the same industry, government service, would be in Melbourne, Australia, recently rated as the no. 1 most liveable city in the world. I know the Chief Technology Officer of Melbourne and the kind of things that they do to make it easy for the population to get what they want and need from the government, leading the people of the city to actually want to help the government.
So for example, the government created an app that people can download into their phones where they can easily report illegally parked cars, abandoned vehicles, overflowing garbage bins, trees that have been damaged during a storm or graffiti on a public area that needs to be cleaned out.
Rather then the city sending patrols looking for these things, the citizens of Melbourne are now seeing them, snapping a picture and sending it to the city service. So the city service can actually spend less money on patrols and can be much more efficient on sending out the resources exactly to the locations where they need to be. How do they know where these locations are? The citizens themselves are providing that information. Why do the citizens do that? Because they want to help the city. Why do they want to help the city? Because the city has already done such a good job in serving them through other areas.
How do you manage to please all customers when they are so many and so different?
That’s exactly the point that we were pointing out earlier. Different customers value different things. For example, you may have a customer that says: <<Serve me fast!>> But your very next customer may say: <<Please, don’t rush me! I need your patience, I want to be able to take my time.>> You could have one customer that says: <<I want the cheapest price>>, but your next customer could say: <<I’m happy to pay more. Help me understand the benefits I can get>>.
So again the idea is not to do the same thing for everybody, it’s only to take those actions that are valued by that particular person. And how do you know which action to take? The focus is not on the actions, the focus is on the person that you serve.
You want to be curious about them, you want to understand them, explore their needs, listen to their concerns, find out about their ambitions, objectives, aspirations and hopes. You want to find out about their anxieties and worries and fears, so then you can appreciate what they will value now, in this situation. And with that understanding you can select specifically the right actions that will create value for that other person in that situation and you’ll not waste time, resources or energy doing anything other than what that particular customer will value and prefer.
Why is the human resource in a company so lightly taken for granted by the higher-ups? How can this problem be fixed?
The answer is that too many people in Human Resources consider themselves to be a transactional functional department. Almost like Finance, they thought that their job is to pay the bills and collect the money. The Finance Department should also see themselves helping the organization and people in it to understand how to use the money more effectively. How to anticipate upcoming costs, how to negotiate more effective contracts, how to learn to read reports, to be able to understand the terms and the percentages and the relationships between this and that. That will be a more powerful, more valuable Finance department than simply a finance department that says: <<We collect the money and we pay the bills>>. Well, it’s similar in Human Resources.
If HR says: <<Our job is to hire people and train people, fire people or compensate people>>, then they do not deserve a seat at the table with the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Operating Officer.
I think the Chief Human Resource Officer belongs at that table, but you have to earn the right to be there, by being the kind of HR that thinks like: What does this business need now? What kind of talent will this business need in the future? What are the skills and capabilities that our business will need to compete with? Our job in human resources is to bring that understanding to the senior level table, it’s to listen carefully to our C level colleagues at that table, to earn that right to be at the table.
So if you’re in the HR industry – and I love people in the HR industry because my career has been dedicated for helping to develop HR – then you get to understand yourselves as a vital part of the success of the business and not just as a transactional department that is doing human resource functions.
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