We have spent a lot of effort over the last 9 months on improving service excellence both for ourselves and for several of our clients. I believe I first mentioned this topic here. Most businesses thrive or fail base on three outward-facing attributes: the customer experience they provide, service excellence, and the right balance between quality and price. Perhaps in future posts I will speak of the other attributes, but for now here are a few thoughts on service excellence.
In our own firm, we emphasize quality and responsiveness to our clients above just about everything else. As our business has grown, we have recognized the challenge of maintaining quality and service and therefore we laid out a process during the middle of last year to assist us in winning the challenge. There is no “rocket science” here, but the only way the process works is by strict adherence to the rules. Often times, getting your organization to follow a process is where you do need some rocket science. Here is our process in a nutshell:
- Every known client deliverable or request is scheduled and tracked.
- Every deliverable that will take a day or longer to complete requires a template (in other words, we decide what our output should look like before we begin).
- Every client deliverable that will take longer than two weeks will be broken into smaller deliverables. Client feedback will be sought on at least a weekly basis.
- Every client deliverable that will take a day or longer to complete (even weekly status reports) is subjected to internal peer review. We are very self-critical.
- We proofread our written documents before release.
- We maintain an overall schedule and task list to jog our memories and check the task list daily.
- We notify clients in advance if our work is running behind schedule for any reason. We are honest and transparent.
- We try our best to be pleasant at all times, despite the pressure of accomplishing our goals.
- We treat our clients and our team like they are valued friends. We strive for their 100% satisfaction.
- We review our progress regularly and consistently.
- We take prompt, corrective action if we see that we are failing to live up to the standards we expect of ourselves.
Like I mentioned earlier, there is no rocket science in this list, which prompts a question: why do so many organizations struggle to follow this list or a similar one?
Here are a few answers to that question.
- Many businesses either don’t have a list like this or they have one but will tell us that it is an informal list, and it is only used every so often or when they believe it is necessary. Usually, this means that the process will be invoked once it is too late and some damage has been done.
- Businesses often lack a formal and recurring method to ensure accountability. They are lacking the “review” step and the “corrective action” step I refer to in my last two bullets above. I used to work for one organization that would have a Town Hall meeting every six months. At the Town Hall, we would here from the CEO and COO about the importance of our corporate values. Then everyone would leave the room and we would not hear about our core values again until the next meeting in six months. At another organization, there would be a January kick-off meeting for this year’s strategy and goals. Next January we would talk about our new strategy and goals for the next year. We never talked at all during this year about departmental or individual objectives, our progress in achieving our goals or strategy, any key interim actions or deliverables, etc. We never mentioned this year’s goals ever again. How successful do you think that organization was? (hint: despite being a multi-billion dollar organization, they did find a way to erase about five years of net income, and managed to shrink in size very substantially).
- Businesses struggle with transparency. They don’t like sharing problems with their clients and they don’t like sharing problems with themselves either. But you can see many successful cases of businesses explaining to their clients, shareholders or employees where they are falling short and using that event as a defining moment to achieve the necessary improvement. Courageous organizations are not afraid to be transparent because they know they can lead themselves to new heights.
On this coming Monday morning when you get back to work: make sure you have a process for achieving service excellence, establish some method for ensuring accountability via regular review and corrective action, and communicate honestly and openly. Remember to be pleasant, too. Have a nice weekend.