Service with a smile!

Service excellence is a key differentiator 

By David Tovey

customer serviceAt 7am on a cold, rainy day in London a couple of weeks ago I called in at my favourite coffee shop – Pret A Manger near Marble Arch. My day had started at 04.30am – the drive into town had been long and miserable, I was feeling a bit ‘average’ to say the least.

That all changed within moments. The buzz and genuine smile from the counter staff was uplifting and made me feel that I wanted to smile back and make sure my “thank you” was equally bright and genuine. Of course I really appreciate their product too – high quality fresh produce made on the premises; but it’s their warm welcome that helped to kick off my day feeling good.

I got the same warm feeling when I had an early flight out of Heathrow recently. Checking in at 04.30am I headed for what I expected to be the usual service with a frown from a ‘chain’ coffee vendor but instead I found the ‘Leon Fair Trade and Organic Coffee’ outlet at terminal two. A total delight to be served fresh food with another genuine smile and warm welcome.

Somewhat different to the individual that runs the café at my local railway station or those outlets where you get that that trained in smile through gritted teeth. Maybe they should be reminded of that Chinese proverb “Man without smile should not open shop

Why the long face?

So why are some organisation able to go that extra mile and wow people with their service whilst others persist with the long face and grumpy delivery? I get hundreds of ‘service with a frown’ stories from clients and audiences I work with. It seems that service excellence is still rare (and therefore still a differentiator).

I learned some time ago that there a few core principles that apply to organisations who work at delivering service excellence. Whilst I have found that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to developing a great service attitude, I have discovered that there are a few constants that apply in every customer experience management project I’ve been involved with or studied.

Committed leadership

During a briefing on customer service to a board of directors a few months ago I presented a slide with the heading ‘Obstacles to success’. Before I revealed the answers I decided to ask the people around the table if they could guess the first major obstacle. After a few moments of silence the CEO said ‘I’m guessing you are going to say it’s the board’. I was able to reply that he was a very perceptive and accurate CEO!

Service excellence begins and ends with the senior leadership of an organisation. Wherever you experience indifferent service it is always down to the indifferent attitude of senior management. Without full leadership commitment, understanding of what is involved and willingness to provide appropriate resources; no project to create service excellence can be successful.

It is vital that every member of the senior management team is prepared to enthusiastically support a service excellence programme, committing time and energy over the long term on the good and not so good days.

The right systems

Organisations that deliver service excellence ensure that all systems and processes are designed to enhance service delivery. Too many organisational systems and processes have been designed to serve internal functions and not customers or the customer facing employees. This can seriously inhibit an organisation’s ability to create a service experience that enhances customer relationships and builds loyalty.

A service culture

I mentioned ‘Pret A Manger’ at the beginning of this article. Sometimes I arrive at one of their stores before they open and I’ve noticed that the front line and back room staff are huddled together in a team meeting before customers arrive. I happen to know it’s the same at John Lewis the department store (another exceptional business built on service excellence) as my daughter has worked for them for some years. At these early morning team meeting employees discuss the financial performance of the store and ways to improve the customer experience. They continually remind each other that their financial performance is closely linked to having happy, loyal customers who return to buy again and again.

They also remind each other that they need to provide service excellence to each other as well as their external customers.

If people are not experiencing exceptional service from their colleagues inside an organisation, they are incapable of delivering it to customers outside the organisation. The creation of an internal culture of service must therefore always be in place before service excellence can be delivered to external customers.

This means that work has to be done with people who may never come into direct contact with external customers so that they understand how they can support their front line colleagues.

Customer Connection

When an internal service culture is functioning well, attention can then focus to the ways the organisation connects with its customers. The focus here is on how everyone in the business can make a difference and that even little things can have a big impact on customers.

This includes getting a clear and accurate picture of how customers view the products and service being delivered. This can only be done through worthwhile and appropriate feedback. The occasional customer satisfaction survey won’t hack it, what’s needed is on-going event driven feedback that keeps managements finger on the pulse of what customers are thinking and feeling.

The best way to make use of feedback is to make sure everyone in the business knows what customers really think and then involve them in making improvements and overcoming any issues. You might be amazed how many incredible ideas come from unexpected sources in the organisation once people are involved and engaged.

I’m not suggesting that a genuine smile or warm welcome should be the only measurement of service excellence. Never the less, in my experience, those organisations with a great service reputation do tend to deliver that service with a smile!

David Tovey



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David Tovey

By David Tovey

David Tovey helps sales teams, business owners and professionals to build amazing business relationships, win more business and accelerate profitable growth.

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