Seeking service supremacy

2008-03-06 00:00

For years, customer service has been high on the agenda of many companies. Consumers are constantly bombarded with advertising messages, extolling the virtues of a particular company’s service prowess. Yet many organisations fail to reach their potential and the mantra of service excellence has become tarnished in the minds of many across the business spectrum.

Several years ago, while consulting for a European multinational, I reached the conclusion that service excellence is a necessary, but insufficient condition. The European and American traditions go way beyond that which is practised in this country. For example, ensuring that the phone is answered in a certain number of rings, or that company employees deal with customers in a helpful and friendly manner, are not only regarded as assumed practices, but are often seen as passé.

The globally successful organisations have moved into the realm of generating a new level of competitiveness through seeking service supremacy. Even companies from rapidly developing economies recognise that success in the global arena is to a large extent dependent upon how well customers are treated. In its recently published report The 2008 BCG 100 New Global Challengers. How Top Companies from Rapidly Developing Economies are Changing The World, The Boston Consulting Group makes the point that these top performers have gone beyond cost-based competitive measures into research and development and branding, while retaining their cost advantages. This strategy implies the need to redefine the extent to which a company needs to go to be service orientated in the modern global arena. Sadly, South Africa did not have one inclusion in this top 100 list.

For the local business that wants to be head and shoulders above its opposition, I offer nine principles which, if implemented correctly, will assist in developing the kind of service focus which will achieve this objective.

Firstly, supremacy has to start with the CEO. It is his or her responsibility to create the conditions for building and sustaining a culture of service supremacy that will permeate every nook and cranny of the organisation. Secondly, every employee has to think supremacy and not just excellence. Everyone has to be geared towards being better than his or her counterparts in opposition companies. Thirdly, management needs to adopt a holistic approach to service rather than treating it as an extension of its company’s existing business model. Fourthly, the CEO needs to decide how the company should see itself in the marketplace as this will influence its behaviour towards customers as well as its creative strategic thinking. Principle number five is for the CEO to not only compose a service vision to be used as an on going reference point for all employees, but also to ensure that it does not get forgotten.

Developing a strong sense of internal harmony, principle number six, ensures that all employees in the organisation are harmoniously interconnected with one another. Harmony on the inside leads to groundbreaking service on the outside. The seventh principle is the eradication of the five thieves of service energy: arrogance, autocracy, apathy, complacency and inconsistent service. The penultimate principle is never to underestimate the power of intent. Service intent on the part of managers assists employees to have volitional control over their behaviour towards customers, as opposed to it being whimsical in nature. Lastly, is the need to reinforce service principles throughout the entire organisation. All employees need to be exposed to and fully understand the principles upon which the strategy of service and market supremacy is built.

These fundamentals provide the basis for a more globally competitive approach to one’s business.

• Paul Dorrian is a management consultant, author and teacher, specialising in strategy, marketing and customer service.

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