Service Excellence and Leadership

Yesterday I was a guest speaker in Atlantic City at the 30th annual conference of the Association of Community Providers here in New Jersey. Their theme for this year's event was "Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities." The reason for this theme, and the focus of the convention, was Change. A great deal is changing in their industry. Ground-shaking change caused by the transition to "fee for service," as well as the Affordable Care Act.

While many of the other speakers were subject matter experts, I was asked to address leadership and service excellence. Here is a synthesis of the main points I shared.

S = Set the bar high. Customers in all segments, from banking to air travel to community care, are expecting more from their service providers. When customers have a choice of provider, the firms that set their bar higher and strive to raise their standards of quality, will gain the competitive advantage.

E = Establish the customer as the center of your dashboard. The late great Sam Walton once said There is really only one boss, the Customer, and he (or she) can fire every one of us simply by taking their business someplace else. Is your customer at the heart of all that you do?

R = Review your Mission. Everything you do should flow from it. Do all that you do with a sense of purpose. Especially with the customer in mind. Peter Drucker once said that the purpose of business is to create and keep the customer. That's it.

V = Vision & Values. What do you stand for when it comes to your customer? Taking care of your customers, creating solutions, fixing things when they go wrong, and making them feel cared about, noticed, well informed, reassured, and appreciated are the essentials. At British Airways they have this saying: "Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. "

I = Innovate & Improve continually. Remember the ABC of service excellence: Always Be Creating! New programs and new services come from continually seeking new ideas from your team and from other stakeholders.

C = Complaints are a gift. Though complaints are hard to hear at times, the unhappy customer is actually a great resource for service leaders with ingenuity. Bill Gates once said "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning" . . . and improvement.

E = Expect the best from yourself and your team. Utilize the power of positive expectations. "High expectations are the key to everything," Sam Walton once said. With positive expectations in mind and communicated to your team, you create the conditions most conducive to achieving your goals as an organization.

Which brings us squarely to the leader. Leadership is the number one success factor in service excellence and in organizational performance.

What should the service leader do?

L = Listen & Learn. Once the leader has communicated the direction that the team needs, she then must listen to them. Ask questions to get the discussion moving: What are your ideas? What can we do to improve? Then listen. And learn. One of the most powerful leadership skills available is listening. Truly listening, attentively, without distraction. You may hear some good ideas. Occasionally even a brilliant one. Listening is the best way to show respect to another person. And to honor the contributions they can make.

E = Empower your team. The key to your team's success is trust. Take the risk of letting go and giving some of your power to your people. That's essentially what the word 'empowerment' is saying. Yes, it's scary. It means giving up some control. But by making your staff stronger, you strengthen the whole organization.

A = Assist your team. If your resources are constrained and you are "under the gun" to produce results, you will need to get in there, roll up your sleeves, and pitch in. At the same time, however, be sure to make time in your weekly schedule to assess your team members. Acknowledge each on an individual basis. Appreciate the strengths each one brings to your organization and do your best to play to those strengths.

D = Delegate to develop your team. Organizations known for service excellence, like Disney, Southwest Air, and Costco, invest a lot in developing their people. Delegation of assignments and responsibility is a great way to develop others. Plus it empowers them to take on more, growing not only their skills but also their sense of ownership.

E = Equip and Enable your team. Leaders grow and strengthen their people. They do this by teaching and by coaching. Do your people have what they need to do the job and succeed? Do they work well together? Make time on a regular basis to strengthen them as a team by facilitating team building sessions. (Let me know how I can help you with that.)

R = Reinforce & Recognize. In today's change-filled environments, we all need constant reinforcement of knowledge just to keep up and anticipate what is coming next. Anyone who is doing their best in such a situation should be recognized and praised for their accomplishments.

S = Show that you care. The service leader shows that she cares about her people by sharing information and supporting them with flexibility. Bill Marriott once famously clarified the connection between leadership and customer service when he said Take care of your people and they will take care of your customers.

So what do you think? Are you a service leader? How well do you measure up?

Remember what Warren Bennis said about leadership: Leadership is the capacity to turn vision into reality.

What does your customer want? Do you know? Have you designed your organization to deliver service excellence?

It's up to you.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Saturday November 23, 2013


shem said…
excellent guidance, thank you for posting
James L. Casa said…
That was an excellent program that you gave on Friday, Terry. You provided information that will surely help us in our personal work and mission.
James L. Casa said…
Terry,your program on Friday was excellent and sure to help us in our work and mission.
Terrence Seamon said…
Shem and Jim, Thanks so much for your kind words. I love it when visitors leave comments.

Jim, It was nice meeting you last week in Atlantic City. Let me know how I can further support your organization.

Best wishes!

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