The current business environment is characterized by the abundance of choices, instantaneous sharing of information, and the re-emergence of the buyer as the “king”. The purchase of goods and services are no longer bound by location or by brick-and-motar establishments, and globalization has made consumer products and services more and more homogeneous.
In this challenging environment, many businesses are re-evaluating the value of service excellence as a means of differentiating themselves from the competition and achieving business advantage. Service excellence today goes beyond the traditional greeting, warm smile, and thanks. These are now expected as standard, and sophisticated consumers expect much higher levels of service. The good news is that, when properly designed and effectively executed, service excellence can be a powerful and sustainable differentiator, bringing significant value to the business.
To derive sustainable competitive advantage from service excellence, a few elements must be present – namely consistently good service delivery, unique service value propositions, and the internal systems and structures to sustain and grow a service culture.
Service Delivery – this refers to the baseline service standards that are derived from the service values of the organization, and form the core set of behaviors for all staff. These service standards are consistently and uniformly delivered to enhance the customer experience, by increasing convenience, enhancing comfort, and managing time to speed up unpleasant activities or lengthen pleasurable ones. In addition to the behaviors of staff, sophisticated organizations establish customer experience standards that target all five senses – such as unique fragrances to invoke specific emotions, the use of specially woven fabrics to provide a particular touch, the use of colors to suit or establish different moods, special blends of drinks for that unique taste, and the use of sounds and specially composed music to soothe or excite. Over time, these behaviors, experiences, and service standards become identified with the organization, such as with the Ritz Carlton or with Singapore Airlines;
Service Propositions – this refers to the various service value propositions undertaken by the organization to deliver a unique experience. These service propositions serve to set the organization apart from the competition, and is often very difficult to replicate. For example, some organizations integrate their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs with their service propositions, engaging and making their customers contribute towards the organization’s CSR efforts. Most recently, more organizations are appealing to the younger Gen Y consumer by linking their spending to causes such as reforestation, feeding the poor, or providing education to those who cannot afford it. The “feel good” factor that consumers derive from the knowledge that their buying behavior has real impact on various social causes drives discretionary buying in favour of organizations that support these causes. Other organizations offer liberal return or exchange policies as a means of assuring quality, and attracting shoppers who welcome the “safety net”; and
Systems and Structures – the foundation of any successful service excellence initiative ae the systems and structures in place to sustain and grow the culture of service. Key components would include a comprehensive training program to ensure that all new employees learn how to behave in a way that supports the organization’s service values, a rewards and recognition framework to recognize, celebrate, and motivate the appropriate behaviors, a system of audits to measure service standards and ensure they are maintained, and a structure to govern, review, and enhance the delivery of excellent service.
The HR professional plays an integral role to establish the underlying culture of excellent service. In addition to training, such a service and customer centric culture will need to be supported by effective leadership, appropriate structures, and associated performance measures. HR professionals will also need to take the lead in leading and managing change within the organization, and to bring about lasting behavioral change.
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