Growing a Deep Service Culture

Humans Helping Humanely

by Tom Larkin

The service your customers experience is no accident. It is rooted in the attitudes, skills and knowledge of your service culture. Most of us are familiar with the oak tree metaphor of organizational culture. It’s a living system model showing what’s visible above the surface, and what’s invisible below the surface. Your service culture is like the oak tree. It’s alive, with elements seen and unseen. What's visible, like the trunk and branches, are your standards and behaviors that customers see. The invisible, the vital roots of your service culture, include values, vision, ideas, beliefs and feelings. These roots feed, support and sustain the style of service that shapes the quality of the customer experience created every day. As Adam Grant of the Wharton Business School noted; “culture is what people do when no one is looking.” We tend to conform to the norms and expectations of the culture we’re living in. The quality of the health, growth and influence of a deep service culture's roots rely on leadership alignment and employee buy in.

And as a living system, a deep service culture generates the type of energy, success stories, performance and impact that far exceed mere, data and metrics.

Recognized by caring accountability and effective empathy, deep service cultures manifest through their demonstration of personal, authentic engagement. It's heard and felt by service associates and customers because it is real and human. When service comes from these deep service roots, it centers on relationship over transaction, resolution over scripted courtesy, and a sincere human desire to help others. And it always resonates as “real” because it feels, and is, human.

Emotion and Technology

Emotion is on the radar and has been prevalent in customer experience thought leadership for at least the past few years. Bruce Temkin of the Temkin Group declared 2016 the “Year of Emotion” as emerging technology brought the power of analytics to the messy business of understanding customer emotion. Subsequently, 2018 was dubbed the “Year of Humanity.” With an emphasis on embracing diversity, extending compassion, and expressing appreciation,” it is a moniker that has been extended into 2019 as the focus on human engagement is no less relevant or timely than it was last year. 

While artificial intelligence advances and proliferates rapidly, we need to remain human as we balance the need for efficiency with the need for human effectiveness. Companies that accept the reality that human engagement always matters are taking a closer look at how to build a deep service culture.

Deep service equals deep loyalty ― with both employees and customers. It also generates additional, measurable benefits including:

  • Less customer defection

  • Fewer escalated issues

  • More employee discretionary effort

  • Increase employee satisfaction

  • Lower absenteeism

  • Better social media sentiment analysis

Three Steps to Building a Deep Service Culture

Focus on what’s invisible to cultivate the visible. 

  1. Create a conscious vision ― A conscious vision is based in the understanding that emotion is central to the human experience, and empathy is its acknowledgement.

  2. Align your vision to a standard ― Consciousness is extremely powerful when aligned with a clear, behaviorally-specific standard that supports your team in expressing your vision.

  3. Talk It and Walk It ― You give life to your standard when you communicate it, train to it, respect it and live it. Choose effectiveness over efficiency.  

When we create a conscious vision, align the vision to a standard, and attend to it in consistent and meaningful ways, a shift occurs. That shift is the natural, unforced transfer of intent from the organization to the individuals who will breathe life into it. How do you build and grow a deep service culture?  One effective, human interaction at a time.

Tom Larkin is president, CEO and co-owner of Communico Ltd. and has more than thirty years of experience as a consultant, coach, facilitator and business owner. He is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® and is also a part-time professor at Fairfield University.
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