As a leader, you have a significant impact on employee performance. Service management focusses on the links between leadership, employee performance, stable customer experience and the financial results of the company.
In the struggle for customers, so-called ‘price wars’ arise, with companies vying to be best placed in terms of being the cheapest. Industry by industry exposes itself to massive price pressure, while profit margins shrink.
But customers also price comparison to choose where to buy, rather than considering the ‘big picture’ before the decision is made. ‘The big picture’ is about more than price – it may include employee product expertise, interest in customer needs, complaints, service, warranties after the purchase and, not least, the purchase experience itself.
Most businesses will claim that they are consumer orientated and put the customer first. Easy to say – not so easy to do.
However, if you do deliver a customer-first experience in a ‘big picture’ context, you’ll have a more competitive edge in price-sensitive trading conditions.
This article is about directing employees towards intensive in-store contact that creates positive experiences for customers on a daily basis. Are there any shortcuts to good service management and good customer experiences? Sadly, no. Successful achievement in this field means gaining good customer feedback over time – and a constant quest to improve in their eyes.
Many executives ask if there any smart moves that can make them lead their employees towards top performance with customers? And thankfully, there are several smart moves you can make – but doesn’t mean anything is a quick fix. These six steps, on the other hand, are a very good start on the road to good service management. We call it service management in practice.
First and foremost, the company must have a thoughtful customer approach. This means, among other things, that the company has a clear relationship with what values they should create for its customers, what service concepts they should have and what quality they will be delivered to the customer. This is the corporate customer strategy and forms the basis for how we practice service management in practice.
Step 1 – Learn what drives customer satisfaction and loyalty
If you don’t already know, get acquainted with what impacts customers’ satisfaction and loyalty. This is essential in order to provide good service management. Can you find out what your customers think is important?
We like to compare these drivers with a big tree. Imagine that the roots represent the most important thing you do to your customers. These are customer expectations that are very basic and which customers require fulfilled every single time. If you do not deliver these experiences, there is a high risk of losing your customers. However, if you deliver, it is not a guarantee that customers become loyal. The customer thinks ‘That’s the least I expect’. Without the roots, the tree will fall.
The trunk of the tree symbolizes the competence of the company. What do customers expect you to do? What skills do you need to give the customer good advice and offer the right purchase? Do you have the skills to offer your customers what you say you can? But even here, you don’t gain loyalty just because you deliver. Customers expect to get help with and expertise about the products and services sold. Still, there are many companies that don’t deliver. But those who do simply can’t do enough.
At the top of the tree, the performance of the employees, their behaviour and ability to build relationships plays a crucial role. Here you surprise the customers with a little extra and the customer thinks ‘wow – I wasn’t expecting that’.
Delivering customer experiences, when they’re seen as additional benefits, strengthens customer relationships and increases competitiveness. The top of the tree symbolises performance that strengthens the relationship with the customer. This is where loyalty is created, provided that solid roots and trunks are in place.
‘Once you know the tree for your industry and your business, you can facilitate the employees who will deliver the content of the tree to the customers.’
Step 2 – Find out how well you perform in the customers’ eyes
To provide good service management, you need to know how good customer experiences really are in your business. Preferably, you need access to this information continuously – every day, without fail.
Putting systems in place to gauge ongoing customer feedback is probably the best investment you can make – assuming that you are using the knowledge to run good service management and that the information goes to those who actually handle the customers every day. If you don’t have access to this type of information already, start tomorrow. Set time aside to interview 3-4 customers a week. Make a simple questionnaire based on the driver’s tree and ask customers how they perceive your company. You will be surprised at how much useful information you get. This obviously does not replace a continuous customer survey, but is a good start to gain more knowledge. And that’s what you’ll need for Tip 3.
Step 3 – Create arenas for learning and exchanging experiences
This is the very essence of good service management. You have identified the gaps between what customers think is important in the business and what you actually deliver every day. Now the real work begins: using this knowledge for learning and sharing of experience. And firstly, you’ll need some meeting places where learning can take place.
‘Creating arenas for learning and development does not mean having a complex meeting structure and a lot of time away from daily activities – on the contrary, this is about exploiting the little moments during the day.
For example, it is about creating pep talks that take a maximum of 5 minutes each day. Highly-focussed chats where only the most important nuggets are discussed. If you want to spend more time and resources, maybe a weekly talk is right. The most important thing is to establish arenas for customer orientation and to provide room for learning customer feedback and own experiences.
My experience is that very many businesses stop after Step 2. They think the job is done, so Step 3 is not implemented. Measurement becomes the answer and the solution. Graphs, comparisons and rankings become sole topics occasions where employees and managers meet. First place is celebrated and everyone else is loser – while most people go home thinking ‘must do better’.
The ranking becomes more important than the learning – and the motivation for customer orientation is gone.
Step 4 – Give pep talks
What is a pep talk? Here, PEP stands for Planning Effective Performance. In short: look ahead to ensure better outcomes. At its simplest, a good pep talk is about three main questions:
- What have we done that worked well?
- What have we done that did not work well?
- What will we do next time?
A properly-implemented pep talk is fully focussed on what’s going to happen in the future and does not dwell solely on what’s been done. The length of a pep talk may vary, but for it to be workable, I recommend most businesses short sessions of 5-10 minutes either daily or weekly. The team should gather at agreed times with employees well prepared for what they should contribute. The manager and staff should share their knowledge and experience. Pep talks with a clear theme and the strong involvement of employees will contribute to high degree of implementation and commitment around what is agreed.
Step 5 – Provide good service delivery
It is the manager’s responsibility to arrange the workplace so that employees are able to deliver what is promised to the customer. What inhibits and what promotes service delivery? As a service manager you have a responsibility to remove inhibitors.
‘A concrete step is simply to ask the employees if they have what they need to deliver the quality of service we want and what the customers expect.
Examples of key questions are:
- Have the employees received enough training?
- Do they have the equipment and tools they need?
- Do they have enough time?
- Do they have sufficient authority?
Step 6 – Use the coaching leadership style
It would be odd if the use of a given leadership style solved challenges in the field of service management. And it doesn’t. The so-called coaching management style is just one of many tools you have.
But several of the above steps are a coaching approach. When performing good pep talks, facilitating service delivery and creating venues for learning and experience sharing, you rely on moving into the employees’ universe.
‘Coaching means watching the world through your employees’ eyes.
We are talking about five typical behavioural features that characterize the coaching leadership style:
- Be tenacious
- Create clear expectations above the employees
- Give good follow-up and feedback to the employees
- Stimulate co-operation between employees
- Stimulate independent development and show recognition of good achievements.
As a service manager, you will benefit from taking this step seriously. Take part in training in this area, read up on the topic and try out different tools of leadership. Be curious about how you can act as a coach and support independent action rather than controlling the employees.
Good luck with your service management in practice.