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Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle

5/29/2006

Service Standards -- no more

The days are gone when employees will be trained to follow customer service standards.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the idea of creating standards.

While the intention of creating standards for employees to follow is an honorable one, the very idea of standards can devolve quickly into "doing what the company wants so that I can avoid being fired".

This is not the best frame of mind to be in when it comes to trying to create a particular experience in the mind of customers.

However, it is quite easy to shift the focus from the internal need to "follow standards" to engaging in "Experience Practices" that are designed to produce a particular experience in the world of the customer. The term was recently coined by my colleague, Scott Hilton-Clarke, after some research that he did on the most recent thinking in the field.

I thought this was particularly brilliant innovation, as it changes the focus completely from compliance to creation.

These Experience Practices (or ExP's) can be designed for an entire company, a business unit and even for individual job functions.

But that is not even the beginning.

The first step is that a company must define the Experience it is trying to create in explicit terms. It is just not enough to say that the Experience should be good, or excellent or top class. These mean nothing anymore, especially in the Caribbean when the average employee has not experienced anything more than the best of "Frien' Service."

Instead, the Experience must be defined, and here I use my own firm as an example. Early in 2005, I decided to create a particular experience for my clients:
  • bring sunshine and hope to dark places
  • create new thinking and innovations
  • be relentless
  • speak truth to power
In short, I wanted my clients to experience all the above, and to do so at the major points of contact with the company or any of its representatives. The best way to do this would be to create Experience Practices at each point of contact.

In a larger company, this would mean training employees in the following:
  • what the experience is
  • how to recognize it
  • how to use the Practices to create them in the customer's experience
  • how to depart from the Practices when necessary
We know that the initial training could be modelled on the video-based feedback training outlined in our white paper available for download from our site: Lights! Camera! Action! During this experiential training, the employee would learn how to create the experience by being coached by a facilitator and his/her peers based on a handful of difficult cases or scenarios.

On an ongoing basis, however, the biggest difference would come from the kind of coaching that the employee receives from his / her manager in whether or not the experience is being created.

Customers that come into contact with employees that have been trained to "follow a customer service standard" often complain that the employees are robotic, and do not show the respect or flexibility that is necessary when the customers are real people with real needs that do not fall in line with a company's pre-planned process.

However, when the purpose is to create a particular experience, employees are able to focus on the right thing, and can then be trusted to create the right outcome for their customers.

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