Defining a Culture of Service Excellence.
By Dennis Snow
Sunday, 21st February 2010
When asked to describe their corporate culture, business leaders sometimes struggle to answer.

Responses often run the gamut from vague generalities such as "we have a culture of putting the customer first" to recitations of the company's mission statement.

I believe that you can see a company's culture simply by watching what employees are doing and how they do it. In short, a company's culture is defined by what people do within the organization.

The critical point of course, is to have a culture by design rather than by default. Many organizations simply allow their culture to evolve with no plan or direction and then wonder why there's no consistency of performance and no anchor for accountability. A much better strategy is to understand exactly what you want to happen within the organization and build the culture accordingly.

While an organization's culture is made up of many elements, my focus is helping organizations define the service component of their culture. And the process for doing so is quite simple, consisting of two questions:
  • What we want our customers to say about their experience with us?
  • What employee behaviors would lead them to say those things?
For question number one I recommend crafting three statements you want customers to say about their experience. These statements can come from survey data, focus groups, observations, or from a variety of other sources. But coming up with three statements forces an organization to define the customer experience in terms of outcomes that lead to customer loyalty.

At Walt Disney World for example, the three statements that lead customers to want to return and to also talk about their experience in glowing terms are these:
  • It was a magical experience.
  • They paid attention to every detail
  • They made me and my children feel special.
Certainly Disney wants guests to say a lot of other things about their experience, but these three statements are at the core of guest loyalty.

In my business as a speaker and consultant, I want my clients to say:
  • He knew our business and customized the program content to our unique situation.
  • He didn't just provide concepts; he provided specific tools to help us apply what we learned.
  • He made learning fun.
These three statements came from reviewing testimonials from clients that have either had me back a second time and/or referred me to other clients. In essence, these are the statements that lead to customer loyalty in my business.

After defining what I want clients to say, pinpointing the behaviors that would lead them to say those things is pretty straight forward. For the first statement, for example, it's important for me to talk with members of the organization, research industry data, and connect every learning point to their situation. As I prepare for a client engagement, the behaviors I need to demonstrate to achieve these statements guide my planning process. And those times when I don't feel as successful as I would've liked to have been, it's usually because I violated my own rule.

Ideally this approach should be used at the organizational level. That way you have consistent behaviors across the entire organization. It can, however, be used at the department level and even at an individual level. It all depends on what your sphere of influence is. As a bank teller for instance, what three things do you want your customers to say about any interaction with you? What behaviors would lead customers to say those three things?

While this approach may seem overly simple, I think simplicity is what makes it work. Leonardo da Vinci said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."

What three things do you want customers to say about your organization?

What employee behaviors would lead customers to say those things?

About Dennis

Dennis Snow's customer service abilities were honed over 20 years with the Walt Disney World Company. There, he developed his passion for service excellence and the experience he brings to the worldwide speaking and consulting he does today.

He began his Disney career in 1979 as a front-line attractions operator. As he advanced through the company, Dennis managed various operating areas throughout the park, learning and applying the skills it takes to run a world-class, service-driven organization.

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