Standards of Service

Standards of Service: the sum of all the little details and interactions between a business
and its customers.

Every business has them. They all sound great, too. In fact, if you listened to all of the
mission statements pertaining to serving the customer that echo throughout the halls of
commerce, you’d think you were on some strange utopian planet, where the customer
is king.

The problem lies in the difference between the talk and the walk. There is no doubt that
the executives at McDonald’s know how to serve customers. They know how to dress
neatly, and smile courteously, and listen carefully to their customers. Unfortunately, it’s
not the executives who are flipping burgers and serving the sodas; it’s the local 16-year
old high school kid, earning minimum wage in his first part time job. And quite
honestly, he is much more interested in a) his car; b) his girlfriend; c) his buddies; and
d) everything else in the world than ensuring that your dining experience at
McDonald’s is a pleasant one.

So the executives can honk and flap through employee manuals that describe in detail
just how each customer is to be treated, but unless they find a way to connect with the
kid working the counter, McDonald’s standards of service remain theoretical. And
friends, theoretical service ain’t no service at all.

I don’t mean to pick on McDonald’s here; I am using them as an example, based on
their status as an American icon throughout the world, and because their mission to
serve their customers is well known. But I could be talking about almost any other
business. Maybe yours. Do you have customers? Do you have people other than
yourself dealing with those customers? Then I am talking about your business, so here
are a few things to consider.

1. Make your service initiatives relevant to your employees. Typically, it is the
executives in the nice offices that create the policies and procedures that guide your
customer interactions. These people often have advanced degrees in business, or at
the very least, years of practical experience serving customers. They’ve probably
been through a number of service-related seminars, workshops, and conferences,
and probably read business books and newsletters. Understand that this is not
always the case with your front line personnel. You need to distill not only the
“hows” but also the “whys” of good service delivery. One thing you can count on
is that every person delivering customer service for your company is also a customer
of other businesses, so they already know what good and bad service is all about
from the customer perspective. It’s up to you to help them translate that inherent
knowledge into practical service application.

2. Providing good service to customers is not a natural or instinctive thing. It has to be
carefully taught, and there has to be incentive for learning, and executing what is
taught. In order to get the front line to treat customers well, they need to feel well
treated themselves. They need to know that the company respects them and values
the work that they do, providing them with a structured environment, clean work
area, and fair compensation. You do get what you pay for, almost every time.

3. Some profound famous person once said, “Success is in the details.” In business,
this is very true. In every service organization, there are procedures that are
repeated from customer to customer. The company should establish how they wish
every nuance of those repeated tasks to be executed, and the personnel should be
trained to execute those tasks like second nature. This specifically means the things
they say/write to customers, including greeting and valediction. The things your
staff does over and over again can and should be practiced to perfection, so that the
typical interactions between your customers and your staff will be executed exactly
the way the executives theorized it could be.

4. Positive reinforcement works. If you want something done a certain way, make
sure there are rewards for doing it that way, and make equally sure that there are no
rewards for doing it any other way. Remember, rewards are not always
money. Many of the best companies ask their employees what type of rewards they
would like for meeting certain targets. The responses are usually pretty reasonable,
and most involve time off, or tickets to an event, rather than money. And a little bit
goes a long way. If you are a manager, and your company has not yet embraced the
idea of sponsoring such awards, you can be creative with what you’ve got to work
with. Let him leave an hour early one day, or give her an interesting special
assignment that utilizes a skill or interest of hers. Or take the whole team to lunch.
But most importantly, let them know why you’re giving them this, and how
much you appreciate their efforts. Mark Twain said, “I could live for a month off of
a good compliment.” Sometimes a few choice words are the best reward of all.

5. Incentive bonuses. When I was a young manager, I was against them, for myself as
well as for my staff. I thought that the whole idea of hiring someone, and paying
them a salary to do a job was motivation enough for them to do the job to the best of
their abilities. Naïve young chap, wasn’t I? The fact is, incentive bonuses have great
value beyond the money involved. A bonus is a gesture of appreciation, saying that,
thanks to your efforts, we made a boatload of cash, and here, we’re peeling a little
off the top for you. However, such bonuses need to be administered fairly and
consistently, and the rules governing them should not change in mid-term. One of
the problems with bonuses is that when things are going well, people come to
expect them regularly. Then, when things aren’t going so well, and the bonus
doesn’t get paid, it seems like a real gyp, man. Like they’ve cut your salary! And
that is de-motivating, any way you look at it. Moral of the story: handle incentive
bonuses with care.

Your company’s standards of service are what is remembered long after your product
reaches its limit of usefulness, or your service has been delivered. How those products
or services were delivered is what will determine whether the customer comes back for
more, and whether they bring their friends and colleagues back with them. In order to
ensure that your employees understand this, make this fact relevant to them.

— Charles Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2002 / All Rights Reserved

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