In order to build a reputation for legendary customer service, your organization must be able to execute service excellence consistently. Consistency is the key ingredient. Companies like Starbucks, Apple and The Ritz-Carlton ensure service uniformity by having clear service standards.
Your staff should realize:
- their overall purpose in your organization;
- the responsibilities of their individual role;
- AND the specific customer service standards you would like implemented in that role.
The first step toward improved efficiency and reliable service is to create written service standards for each position in your organization.
STEP 1 – Create Your Service Standards
Written customer service standards should be detailed and clear, but not so rigid that your staff seems scripted and robotic. For example, if you have employees who speak to clients on the phone, you might include the following in their service standards:
- Always answer the phone by the third ring.
- Smile as you answer the phone and have a positive attitude.
- Provide a warm greeting (never say “hey,” “howdy” or “hi there!”) and then share your first name, the name of our organization, and offer to help your customer—i.e., “Hello. This is Albert at the Incredible Store. How may I help you today?”
As you create service standards for each role, think through all possible scenarios where your employee might interact with a customer. Will your employee ever be on an elevator with a customer? If so, you might want to include elevator etiquette in your guidelines. Is your employee going to be responsible for cleaning your facilities? If so, you might want to detail how often cleaning should occur. Does the recycling need to be emptied each night? How often should dusting occur? When you make your expectations clear, your employees don’t have to guess or make up standards for themselves, and consequently, they’ll be able to use their time more effectively.
If your employees are responsible for paperwork or responding to customers promptly, you may want to indicate time limits. Here’s an example from the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA):
- “95% of responses to written inquiries are accurate and issued within 30 days.
- At least 97.5% of telephone calls are answered within 120 seconds.
- 98% of all claims are processed within 60 days.”
Along with specific tasks, you might include suggestions about maintaining a professional presence that includes a positive attitude, good posture, eye contact and proper dress. Written service standards can also help eliminate potential workplace drama. Suppose Fred begins wearing flip flops to work and his manager decides that flip flops aren’t professional. But Suzy works at a branch office and her manager doesn’t mind when she wears flip flops. Now Fred feels his manager is being unfair. When professional appearance is established by your organization’s brand and service standards—and not by individual managers—this allows for more universal and equitable treatment.
Finally, you’ll want to be aware of cost, time, and resources as you create standards. Be sure your service standards are economically feasible and executable. Your goal should be excellent and efficient standardized service.
STEP 2 – Disseminate Your Service Standards
Once you have your written service standards, you need to establish how you will share them throughout your organization. Disseminating means more than handing employees a piece of paper and asking them to read it. When you’re introducing service standards for the first time, you must strategically plan your roll-out and implementation in order to garner employee buy-in. If your employees don’t embrace your new standards, you won’t achieve improved service.
Service standards may sound like new rules to your employees and people don’t generally appreciate having more rules. You must share the benefits with your employees such as:
- more consistent service that will improve your organization’s service reputation
- a clear understanding of service expectations can lead to greater employee empowerment
You’ll also have to decide how new employees will be introduced to your service standards. At The Ritz-Carlton, service standards are presented during the onboarding process, and learning coaches train new staff on proper execution.
STEP 3 – Reiterate Your Service Standards
Once your service standards have been implemented, you will need to remind employees about the importance of following through. You can achieve this through several methods including verbal reminders, e-communications, and offering ongoing training opportunities. At The Ritz-Carlton, service standards are often highlighted through service stories and at daily meetings. These standards should become habits for all of your employees. Written service standards should also be reviewed regularly to make sure they are relevant to the customer. If your customers’ needs have changed, your service standards should be adjusted.
Rewards of Customer Service Standards
Written service standards help your employees, your customers and your organization. Your employees will know what’s expected of them and they’ll be able to function more efficiently. In addition, written service standards are a good step toward employee empowerment. Empowered employees feel more trusted and valued, and they’re able to resolve customer problems faster because they don’t need to funnel problems through layers of management. Your employees will be more engaged, and as a result, your customers will receive better service. As your reputation for service excellence grows, your organization will attract more customers and more business. Drafting service standards for every position in your organization may seem like an arduous undertaking, but any task that leads to greater profits and success is certainly a step worth taking. ∞
The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.