3 Components of a Service Culture

By: Jeff Lewis

ID-100226801There’s been a lot of discussion lately about horrible customer service experiences, ranging from frustrating recorded calls to military veterans’ treatment delays in the VA hospital system.  In these cases, the issue raised by observers is not so much the failure of individual employees, but rather the overall “culture” of the organization. Conversely, companies praised for delivering exceptional service have purposefully created a “service culture” for their employees.

All of this has me thinking about the components of a culture and how a company can influence changes throughout their organization to improve service. There are three components of any culture, in my view:

  • A shared vision for the entire organization.
  • Rituals and routines that support the vision.
  • A system of recognition and rewards that are aligned with the vision.

To illustrate this, consider these examples:

The U.S. Military
Our military has a mission of securing and protecting our country while promoting peace and stability around the world. Leadership is conducted through a clear chain of command, training routines and drills are structured. Rewards are given through medals and defined promotion steps, as well as a great sense of pride and purpose for serving our country. Although each branch of the military has variations in traditions and rituals, the underlying cultural themes have a common thread.

The French
The French take great pride in being leaders in art, cuisine, fashion, language, and have a clear cultural vision for their way of life. From celebrating “haute couture” in Paris to recognizing great films at “Festival de Cannes,” events draw international attention and support the country’s cultural vision. Institutions founded in the 17th century recognize and sustain these values, such as the official art exhibition sponsored by the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris or the Académie francaise, which strives to preserve linguistic integrity. While France has a distinct culture, the same concepts could be applied to defining the American way of life or that of any other country.

Companies also have distinct cultures, with direct influence from executive leadership, and within larger organizations there can be units that have rituals, routines, rewards, and recognition that support their team’s vision. So how can you as a leader incorporate these ideas into creating a stronger culture of service within your team to improve the customer experience? Here’s how…

Imagine that the CEO just called to invite you to an annual top performer’s event since your team had the highest increase in client loyalty scores of any division in the company. The CEO also asks you to give a speech at the event to tell the story of this remarkable achievement. Your speech might sound something like this: “I am so proud of the work my team did this past year. It started with a clear vision developed by our team that set a standard for service excellence not just in our industry, but across all industries. We created an environment of team accountability, ensured open communication, improved our focus on training, and held regular meetings to get input on where systems or policies were barriers to delivering on our promise. We also developed peer-recognition programs to ensure celebrating great service was not something that happened every quarter, but every day. We worked hard, had fun, and got the job done.”

The point is that great results don’t happen accidentally. They happen because of a clear vision of the culture you want to create. So what’s driving your culture of service to the next level? Maybe it’s time to write your speech.

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One Comment on “3 Components of a Service Culture”

  • Dave F July 29th, 2014 4:02 pm

    Great post Jeff. I think there are probably three other major drivers of a service culture (or any culture). First, the founder or leader/s set an example of what is valued and help lay the foundation of norms for the org. Second, who is attracted to, selected in, and removed from the org. Finally, the processes developed to serve clients…is it efficiency based or client centric? Just my 2 cents…

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