Delivering service excellence is not only about establishing standards of service and training your employees to deliver them. It is about creating a service culture that is embraced and empowers your employees to add their personal touch.
Among companies with excellent customer service, Starbucks is always on top of my mind and here is why...
Better than right: a coffee that is more than a coffee...
A friend of mine, Wei (his name is of Asian origin), had invited some friends to join for a coffee at a Starbucks outlet in Geneva (oh yes, that was just before the COVID-19 restrictions). While waiting for his friends to join, he ordered a coffee and – as it is done in any Starbucks – he was asked his name by the attendant for it to be written on the cup. Wei is not a familiar name in Geneva and the attendant wrote “Wayne” onto the cup. My friend Wei amicably pointed the misspelling to the attendant.
Wei enjoyed his favorite coffee and, sometime later, since his friends were late, he decided it was time for a second coffee. The logic would have been for the attendant to have it right this time. Instead, looking twice at Wei, and probably finding some inspiration in Wei’s outfit (well-groomed in a dark suit), he wrote on the new cup “Bruce Wayne”, making the link to the identity of the DC Comics character behind Batman. That came indeed with a complicit smile. When it was time for a third coffee (the friends eventually arrived - “Awfully” late as they say in London), the witty nonsense came to its natural conclusion with the drawing of a bat over the name Batman clearly written on the last cup. A superhero was uncovered that day, and it was just… a regular customer - Wei.
When I reflect on Service Excellence with the companies I work with, I often relate to this experience of my friend Wei at Starbucks because it says a lot about what is it, what it takes and how little this has to do with… perfection.
What is Service Excellence?
From a brand or company perspective, a good service is the constant delivery of what the brand has promised – would it be a luxury brand or a regular brand. The quality of service is not to be measured in absolute terms but in relation to the level of the brand promise. That is to say, in the case of Starbucks, using the words of its founder Howard Schultz “We are not in the coffee business serving people but in the people business serving coffee”. Starbucks is focusing the customer’s attention on the quality of the experience, therefore both coffee and service have a different philosophy: a people-centered approach.
Does that make Starbucks coffee excellent?
Not really! Different means that the service and the experience is not judged in comparison to other coffee providers but in its ability to deliver the experience that was promised.
Think of the cardboard cup for instance.
How can anyone expect excellence in serving coffee in a cardboard cup?
The cardboard cup is not the vehicle of excellence at Starbucks, like a delicate china cup could in another coffee house. The customer experience is linked with the brand promise: a people-centered approach where you will be served a coffee with your name on it, from your favorite flavor and size within a beautiful space. You can sit and wait for your friends at Starbucks, you can work, or should you prefer, you can take your coffee away and walk with it to your next meeting.
In the story of my friend Wei at Starbucks, I believe we can clearly spot the extra miles done by the employee. The employee could have decided to correct the name right away from the beginning and apologize for the misspelling mistake. Smartly enough, the employee decided otherwise and created a unique customer experience for my friend Wei to share with others.
I believe, service excellence blooms when the customer experience is unique, crafted with a special care for the customer or the guest, emotional and eventually memorable.
What we can recognize in this Starbucks’ example is not only the correct service execution but the right mindset from the employee that achieves results beyond what is expected. The work environment and service culture Starbucks - and other companies - allowed the employee to decide on his own what is right for the customer but also craft solutions for each client in a given situation that will provide a unique and memorable experience.
And that is a fundamental lesson when it comes to managing service excellence.
Service excellence is not only focusing on the perfect execution and the operational elements of your business but empowering each of your employees to deliver on your brand promise. It is recognizing that your customer experience is an integral aspect of your brand. It is about:
- creating a vision that inspires your employees
- making your brand values explicit
- articulating what it means for employees to “live” your brand
- ensuring that your business, brand and customer experience strategies are aligned
- being real: authentic brands deliver authentic experiences
If you are expecting your employees to help you deliver on your brand promise, the relationship has to be reciprocal. Demonstrate the value and appreciation for them and their effort, in essence, it’s a partnership between you and your employees.
In that respect, even a glitch may be transformed into a positive experience because, at the end of the day: “People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did – but they will always remember how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou)
Service excellence: creating customer experiences that build relationships
Today, 84% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services. 80% of companies believe that they deliver a "superior experience", while only 8% of customers believe that this is the case.
Where does this hiatus in customer experience come from? How can we approach it as a manager responsible for a service organization? How can a culture of service be established? How can we collectively find the dynamics of excellence - which is also the dynamic of value creation in the “service profit chain put to work”.
Delivering a "good service" is not enough to transform the customer into a brand ambassador. If you treat your customers like they matter, your brand will also matter to them. Working on customer service will encourage brand advocacy among your target audience and motivate people to share what they love about your brand with others. Operational excellence, of course, needs to be integrated to customer care as it is an imperative for your company to achieve a position where every single interaction with a customer creates a memorable experience. It will contribute to long-term customer relationships and brand loyalty. The best customer experiences are achieved when a member of your team creates an emotional connection with a customer. Customers become loyal because they are emotionally attached, and they remember how they feel when they use your product or service.
Delivering service excellence: The key questions you should be asking yourself
- What is the value that our brand and company aim to deliver to its customers?
- How well do we understand our customers and their expectations?
- How is value created and enhanced beyond our products/services and processes?
- How effective are we at delivering a positive customer experience?
- How is our company supporting and empowering our employees to deliver service excellence?
- How engage is our team?
- How is our team creating value and delivering a unique experience to our customers?
- How is the service culture of our company supporting the value creation for our customers?
- What are the tools we provide our employees to fully embrace our brand values and become our best brand ambassadors?
What is important here are the people: if you regard employees and customers as human beings, everything else will take care of itself. If you engage your staff as partners, they will achieve results beyond what is thought possible. And if you think of your customers and communities as “the people you serve” you will make a strong connection with them, and they will come back over and over.
This is what we call a people-centered approach and creating a unique customer experience.
No wonder Starbucks coffee is always the same and still comes with a different flavor for each and every customer.