Four Rules for Engineering a Service Revolution Improving service quality in a large organization can be difficult – and it can take a long time. But we have experimented with many approaches for the past 20 years, and we have discovered a small number of key principles that dramatically improve your chances of success in

Building a strong and sustainable service culture takes time. But leaders often want to know much earlier if their efforts and investments are working. So what is the first thing you can measure to see if your service culture is getting stronger? Higher profits? No. Those show up only after you have provided better service.

A friend of mine, the Head of a Middle School, wrote the following as part of his weekly letter to parents. He is working hard to balance change and innovation demanded by modern times with the tradition and process long revered in student education. His message also rings true for service innovation in business and government organizations:

“When Brazil defeated Italy in 1970 for their third World Cup in 12 years, football aficionados claimed it was the greatest team ever with the greatest player ever, Pele. Four years later, it was the West Germans who defeated the Dutch in Munich to seize the World Cup, led by their brilliant defenseman, Franz Beckenbauer.

Each year The Conference Board publishes survey results of the Top CEO Challenges for global organizations. In 2014 the top four challenges are:

1. Human Capital
2. Customer Relationships
3. Innovation
4. Operational Excellence

The Conference Board says business leaders are seeking to drive growth by “focusing on people, performance, reconnecting with customers, and reshaping the culture of work. They see a renewed commitment to customers, innovation, and the corporate brand.”

Travelers coming through the New York City area’s three airports—La Guardia, JFK, and Newark—might soon feel the need to double check that they aren’t walking through the set of a science fiction movie. That’s because the airports are introducing some high-tech help in the form of “Ava”—a life-sized, computer-generated female avatar. She’ll provide answers to airport patrons’ common questions. Ava the Avatar offers a fun, exciting way to improve customer service for weary travelers.

We regularly work with CEOs and senior leaders to help them build uplifting service cultures and improve service performance. Most leaders understand their roles and are eager to provide direction and support to transform their culture.

However, given their intensive schedules and responsibilities, it’s unreasonable to expect high-level leaders to know the details of all service improvement and culture-building initiatives. While they meet to review initiatives periodically, the Ultimate Question 1.0 can significantly leverage their time and commitment every day.

Ultimate Question 1.0: What is your team’s best idea to improve service today?

The largest financial services providers in the world are concerned that their younger customers don’t really like them. The number of dissatisfied customers is increasing as even the older generations adopt new technologies and models of interaction.

This is not about building an online presence to respond to your younger customers. You need to be at the cutting edge of wherever your customers will be, anticipate expectations and concerns, understand what they value and proactively take actions to increase loyalty.

You need to be young again – curious, passionate and fast.

An excellent blog post from Tony Schwartz on Harvard Business Review encouraged us to write about successful leaders in organizations that are building a service culture.

Leaders must inspire action. Building a service culture is a strategic, long-term initiative that requires sustained focus and commitment. We apply Tony’s list of four “great capacities” of leadership to describe the actions service leaders must take to achieve great results.

Improving Customer Experience (CEX) is vital for success. While the term is common, maturity in this area is not.

We classify an organization’s attitude and actions from Version 1.0 to 6.0. Where are you and your organization today?