At Your Service: March 5, 2008

Anyone whose work includes dealings with the public also deals with constant reminders that excellence is a journey rather than a destination. No matter how hard we try, we sometimes fall short of our own expectations or those of our customers. This striving to be and do better is actually the stuff that keeps us on the path to excellence.
Indeed, excellent service is a winding road rather than a super highway. Its twists and turns take us to places we have never been before and around each corner is a new view of the extraordinary. It can take us many places, so it becomes more and more important to be clear about where we really want to go. This clarity could be called our vision of what we want to achieve.
The more specific our vision, the better it serves its purpose as a guide. No store can sell everything its customers need; no service provider can do everything a customer might need to have done. So, it is important to be clear about the limits of our services as we communicate what we do offer. This gives our vision life and makes it easier for customers to find the place or person that can satisfy their needs.
Vision is important, but it is nothing unless we follow through with appropriate and directed action. Taking action that supports our vision is given direction when we set goals. The experts and experience tell us that goals are easier to achieve when they are clearly defined. Be specific as you lay out the results that you want to achieve and put them in writing.
Many service providers get stuck in the development of specific goals because they believe that it is impossible to quantify good service. It can, however, be easy to identify results that will give you an indication of the effectiveness of what you are doing. For instance, if your goal is to increase the number of satisfied customers you have, you could set this goal: 10 people in the next month will, without prompting, indicate that they are satisfied with the quality of service they are receiving.
Of course, you have no control over the behavior of your customers; but your actions can influence their behavior. If you are delivering truly excellent service, your customers will likely be moved to comment on it to someone — why not to you. Of course, this goal can only be meaningful if you or your manager are keeping track of the comments. Setting a goal and then targeting measurable results will set in motion the eventuality of success.
Continuing with this same goal, it could be very helpful to set a timeframe short of the end goal. If we want 10 customers to come forth by the end of the month, then how many would be making comments in the first week, the second week? By setting interim goals, we increase our chances for success. If we get to the end of the second week and not a single customer has come forth, then we could conclude that there has not been a significant enough increase in the quality of service for customers to notice.
It can be discouraging to discover that what you have been doing is not having the anticipated results. As the old adage goes — try, try again. The smart person will not only try, but will also try something different. If what you are doing isn’t working, doing the same thing again is likely to yield the same results. Examine your work and look for ways to improve your performance. I have found that there is always a way to do something a little more effectively.
In service jobs, it can be more difficult to identify the little things that can be having a big effect on customers. When in doubt, ask. Most customers would love to see your business grow because they were receiving better service. So ask them how you are doing. (This inquiry doesn’t count toward the goal of 10.) If you are willing to really listen, they will always tell you what you need to know.
This feedback can enable you to shift your service into high gear on the road to excellence. One reason this is true, is because it will give you a very clear picture of your customers’ expectations. They will tell you not only what you are doing, but also what they would like you to do. You may be surprised to discover that the very things you thought were insignificant are of great value to your customers, or that the reverse is true. Customers can tell you exactly what they want, making it much easier for you to meet their real needs.
As you progress toward your goals, also be careful to give yourself a break. Don’t over-scrutinize your work. Excellence lives in the balance of effort and results. When you are focused on a vision of good service for your customers, your activities will reflect that commitment. You will soon find that those 10 customers come forth with praise and are followed by another 10. And, in the domain of good/bad news, there will be another turn ahead.