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Engineering a service revolution requires counter-intuitive strategies

May 14, 2016 Training No Comments Email Email

Companies looking to either establish or transform a service culture should focus on creating new or greater value for others.  This is according to a National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School customer service study.

The study, which analysed customer service operations over 25 years, found that almost all companies want to provide great service as it translates into improved customer loyalty and better business in the long run.  However, the traditional approach of frontline staff training does not work, as they are fragmented, incremental and based on faulty assumptions about the true nature of service. While they may enjoy temporary surges of improvement, it is not sustainable as it is simply having a new training initiative stacked atop older and deep-rooted problems.

According to Dr Jochen Wirtz, Professor of Marketing, NUS Business School and co-author of the study, “Established companies need dramatic change more than ever before.  In a global economy, companies need to stage successful service revolutions to compete against smaller more nimble businesses that are capable of growing quickly and leap ahead their larger counterparts.”

The four rules for a service revolution

According to the report, there is a better way to build a culture that quickly and dramatically improves customer service. In order to engineer a service revolution, organisations should follow the following rules:

  • Rule #1: Don’t start with customer-facing employees. Instead, involve everyone, with a special focus on internal service providers.

Often, the real problem lies with backend functions, such as logistics, IT and human resources, which are not meeting their frontline colleagues’ needs. By including everyone in service training, everyone will understand the importance of satisfied customers.

  • Rule #2: Don’t start by training people on specific service skills, scripts and procedures. Instead, educate them first to a better understanding of what service excellence really means.

Employees should continually ask themselves, “Whom am I going to serve, and what do they need and value most?”  By understanding the customers’ perspectives, employees can take actions that will delight their clients. 

  • Rule #3: Don’t pilot the change. Instead, go big and go fast to build momentum for the new culture.

Conventional wisdom calls for limited experiments that, if successful, are rolled out more broadly.  That can work for small tweaks in an organisation’s culture, but for more-sweeping change, organisations must create momentum fast and set their sights high.

  • Rule #4: Don’t focus on traditional KPIs during the service revolution Instead, focus on leading “revolution indicators” to generate value-adding ideas and new service actions.

Instead of worrying about typical customer satisfaction measures such as share of wallet and net promoter scores, organisations that aim for dramatic change should look at the number of new value adding service ideas put into practice. Use indicators that respond quickly to actions taken, and that build momentum and excitement in the organisation.

They are especially effective when applied in:

  • Companies that currently provide sub-optimal service and want to change that;
  • Companies that have undergone mergers and want to create a vibrant new culture;
  • Companies that have grown rapidly with a primary focus on sales and now need to build a culture of service.

“Any service revolution should be based on a greater concern for the employees’ collective well-being and a commitment to new behaviours that produce real cultural changes,” said Dr Wirtz.

The working paper is authored by Dr Jochen Wirtz and Ron Kaufman, Founder and Chairman, UP! Your Service. The abstract of the working paper can be found at:

An in-depth case study on a resort chain is available at:

A short version of this working paper was published in Harvard Business Review;


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