Life In The Service Industry

The title “Service Industry” is a broad and encompassing term that includes business enterprises ranging from courier and delivery to the high tech industry; from the grocery to the gas station to the hospital and all businesses in between. Obviously, various business ventures are geared to present their wares to particular clients and customers but they all have a common thread – service to their clientele. This “service” may be excellent or it may be horrendous. In these articles we will explore the concepts of service and repercussions of the good, the mediocre and the bad with the intention of improving the service commitment of the readers to their customer.

PERSONAL QUALIFICATIONS

My personal background in the service industry is in the telecommunications field. Beginning my career in 1970 with the Bell System before Divestiture, I left after the government forced the breakup of Ma Bell and have been in the private business world of telecommunications ever since.

During the early years of my career I was taught the importance of customer service and maintaining the correct relationship to customers. Two of the Bell System’s top priorities were “safety” and “customer service”; safety for the employees and service for the customer which included a high quality in the standard of work practices and ethic.

Becoming a business owner, I was introduced to business world situations that a novice could never have dreamed of and it is always rewarding to work through them. I believe that our strong commitment to service excellence is what has carried our company for 22 years. The service excellence ethic that I had been taught and conformed to was easily incorporated into my business. Instilling this ethic into the hearts of technicians that haven’t come from that environment has always been the challenge. Some get it and make great team members. We all agree that everyone in our business has basically the same products and pricing. What sets us apart is our commitment to our customer’s needs when they need us.

THE QUEST FOR SERVICE EXCELLENCE

The particular industry with which you are connected doesn’t matter. The concepts that we will discuss remain valid for all with the result being to safely provide a quality product to your customer and make a profit in the process.

When we hear the word “service” in the context of the business world, it brings to mind someone providing a desired product, tangible or not, to someone else. This product should be designed to bring satisfaction to the customer and bring them to the point of willingly rendering legal tender to the provider. When it all works properly, the customer is satisfied with the product and the provider makes a reasonable profit and is able to comfortably seek another customer and not be apprehensive to invite former customers back.

Of course, I have just explained free enterprise and what happens when the system is employed properly. The proper understanding of providing service to customers and clients makes the American economy tick. The misunderstanding of providing customer service makes consumers sick.

May I say up front that making a profit is not a sin to be shunned but is the backbone of free enterprise. The potential of owning a profitable business keeps the entrepreneur focused on his goals and this in turn provides jobs to the economy. As in anything else in this world, overindulgence and the extravagant and unnecessary profit by taking advantage of others is wrong. But the enjoyment of a reasonable profit for a business will keep that business alive and healthy for you, the customer to return and claim that great product again.

IT ALL BEGINS WITH ATTITUDE

A Service Manager who I know told his boss, “We have spoiled our customers!” The boss said, “Yes, we want every one of them to think that we have our tools in hand and our hand on the doorknob just waiting for their call.” That’s the service attitude it takes.

In our next posts we will discuss Service Attitude, Performance, Leadership and Stories and Experiences of the sometimes roller coaster ride and never dull life in the service business.

LIFE IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY PART 2

IT ALL BEGINS WITH ATTITUDE

Providing great customer service starts when you get up each day. It begins with ATTITUDE. I don’t believe this is just a simple cliché. The life you live each day begins with an attitude of some kind. Abraham Lincoln said words to the effect that a man is just about as happy as he makes up his mind to be. I have seen that to be true with a service mindset also. You can allow situations to occupy your thinking or you can put those aside, concentrate on providing properly for your customer and then pick them up later at an appropriate time. Don’t worry. They will be there waiting for you.

We know that most days are filled with challenges of all kinds. Employees, schedules, equipment breakdowns, customer complaints…the list goes on. So if you know at the outset this is going to be the usual day, why begin in a grumpy mood? You already have a head start on it by knowing what to expect, so make it a positive. You are only making your day more difficult if you dwell on the negative that will come. Be tenacious as you greet each new challenge. When you work through it to success, your reward of satisfaction will be awesome; and if a customer witnesses your positive approach to their problem, you will raise your value with them.

A good example from our industry is when a customer is having problems with one of their service providers, i.e. local phone company, internet or long distance provider. Many times they can’t relate the problem they are having properly and talk the tech language that is required. The customer is always relieved when we step in, spend the time with the support group and follow the trouble ticket to completion. We assure them that we will take care of the situation and that they can get back to doing what they do best in their business.

Sales turnaround specialist Lou Ludwig says, “If we don’t wow them, it’s likely that we won’t do business with them…this is not a casual occurrence, it’s a planned and consistent activity.” Looking for ways to “wow” customers should be a daily exercise. Many times the seemingly insignificant things will speak the loudest to customers.

Another example from our experience is brought to mind. More than once we have been congratulated on leaving our work area like we found it or in better condition. We have all seen cluttered, dirty closets where communications equipment is located. That closet may not have been swept in the last 10 years, but when we left it was clean. For the observant customer, this speaks volumes about who we are.

Now, relate these examples to your personal industry. How can you perform a little better and provide a “wow” for your next customer? Maybe an extra special greeting to them when they walk in; maybe a little something additional added at no cost to their purchase; maybe asking them how their family is. One wise man said, “Everyone walks through life with a sign around their neck that says ‘make me feel important’.” If we can make that customer feel that they are important to us, they will be back time and time again.

I once employed a technician that was not a very good technician. However, he had the people skills that a service company should fervently seek. Customers loved him and even stood up for him when he needed to be reprimanded on a particular job. And they insisted that I and my service manager get to the bottom of the problem, because it certainly could not be the technician’s fault. So, we reworked the job and solved the problem without pressing the issue. The customer relationship was worth more than the immediate understanding of where the blame actually lay.

Are you attacking each day with a great customer service attitude? Is your priority to provide service excellence or just to make a profit? These two goals go hand in hand, and I believe the attitude of customer service comes first. If you are striving daily to provide the quality product that your customer desires, you are stretching a long way toward continuing to build a profitable business.

So, as the old song says, “Put on a happy face” and enjoy providing the service that you are capable of.

This will bring us next time to performance. You can say it all day long, but you must do it!

LIFE IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY – PART 3

Performance

Performance is the key to your longevity in business. If you are in business, then you have put your reputation on the line as a performer that can get the job done. As you continually prove to your customers that you can perform, they will beat a trail back to your door when they need the service or product you provide. If you do not perform and have an unconcerned attitude for performing, then fold your tent, it’s just a matter of time.

Over the years I have been a witness to many varied personalities and attitudes in the service industry. Here are some examples:

1 – I have seen megalomaniacs who wanted everyone to know that they were God’s gift to their field of expertise. One such technician worked for me. He was a very intelligent person but could not perform when it came to customer or other employee relations. When I finally terminated him he was completely offended and questioned my decision, as he put it, “You don’t want to work with me anymore?” This was after I had presented 2 pages of customer complaints that had been discussed previously to no avail. He just couldn’t get past his own greatness. To my dismay, I waited too long to get this done and lost some business in the process.

Another such individual was a business owner. He was a friend and a very intelligent person. But his visions of grandeur about who he was became a flaw that he could not overcome and led to his company’s collapse because of his non performance with his customers.

These types of individuals are not willing to do whatever it takes to perform and provide customer service. In their world they are right every time and in all situations, and this leads to a less than acceptable performance level.

2 – On the other hand, I have seen people enter the workforce with no background in our business and become outstanding service performers because they realized that the most important aspect of our business is our customer. As we said last time, it all begins with attitude. The attitude to learn the business and perform for the customer is a gold mine for a small business owner when he finds this individual.

One young man came from the retail industry as a store manager. He had no technical background or computer skills. My concern was how he would acclimate to the high tech world. His attitude and customer skills propelled him to eventually be our service manager, overseeing a team of technical service performers daily.

We have all had less than desirable experiences with service providers. Maybe it does not bother you as it does me or maybe you’re not as sensitive to it as I. But when I see a waitperson or technician or delivery driver, etc with a frown or a trite attitude it really affects me in a negative way.

I realize that the situations in people’s lives are many and varied and can very easily become outwardly expressed in facial and voice expression. But this is what we have been discussing; you must get past this and concentrate on your customer for the long haul. They have problems too. Don’t provide an outlet in attitude and/or body language that potentially will ruin that relationship.

When a customer has a need, the good service performer goes to work to fill that need. If it’s a product, they will provide it; if it’s a service, they will get it accomplished; if it is working through a problem, their mindset will be, “It ain’t over until I win!” The businesses that employ people with these attitudes will perform and be recognized as the best in their industry.

In the best seller Good to Great, Jim Collins writes, “When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magic alchemy of great performance.” This is the prescription for maximum performance; the discipline of service excellence and the strong commitment to the work ethic. Mix them together and be proud of your service performance.

How to Be Successful in the Service Industry

Wondering how to make your splash in the sea of service providers in the market today? It’s true what they say-it really is all about customer service. Here are some tips to keeping your customers happy and returning for more of the service you provide:

Be friendly.

Remember that when a customer hires your company, they are not just paying for the service; they’re paying for you. Of course, they expect the job to be done right, but they also expect you and your employees to be friendly, courteous, and respectful in each and every correspondence and point of contact you make with them. From the secretary who answers the phone when they call to make an appointment to the person who shows up at their door to provide the service, they expect smiles, greetings, and common courtesy. Think of this as an integral part of the service you’re providing, and you’ll be giving yourself and your business a leg-up on the competition.

Be professional.

No matter what service you are providing to your customer whether it be a manicure, a house cleaning, or a septic tank service, you and your employees should conduct themselves with professionalism at all times. This means dressing appropriately and professionally, managing communication with the customer politely and effectively, and handling the customer’s possessions with care and respect. If you are good at what you do, but fail to exude professionalism, your business will suffer as a result.

Be dependable.

Make sure your customers can depend on you to provide services when you say you will. For instance, if you state that your office hours are from 10-5 everyday, don’t leave at 4:45 because if and when the phone rings, you will likely have lost a customer. If you promise to provide a specific service, no matter how small, make sure that it is done and done right every time. Keep your appointments, and never be late. If you’re reliable and dependable, your customers won’t have the need to call your competitors.

Guarantee your services.

Give your customers confidence in their decision to hire you by guaranteeing your services. You can either offer them a money-back guarantee if they’re dissatisfied for any reason, or at the very least, assure them that you will make right on any mistake or less-than-quality service. If they know you stand by your work, then they’ll feel much more comfortable paying you for your service.

Offer a competitive price.

Even if you offer impeccable service in a dependable and professional way, your business may still find itself gasping for air if you don’t offer a competitive price. Do your homework and find out what other service providers in your area and in your niche are charging, and then match or beat their price. Starting out, you should offer the lowest price you can while still turning a profit-at least until you build your brand, your reputation, and your customer base.

Follow-up.

To maintain your customer base, you need to be sure to provide service even after the sale. Don’t assume that a one-time customer will return to you for future business, even if you did a great job. Make the effort to keep your brand in the back of their mind. For instance, you could call a few weeks after the service to see if your customer is completely satisfied. Or, perhaps you could send monthly reminders for follow-up services or “Thank You” cards to communicate your appreciation for their business. These seemingly small efforts, when performed consistently could potentially result in a hefty return on future business.

The most important thing to remember when working in the service industry is that the service itself is only half of your business. What’s the other half? You and your employees. If the customer likes your work but finds your customer service lacking, they may look elsewhere and even pay a higher price for a company who acts as if they appreciate their business. Slap on a smile, shake hands, and bite your tongue if you have to-whatever it takes to keep the customer happy. The happier your customers are, the more likely they will spread the word about your business, and return to you for future service calls. And what does that mean for you? A healthier-and happier-bottom line.

Taking Global Business Services to the Next Level

For those who have not read my previous post, “Moving from Shared Services to Global Business Services,” let me provide a quick summary. Shared Services (SS) is an operating model that has been around for decades. It enables function-specific resources (i.e., HR, IT, Finance, etc.) to be leveraged across an entire organization, resulting in lower costs with agreed-upon customer-service levels. Around the time of the 2008/2009 recession, greater demands were placed on the SS operating model and what evolved was Global Business Services (GBS). The GBS operating model offers better efficiency, wider geographic reach, and broader scope coverage, to handle greater regulatory scrutiny for the same or even lower costs. However, there are some obstacles to overcome to ensure the full value of the GBS operating model is achieved… which is the focus of this post.

State of GBS

Multiple surveys and commentary have been published indicating the widespread and increasing trend of companies moving from SS to the GBS operating model. An annual survey by the Shared Services and Outsourcing Network (SSON), one of the largest communities of shared services and outsourcing professionals, stated that nearly 70% of the respondents operate as a GBS or multi-function model. Although GBS adoption continues, we have also heard of examples of GBS initiatives not delivering the “promised” return on investment (ROI). In the first year, most initiatives seem to deliver a respectable 7-10% ROI, but what is concerning is that according to Genpact, a global leader in business process management and technology services, “as many as one-third of all such transitions fail to ever achieve anticipated cost savings.” Unfortunately, from my network of peers in this space, I personally know of examples where this has occurred. There are several reasons for this occurrence, so let’s discuss a few of the major ones.

ROI Shortfall

Fundamentally, there are a few main reasons why a GBS transformation may fall short:

1. Aligned Strategy and Governance – Many companies do not take the time to have ALL key stakeholders agree to an overall GBS strategy and governance upfront. Executive commitment is key.

2. Direct Linkage to Desired Business Outcomes – Misalignment between GBS Leaders and Business Clients on priorities, and/or not being able to adjust quickly as market conditions change. Alignment to client priorities is key.

3. End-to-End Scope Coverage – Only portions of an “end to end” process like Order to Cash are moved into GBS, without accountability (or a voice) to influence the balance of the “end to end” process not moved into GBS. “End to End” process accountability is key.

There are a myriad of other operational, process and technological constraints that impact success. Some of those areas include limited technology investment, an unclear talent management and acquisition strategy, under-resourced service and client management capabilities, to name a few.

Improvement Areas

So, what can you do to ensure that your GBS is positioned to get to the next level? As with most any enterprise transformations, it is critical to have executive commitment prior to moving forward. However, for a successful GBS transformation it is even more critical to have the CEO/COO and all the business and functional executives onboard, due to the potential enterprise impact. Obviously, there may be situations where select businesses or functions may be deferred (or even excluded) due to business model conflicts, but these need to be managed carefully so as to not encourage others to “opt-out.” Other improvement areas include:

1. Strategy – Alignment upfront and on an ongoing basis between GBS and Business Clients is critically important to creating value. If that is done, GBS is off to a good start. Some key strategy elements to “hash out” include short/medium term vision, value proposition, roles and responsibilities, decision rights, and governance structure.

2. Governance – Many companies prefer to not have a separate governance structure for GBS, but rather to add the responsibility to an existing structure. I think that is a mistake in the beginning because it is critical to get this right at the outset. Good governance establishes a clear mandate for GBS, removes board members from operational issues, and develops a separate “client voice” when business complexity requires doing so. In addition, as the GBS/Client relationship matures the concept of an enterprise process owners board could be considered, to help drive even larger areas of business value.

3. Scope – The discussion of scope is a topic that is covered upfront as part of the strategy dialogue, and remains an ongoing discussion at the Governance Board. It should be clear what migrates to GBS at the start, over time (as long as ROI and business value commitments are achieved), and what scope still needs further dialogue. There needs to be continual dialogue to ensure alignment, and to minimize any strategy changes especially as executive changes occur.

4. Service Management – Experienced GBS operations (of a decade or more) all seem to have a well-developed service management capability and view it as critical to their success. This team is initially focused on driving a consistent service delivery strategy across GBS, communicating operational performance and business value in a consistent/branded fashion to clients, and coordinating all the behind the scenes KPI measurement activities efficiently. However, as the GBS matures, this team shifts to more of a “services marketing accountability” driving services strategy, design, M&A migration, and new service offerings jointly with operating leaders and business clients.

If the above items are implemented, the chances of a successful GBS transformation are significantly enhanced.

External Perspective

A few years ago, I attended a conference made up of Fortune 500 companies interested in trends and best practices for functions and SS organizations. A large Fortune 50 company who implemented GBS over 10 years ago delivered the keynote presentation. I was “blown away” by how GBS had transformed their company, and how its scope had grown from Finance and IT to non-traditional areas such as Logistics and Joint Venture support, as well as delivering tremendous business value along the way. When you see the potential of GBS in action, it can be a tremendous motivator! Please take advantage of the learnings from others to help accelerate your ROI. For me personally, I did leverage the learnings from select conferences but, I also proceeded to do plenty of targeted benchmarking. We engaged more than 25 companies, with many outside our home industry. The primary focus was to share best practices, but also to get a deeper understanding of GBS optimization methods, and exchange learnings on similar “pain points”. If you are trying to improve your GBS, in addition to the above recommendations, I wholeheartedly suggest utilizing the concept of benchmarking to get some “fresh” ideas.

Next Step

In this article, I have only “skimmed the surface” in how you can take your company’s GBS to the next level. So, in my next post (3rd in the series), I will focus on one of the key improvement areas and do a deep dive on the “Importance of Strategy and Governance.”

Attorneys and Business Services

An amazing trend over the course of the past few years – which is starting to accelerate even further – is the number of people who are going into business for themselves. This includes people who are involved in small businesses, Internet based businesses and home based businesses. If you are involved in a business of your own of one kind or another, or if you are interested in starting such a business enterprise, you will want to connect with an attorney that can provide for you appropriate business services.

Through this article you are provided an overview of what you will want to keep in mind when it comes to finding an attorney that can provide you the legal services that you will require in relation to your own business enterprise. Armed with this information you will be in the best possible position to make wise, informed and educated decisions in regard to your business venture and the legal needs of that business.

Initially, when it comes to selecting an attorney that can provide you with the legal services that you will require for your business you definitely will want to get an expert and specialist in the field. In the final analysis you cannot afford to put your business and the services that you will require in the hands of a lawyer who does not have the specific expertise that you will require.

You will also want to bear in mind that when it comes to attorneys that can provide legal services to you that there are lawyers who have now become specialists. By this it is meant there are lawyers who specialize in providing legal services to businesses in a particular industry. The fact is that the legal needs of businesses in different industries can be varied -indeed, in some instances, extremely different. Therefore, if you are in need of legal assistance relating to your business operations you would be best served by working to see if there is an attorney available who can provide you legal assistance specific to the industry in which your business is a part.

Another issue that you will want to keep in mind is that many people who are involved in owning or operating business with engage a lawyer for an extended period of time to care for all of their business related legal needs. The fact is that when running a business a person continually will find his or her self dealing or confronting legal matters and issues of different types. Therefore, having a regular attorney that can be turned to as needed can be extremely helpful.

Finally, if you are only now in the process of working to organize a business you will want to seriously consider getting an attorney involved in the process sooner rather than later… By getting an attorney involved in the organizational process when it comes to your own business venture you will be able to avoid mistakes and complications that can arise in the absence of legal direction, advice and assistance.