Monday, 10 December 2007

Achieving Service Excellence

Excellence in any area is always an uphill struggle. This is especially so in the area of providing service. Service has so much of the ‘human’ factor that it is almost impossible to define what is good, let alone, excellent service. However, every effort made will, over time, improve the ‘feel’ involved in the giving and receiving of quality service.

Service personnel need to be more sensitive to the different expectations of customers, even though the customers may appear to be asking for some merchandise which could be readily identified and understood such as an evening gown.

The tangible need of the customers is obvious - an attire fits for an evening event or appointment. It is the different expectation or want of each customer that is not that obvious.

An inexperienced service personnel would be easily frustrated by the seemingly difficult customer. Another more discerning colleague might have less difficulty in closing the sales opportunity with the same customer, for instance, by starting a casual conversation with the customer whilst trying to determine the customer's lifestyle and preferences.

A customer's dressing or lifestyle could indicate his/her sense of colour selection, and the service personnel's appropriate recommendations will relieve the customer's anxiety.

Service management must make available a conducive environment for change. Dare to change, be it after formal workshop training or on-the-job training, is instrumental in improving service quality.

Complacency, neglect, disregard, and/or shyness to champion a change for the better will not facilitate any training effort in ensuring improvement in service quality.

Rewards, recognition of excellent service, and the likes are necessary for the cultivation of the right mindset and behaviours.

Persistence and consistency of efforts and rewards by the management will ensure that the desired changes are widely accepted and implemented.

Management must lead by examples, and impress on their sales personnel the differences that their service quality could make to the bottomline of the organisation.

The readiness to SMILE, whilst others cringe; the ability to handle difficult customer, whilst others shy away from; and the desire to try out new experiences/ideas, whilst others sneer at; are some of the daily challenges that offer opportunities for improvement.

Both management and service personnel must constantly and consciously review their work processes. Nurture the 3 E’s – Efficiency, economy and effectiveness.

There is a constant need to strive for optimum solutions in all difficult situations and constraints. Standards must be set and made known to all.

Key standards include customer response time, say three minutes for a complaint to be resolved efficiently, yet effectively; check-out efficiency, say not more than five customers in any queue at any one time, yet economically – without redundant manpower; and sales per unit labour hour to ensure economy and effective use of manhours deployment.
The focus of any one aspect, say efficiency must not be at the undue expense of the others.

In essence, unity of minds and efforts, proper co-ordination and clarity of mission, goals and objectives would lead to an efficient, effective, and profitable organization.

Inculcate the right mindset on costs-saving efforts. Simple routine checks and controls such as turning off lights and air-conditioners when not in use have proven to be very effective in costs-saving efforts.

The savings may pale in comparison with other major cost factors, but the routines could instill in all the constant need to be costs-conscious.

Besides the cost reduction benefits, such "Everybody’s Efforts" mindset leads ultimately to a caring organisation, and along with it the caring mentality and attitude of its component service personnels - key characteristics of service quality.

Promote more effective communication, listening in particular; and teamwork. Participative management techniques and practices would facilitate a conducive and thriving working environment.

Staff’s grouses and complaints offer opportunities for improvement on the working environment, and an alert management could have a well of ideas for consideration even without a formal suggestion scheme.

Any desired change would be well implemented and generally accepted within the working environment, if the rationale and foreseeable impact are well shared and resolved with all parties concerned in advance.

Staff would be in a better position to accept and support the necessary changes ahead if the staff is well informed of the strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats relative to the organization and industry.

Promote mutual respect and trust within the organization. Integrity, sincerity, good leadership, decorum, fair play and practices would earn trust and respect from subordinates and contemporaries.

Impact: Less widespread and frequent gossips, sarcasms, quarrels and other ill-feelings amongst the staff.

High morale and good teamwork boost the mental dimension of a working environment. Higher productivity and lower staff turnover follow naturally - consistency of service quality without unnecessary and costly staff recruitment and training.

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