Social Awareness Service

“Great services are not cancelled by one act, or by one single error.”  Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881)


When I was GM at ATNZ I remember employing one coordinator who said that he would grow his region through service ahead of all other virtues and sale techniques. At a certain level his appointment was a political one, which I won’t go into.  He had a region that was extremely difficult, especially when it came to spending money and taking on new ideas.  I had always pushed the service mantra and this guy put me to the test of my convictions.  At the time of his engagement we were still a relatively small organisation and my Board wanted reports on how each “region” was operating, knowing that each region consisted of one coordinator.  The Board wanted rapid growth (as I did), but at the same time I had to back my staff and believe in them as individuals.  The speed of growth in this particular region was painfully slow and I was under huge pressure from the Board to fix “this guy”.  As the organisation grew I was able to shift the board reporting systems so they couldn’t identify the performance of a particular individual, but the organisation as a whole.  Individual performance is a management issue, not a governance matter.


It took over three years for this coordinator to get his numbers up to an acceptable, economic level.  His companies and apprentices loved him and were extremely loyal.  His formula eventually worked.  Would I do the same model again – never!  There is a myth that sales and service are opposing forces.  Every person who works for an organisation is a sales person for it, whether they recognise or like it.  In saying that everyone is a sales person for an organisation does not equate to those same people deliver quality “service”.


Frances Frei Harvard Business Review April 2008 argues there are four things a service business must get right:

  1. Service offering
  2. Funding mechanism
  3. Employee management
  4. Customer management.

The service offering is how your customers define excellence when it comes to your offering.  The funding mechanism is how you will pay for the increased cost to cover excellence.  The employee management is ensuring your workforce is able to deliver excellence and customer management is identifying behaviours customers will use to demonstrate they are getting most value from your service.  It is based on four criteria that demonstrate you and/or your staff is a quality “service” organisation.


I remember in the Police at a burglary one night, catching a father and son combination.  The distressing aspect for me was that the son was about twelve years old and the father was training him to be a professional burglar.  It was months after the incident, reflecting on it on a daily basis that I managed to make a semblance of sense of the events that night.  The father was a third generation burglar and he was training his son in the family business – but it goes deeper than that – he was trying to be a successful father.  You see I have yet to meet a parent who sets out to be a failure – what makes the difference is the criteria for measuring success. 


My coordinator who built his region on “service” believed he was a success because he proved his own theory correct.  But from a business perspective he put a huge burden on all other staff, which had to carry him for years until he proved his point.  There were opposing measurement models at force as to what constituted a measurement of success.  He thought he was being successful because of his model and I thought I was being successful because of my ideology of looking after my staff – my suspicion is that we both had incorrect measurement systems. The same concept applies to the father who set out to train his son to be a burglar – the measurement of success is questionable.


Sole measurement systems lack rigour – the measurement needs to in a bigger setting to have validity.  Anecdotal evidence to support success is also dodgy.  One organisation I did a strategic review on, one of the staff thought she was doing a brilliant job – her clients loved her.  But through a robust process it quickly became evident she has a “holy huddle” who were loyal to her, but they were all blocking new people from engaging with the organisation.  Her anecdotal evidence suggested she was doing a good job, but the reality was vastly different. Our service model needs to be measured against the success of the organisation and the speed the organisation needs to operate. 


Research does show there is a co-relation between customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and profitability. R. Hallowell, The relationships of customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and profitability: an empirical study, International Journal of Service Industry Management Vol 7, No 4, 1996 pp 27 -42.  If the whole organisation does not perform at the same high standard it impacts on all the staff.  Customers only know the organisation through the interaction of its staff members, at work or in the social setting.  How many times have you met someone at a social function and for whatever reason they have “rubbed you up the wrong way” and that impacts on whether you would consider doing business with them?  If you took the time to objectively analyse your past you might be surprised.  Hence my claim that you are always a sales person for your organisation, but you might not be a “service” person.  A turn off is when you listen to the “whingers and whiners” who always have the worst possible bosses.  Have these people ever looked in the mirror to check out the common denominator in their moans.


So what does service have to do with leadership?  Who sets the standard for service within an organisation?  Leaders are constantly under scrutiny, whether they like it or not.  J. Hartley et al in Leading with political awareness: developing leaders’ skills to manage the political dimension across all sectors, Institute of Governance and Public Management 2007 argues that there is a need to develop managers’ skills in the politics of success.  More will be said on this topic in a later blog – The Politics of success, suffice it to say here it is naïve for a leader not to be focussed on service all the time.  The way they interact, or fail to interact with their staff is a form of service.  If you do not treat your staff well, you probably have a pattern of behaviour that reflects through to your customers whether you are aware of it or not.


Quality service is linked to the previous blog on empathy in leadership.  Empathy with your clients changes the dynamics dramatically and there is a higher probability of loyal customers.  Anyone who has been in business a short time know the best customer is the one you currently have – it is more expensive to acquire new customers than retain current ones.


Questions to consider


  • What is your personal service mantra (at work and at home) that drives you? 
  • What has influenced and shaped your service mantra?
  • What robust, independent measure, beyond anecdotal evidence do you have that your service mantra actually works?
  • In what way do you demonstrate that you are a sales person for your organisation – whether in the commercial, not-for-profit or service sector?
  • Do you have the same service standards at home as work? If yes, why? If not, why?