Innovative Change + Remarkable Service = Customer Loyalty

It is not ironic that the word for “transformation” and the word for that “jingle in your pocket” are the same: change.  Incremental improvement is not fast enough for organizations to keep pace with the changing expectations of today’s customers.  Success comes from transformative change, that revolutionary zeal to be bold, provocative and remarkable!  Winners innovate; losers hold on to “the way we have always done it.”  If you think the only person who enjoys change is a wet baby, then you need to change.  This issue of the newsy newsletter focuses on change.

Let's start with some cool quotes about change:

“Only dead fish swim with the current.” –Unknown
“You do not drown by falling in the water.  You drown by staying there.” –Edwin Louis Cole
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Change before you have to.” –Jack Welch
“Do one thing everyday that scares you.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
“Change is inevitable; growth is optional.” –John Maxwell

What if we told you that people do NOT resist change?

Making change happen in organizations would be a lot easier if there weren’t those pesky resistors.  There are the openly angry types, filled with long memories of pain and loud messages of blame.  There are the pessimistic “It’ll never fly, Orville” types who would throw a wet blanket on the most carefully planned party.  Finally, there are the silent grumps who never actually say anything...they just roll their eyes skyward, cross their arms defiantly, and slowly shake their heads from side to side.

No matter the form the resistance takes, people are NOT resisting change.  Rather, people resist what they believe will result in “pain” over which they have no control.  Read that sentence again.  “Pain” may be loss of job, loss of status, or loss of influence.  It can also mean the pain of rejection, looking stupid or losing contact with important relationships.  Rather than eliminating pests, wise leaders manage organizational change in such a way that the pests never show up.

Let's take a look at some barriers to effective organizational change:

“They Don’t Care What We Think”

Effective change management requires broad based inclusion or participation.  The ancient adage “people will care if they share” has great truth.  While few employees expect any organization to “let us run the place,” they do expect to be trusted enough to be asked for their input on those areas which matter to them and where their input has value.  With participation comes creativity and commitment.

“What’s In It For Me”

Effective change management requires ensuring there is a clearly perceived link between their effort and some outcome people believe has emotional worth.  Worth comes in many forms...economic, affirmation, growth, status, power.  However, the root of worth lies in the degree it has emotional matters deeply to the person.  Smart organizations help employees understand that a winning organization is one that is adaptive, responsive and perpetually in sync with the needs of its marketplace.

“This Too Will Pass”

Organizations have been weathering monumental change for a long time.  And, given the short term attention span of most organizations, employees have typically seen many change efforts come and go.  This means the change must have relevant anchors.  When the incentive system is altered to reflect the change effort, when the champions of change are the people getting the best assignments or promotions, or when executive leadership frequently ask for status reports on the change efforts, relevance is being telegraphed.

“Psst...Have You Heard That...”

Rarely are rumors sparked by malicious intent.  When people are expected to know and do not know, they often save face by concocting what they believe the truth to be.  Few things derail worthy change like falsehoods fervently believed.  Effective change management requires extraordinary communication.  The best remedy for erroneous information is through communicating...both in terms of the information disseminated as well as the feedback sought and given.  As people get the information they need, their resistance is quelled as they develop perceptions of the future that are less painful than they imagined.  Communication must take many forms, must be constant, and above all, must be candid.

“They Don’t Walk The Talk”

Effective change management requires consistent models--actions by those seen to hold the greatest influence by employees.  People take their cue as to a change effort’s importance by the manner they witness leaders acting consistent with the needed change.  People are leader-watchers.  This means actions; behaviors and priorities of leaders must be consistent (over time) and congruent with the change effort.  People don’t watch mouths, they watch moves...observation counts far more than conversation.

The Realities of Organizational Change

  • It takes time to change habits and practices.
  • New required behaviors may not align with the strengths of some leaders causing them to resist letting go of more comfortable behaviors.
  • High results-oriented organizations often struggle with the pace of culture change and are unable to go the distance required—especially if “proof” of results is slow in coming.
  • Some employees may not be capable or willing to make the required changes leading to disruption and turnover.
  • Service quality may actually decline before it gets better as all employees learn new skills and behaviors.
  • Some leaders are uncomfortable with holding employees accountable—especially if there is conflict about mediocre or poor performance.

Successful, sustainable culture change rarely happens by accident.  It occurs when key influencers agree on a plan, honor a supportive set of values and protocols, and deliberately direct their practices in a fashion that sends a consistent and congruent message that change is valued, change is not an option, and only those willing to stay the course need embark on the journey.

Creating Cultural Change Focused on Excellent Service and Customer Loyalty

Great business cultures have a clear vision that is both unifying and compelling.  It is not high sounding words on a poster or a clever phrase on the back of a business card.  It is a poignant and shared picture in the hearts and minds of all employees from the secretary to the security guard; from the maintenance person to the most invested stakeholder.

We believe culture change that focuses on creating an organization renowned for excellent service happens in a methodical way.  Our proven process for creating a customer loyalty focus is built on the foundation of a service vision reflective of four inputs:

  1. Customer Value—those parts of the customer’s experience most associated with driving customer loyalty,

  2. Employee Value—the vision must have the capacity to resonate with employees,

  3. SWOT Analysis—the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats unique to the organization,

  4. Management Vision—a vision that fits the passion of those at the top of the organization.

Once completed, a service vision guides the crafting of a leadership plan—the articulation of selected practices and initiatives that must be guided through the leadership and management chain of command and a communication plan—identification of the manner in which the service vision and the value of customer loyalty are communicated throughout the organization.

A key to culture change is extra-ordinary communication—that is, communication that is out of the ordinary; communication that is extra, meaning more than normal.  Quick wins (from the leadership plan as well as the communication plan) signal to all, in literal and symbolic ways, that the change is real and important.

Following the development of the leadership and communication plans, the crucial steps of aligning all aspects of the organization with the service vision begin.

  1. Standards, norms, processes and metrics need to be in sync with the service vision.

  2. Developing partnership protocols is crucial to insuring aligned results (not siloed activity).

  3. Shaping of selection, placement and orientation, training, communications, real-time and periodic customer feedback and intelligence, all manner of affirmation processes (recognition, incentives, balance scorecards, compensation, etc.).

  4. Designing the methods by which all these components are continually aligned and updated as customer requirements change and the new customer service excellence culture matures.

“Take Their Breath Away” is the phrase we use for the feeling we all get when something wonderfully unexpected happens.  A sudden rainbow after a thunderstorm, an amazing magic trick, a fabulous innovative product or a stunning experience as a customer all leave us awed.  We are dedicated to helping people in organizations create experiences for customers that are so wonderfully surprising that customers cannot wait to share them with others.

© Chip Bell Group, 2023.  Courtesy of John R. Patterson (  Permission is given to download and distribute this article as long as it contains this copyright notice.