Keeping High Spirits in Service Delivery
By John R. Patterson
and Chip R. Bell
The Native Americans believed every
creation was alive. A tree had a spirit in the same way as a horse or a bird. This belief
fostered a strong allegiance to insuring cooperation within nature. It also led to their
strong focus on conservation. The buffalo was killed for meat, but was also revered as
having a great spirit.
Organizations that create customer devotion
look at their service processes in a similar way. While we rationally know the order entry
process is not really alive, if we thought of it like that--a part of a living, organic
system to achieve goals--we would ensure it was the appropriate process for our
Caretaking "live" processes would
ensure the service process always worked well and worked cooperatively with other
processes. A "live" perspective would increase the chances the process received
proper maintenance. It would guarantee custodians of the process oversaw it with great
respect, not only for the process itself but for what it helped provide to customers.
Service processes receiving this type of TLC would always have high morale.
What is a service process? A service
process can be defined from two perspectives. From the inside looking out, it is a
collection of procedures and/or practices that govern a complete operation. Bottom line,
it is the means organizations use to deliver service to customers. However, from
customers viewpoints, it is what an organization puts them through to get what they
need or want.
A hotel has a process for check-in. While
the operation ("check-in") from the customers perspective might start when
the guest approaches the front desk and end with the guests departure with a room
key, for the hotel the process might start with reservations or someone alerting the front
desk the hotel was overbooked. And, it might not end until the night audit had done a
review and balanced the shift.
Customers do not generally desire a service
process. Most would prefer to simply snap their fingers and instantly get the product or
outcome they desire. Can you imagine a customer just asking for the service process?
("I only stopped by to see if you had some forms I could fill out" or "I
called for one reason--so you could put me on hold!") Granted, some organizations
have created processes so delightful customers look forward to going through the hoops.
Yet, the primary rationale for installing processes is to insure that service is delivered
consistently, efficiently and productively.
A process might be governed by a set a
procedures (fill out the application in triplicate), a collection of regulations (complete
in one hour and provide a copy to security), or even certain laws (enter into the company
ledger). Some processes are complex involving many steps and involving many units; some
are simple and short. All have the potential for having high morale.
How to Make a Process Happy
There are a number of principles for
creating happy processes. Remember: a happy process works hard for everyonethe
customer, employees, leaders, the organization
as well as their fellow processes.
Below are ten principles for service process morale management.
- Processes must be viewed from the customers perspective. The customers
perspective trumps company convenience every time.
- Processes must be in sync with the organization's service vision. If the service vision
is about 'customer comfort,' then every process must be crafted to facilitate
- Processes must always defer to the organization's core values and service standards.
Values and standards take precedence over processes and procedures.
- Processes must facilitate great internal service, not just external service. Silos and
shaky handoffs hurt process morale. In the case of a tie, external service trumps internal
- Process changes driven by "economics" must be scrutinized for their impact on
customers before an accurate return on investment can be determined.
- Processes must be regularly reviewed and updated to insure they work properly, and that
they reflect customers ever changing expectations for service.
- The top ten most important processes must be annually singled out for an "alignment
check" and "tune up." The criteria for "top 10 is that
process impact on customers.
- Processes that cease to achieve their purpose must be eliminated before their continued
presence fools someone into thinking they are needed and they begin to fall under
"special protection" by their custodian.
- Processes are never completely happy unless they are employee friendly.
- Leaders are responsible for the morale of processes, not the processs custodian.
The Sound of a Happy Process
Sounds were important to Native Americans.
The wind in the trees, the noise of the cricket, and the howl of the distant coyote all
formed a language that fostered understanding and appreciation. What if you interviewed a
really happy process? Lets listen in on a part of a recent interview we conducted
with the checking account process (Cap) at a large bank. As you review the transcript of
our conversation, ask yourself: If I could interview our service processes what would I
Us: We know what you do, Cap, but who
would you say you are?
Cap: Well, Ive been called a lot
names! Actually, it depends on who you talk with. To my customer, I consider myself a
conduit. You know, like the electric wires in your home. Im not the
thats the customers funds. I just help them get the power. But, to
the bank Im a counter. I help them keep track of how much money is in the bank so
they can invest it or lend it out. I also secretly work for the FDIC, but we wont
talk about that!
Us: I realize its different strokes for
or, should I say different payments of different processes
what turns you on, Cap? What makes you happy?
Cap: Oh, thats easy. Its when I
see customers have that really confident, secure look on their faces
like I worked
for them just exactly like they hoped I would.
Us: Lets talk about. Whats the
main way that happens?
Cap: Well, when Im truly taken care
of, Im almost invisible to customers; everything works like clockwork. It means
theres a standard way of doing what I do and everybody remembers what it is. But,
theres another way it happens. This bank is all about "impeccable
accuracy." When those who use me remember and are guided by that mantra, I get to do
my job in a very special way.
Us: Okay, Cap, what else makes you a super
Cap: You know that I dont work alone
here. Customers who use me also use an ATM card and sometimes have direct payment or
deposit processes. Some have loans and a savings account. It means I have to get along
with other bank processes. What makes me happy is when my caretaker helps me to talk with
these processes. And, were all pretty cooperative if we get to speak the same
Us: One more question. Whats the one
thing that stresses you the most?
Cap: Its when my caretakers think I
am here for their benefit only. I can guarantee you when that happens
and it happened
to me with my last caretaker
customers get pretty angry. And, they blame me for it!
What does this conversation with Cap teach
us? Consistent customer loyalty will not happen without corporate standards, norms and
processes all aligned with the service vision. Service breakdown typically happens at the
intersection of two internal units that only care about their process or their part of a
process. However, if there are precise a shared vision and worked-out-in-advance
procedures, there is a blueprint for efficient and effective execution.
Cap also told us that customers want
trust---that is, "Will this experience go as well or better than I expect." The
overall goal of happy processes is aligned efforts throughout the organization. Alignment
helps ensure the trust that bolsters customer confidence. With confidence and trust,
loyalty and devotion are possible.
Process alignment and process morale
improvement can also play a helpful role in culture change efforts. As employees attempt
change, they obviously find themselves "plowing new ground." This uncertainly
naturally causes employees to look for assurance that their pioneering efforts are
relevant and valued. A major source of that solace comes from evidence that leadership is
committed to the change. If employees find themselves continuing to use the same old
processes and procedures, it signals that the change is only lip service. They will likely
dismiss the change effort as cosmetic and operate as they always have.
The term "happy process"
originated with one of our international clients. We were grappling for a way to explain
the meaning of process alignment as a part of developing company wide service standards
and norms. Our client thought about the end result and suggested that one outcome of
alignment might be "happy processes." The label proved to be a powerful metaphor
that vastly contributed to understanding and efficiency in the company-wide alignment
Processes are different than people. With
people, morale is nurtured from the inside. We dont motivate people, we help them
motivate themselves. However, with process, you contribute morale from the outside.
Processes are much more dependent on the leadership of the organization for their
The secret to maintaining processes in a
state of "happiness" is to remember they are means, not ends. They are the
ultimate servant in the quest for customer loyalty and devotion. Treating them as a common
slave may give you process acquiescence and ultimately customer distain. But treating them
as a contributing partner will yield you process alignment and customer devotion.
John Patterson is president of the
Atlanta-based Progressive Insights, Inc., a CBG alliance company. Chip R. Bell is a senior
partner and founder of The Chip Bell Group headquartered near Dallas. They can be reached