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What do parking lots, sofas, and year-end parties have in common?  They all reveal to your customers what your company’s Service Culture is like…. or isn’t. Let me tell you how….


What is a Service Culture?


A Service Culture exists when a company and its employees put their customers first in everything they do. It is present when a company’s efforts are centered in and around the customer. This condition exists when employees do their daily tasks always with the customers in mind.  Every action within and outside the organization speaks the same message and is done consistent with the belief that their customer is the most important person in the company. This obsessive desire to serve permeates from top to bottom, side to center, across and around the organization.  You may think, don’t they all have IT? A close analysis may reveal otherwise.


Do you have a Service Culture?  Check how your company fares using these 3 indicators:


1. Policies, Rules & Procedures (PRP)

Company PRPs are like roots that keep an organization firmly standing on the ground.  They provide the parameters by which the business should be run. Our customers are aware why they exist and why they should be complied with.  However, some retailers/suppliers keep adding PRPs that are primarily meant for internal control, with little to no thought on how they impact on their customers’ time and convenience.  Often these are knee-jerk reactions as a result of unfortunate incidents that have happened in the near past to protect their incomes or losses. Ever wondered why, prior to exiting a big department store, your belongings are subjected to another security check? This they say was meant to deter shoplifters, for better internal control.  Was customer experience even factored in?  I doubt that.


PRPs are essentials in running a business. How can we use them to further our Service Culture? Start by holding PRPs in check and allow them to evolve.  Use them as one of the little steps you take each day that move you one step closer to achieving your overall organizational goals. Maintain PRPs that are aligned with your Service Culture and review those that are not.   Keep your eye on the prize. As Shep Hyken said, “Don’t focus on the sale. Focus on the person,’ as you focus on who you are.


2. Totems

Totems are objects that represent or serve as a distinctive mark of a clan or group, according to Dictionary.com. In organizations, totems may be things displayed or used within and outside your store, office or work areas that symbolize what you are and do.  These are strong indicators that tell your customers you mean what you say.


One of my yardsticks in measuring a company’s Service Culture, if any, is their parking slot allotments.  Have you ever had to park your car at the bottom/top most floor of your supplier’s office building if only to meet him for 30 minutes?  I had, a couple of times! My eyeballs rolled each time I noticed how convenient they have allotted the first few parking levels in this order:

1st floor / basement : for Board of Directors & Executives (with RESERVED letters in bold)
2nd – 3rd floors : for Employees
4th – 5th floors : for Visitors


If fate would have it, I would have to park somewhere else, maybe two blocks down the road! Does such a setup run consistent with “Our customers are Kings” tagline? Clearly not!


I once came 30 minutes early for a meeting  and was whisked to wait at their reception area.  A big poster was on the wall shouting “YOU COME FIRST.” Great tagline, I said to myself.  Then, I saw this nice and classy sofa that was so inviting. I sat there for a good 2 minutes and relaxed.  Soon thereafter, the receptionist approached and requested me to transfer to the other side of the room instead.  There, I was gestured to sit on one of the plastic chairs lined up and marked FOR CUSTOMERS AND VISITORS. Instantly, my first impression about that organization changed.  The sofa was nice and comfy, but it told me everything I needed to know about the company.


Take a minute and look around your store or office.  What totems do you have that consistently reflect your Service brand and culture?  What totems go against it? Remember that these things can speak volumes about where in the hierarchy of importance you have placed customers. These little things do matter in the long run.  So be careful, because your slip might be showing.


3. Rites & Rituals

Rites & rituals are established acts, events or practices that people in a group regularly perform in a set manner.  These are an integral part of an organization’s culture. They have a symbolic role which embodies the values and beliefs of a firm through the active participation of all its stakeholders.  


Recently, one of our clients commissioned us to run a company-wide Customer Experience (CX) Enhancement program for its frontline employees.  It was aimed at helping bring down the number of Customer complaints and enhance the company’s public image. To make serving customers a way of life in the organization after the training, they started implementing their revised PMS (Performance Management System) which included behavioral metrics on Customer Experience.  More importantly, they began recognizing employees and branches for providing Excellent CX. The winners were treated like celebrities so much so that each year everyone wished they would be it. Since then, the company’s annual year-end party was a blockbuster hit!


Since rites & rituals become habit-forming as part of tradition, they sometimes remain unchecked and hardly get revisited.  Trouble is, they may cause confusion and frustration to your stakeholders. Below are a few samples of these rites & rituals and guide questions to reevaluate them:

Do you celebrate achievement of sales targets over customer needs?
Do you promote ‘controlling’ personalities over customer-centric people?
Do you launch new products with little to no input from your customers?
Do you continually restructure for cost reduction rather than customer service?
Do you celebrate the recovery of a lost, loyal customer more than the acquisition of a new one?


Rites & rituals are powerful tools of organizational culture.  Most of these have an evident purpose that contribute greatly to the functions of the organization.  However, their real purpose lies in their underlying statement of what values are being celebrated. It is always best to start with a good understanding of these.


An undisputed fact in business today is this: Think customer or bust!  Many will be called but only a few will be chosen. A great service culture should not just be lip service.  It should be seen, felt and lived throughout the organization, in even the most unexpected places.


Be among the few who will succeed and learn more about how you can make it happen in your organization.  Give us a call so we can design and customize our Working With a Culture of Service Workshop to fit your needs.  


Ruth Salamat is the Training Director of PowerSkills, Inc. She has over 25 years experience in the field of corporate training and consulting specializing in Customer Excellence, Management and Leadership, Sales and Communication.   Her expertise in the field has brought her to various parts of the world like Japan, Hongkong, India and the USA designing and conducting various training programs for top 1000 multi-national and local organizations.


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