After the great success of the service leadership workshop that Ron Kaufman, Founder and Chairman, UP! Your Service gave in Dubai recently, Capital Business magazine caught up with him to bring you, in a two-part interview, the best practices he advises leaders and companies to follow in order to get a stronger service culture.


What in your opinion are the must-have qualities of a good leader?


From my perspective, and given the 25 years of consulting work that I have done with large organizations around the world, a good leader has two fundamental qualities. The first “must-have” quality is a tremendous level of intellectual curiosity for understanding and figuring out to actually build an uplifting service culture, what is the architecture, what is the methodology? Which techniques can be used to engineer the development of a stronger service culture over time? The second is the action the leader takes! You must have a bias towards actually doing things. Those things might be personal role models of excellent service or may be the fact of providing resources or sponsorship or support or coaching or many of the other actions that leaders need to take to bring a strong service culture.


So there are two elements. First, intellectual curiosity to understand the framework and the methodology for building a strong service culture. The second element is the quality of the action to actually make that culture real.


What do you see as ideal value propositions for both leaders and employees within an organization?


Well, let us look at the definition of the word service. We define service as taking action to create value for someone else. Thus, a value proposition for a leader is to understand the requirements of the people that he or she is leading. What do they value in a leader? Is it vision, passion, energy, clarity, thoughtfulness, arbitration? Is it encouraging collaboration? Is it recognizing individual achievement? The value proposition is for the leader to develop that.


Similarly for employees within an organization, when you ask about the ideal value proposition for an employee, you have to ask what is the value an organization wants to get from an employee. Is it being on time, is it being highly productive? Is it being extremely predictable, innovative? Is it being able to work without much supervision? Is it working in a highly collaborative manner? What is it that an organization values and that the value proposition for an employee is to take actions appropriate to create that value for the organization. How do you gear organizations to improve such value? How do you go about the process in terms of methodology?


The fundamental architecture for building a strong and sustainable service culture has three main components. The foundation is Actionable Service Education. It teaches everyone in the organization the fundamental service principles and how to apply those principles to real external as well as internal service situations.


In the application of the principles, we are looking for practical action steps that will enable the creation of a greater value for the person being served, whether it is an external customer and client or an internal colleague.


The second part of the methodology is called Service Leadership. Imagine that as being the roof on top protecting the house. This is how we refer to the 7 rules of service leadership fundamental behaviors that all service leaders must practice in order to guide their organization to a strong culture, protect it and ensure that their culture can grow strongly. Each of the 7 rules are articulated clearly in the book ‘Uplifting Service.’


The third part of the methodology is called the 12 Building Blocks: Fundamental areas of activity in any large organization that can and should be done in a manner that connects them to each other and ultimately surrounds the employees of the organization with constant encouragement, reinforcement, education, motivation and support to deliver excellent service.


The 12 Building Blocks are also articulated in the same book.


1. Common service language.


2. Engaging service vision.


3. New staff recruitment, to get the right new people on board.


4. New staff orientation, to give new people the right experience when they join the company.


5. Service communications, to let everyone know what is going on in terms of service and how the culture is getting stronger.


6. Service recognition and rewards, giving people that pat on the back, the accolades, the public approval for acts of great service.


7. Voice of the customer: What is the emotional qualitative and subjective nature of feedback from customers?


8. Service measures and metrics: What are the quantities, the numbers, and the percentages? What are the trends that an organization needs to track to ensure that it is going in the right direction?


9. Service improvement process: What is the process that you use to continually review, refine and improve your service, is it a contest, a suggestion scheme, a cross functional work team, or a quarterly complaint review? Whatever it is, you should have a process in the organization that ensures that you continuously improve your service and your service culture.


10. Service recovery and guarantees: What does your company do when things go wrong?


11. Service Benchmarking: It is not just looking at your competition but looking at other service organizations in other industries to see what you can learn, what best practices and new ideas can you bring to your company and your industry to be able to step up and stay ahead.


12. Role Modeling: It is the personal behaviors that send the right signals and stop those behaviors in everybody, not just the leaders, but everyone in the organization who sends wrong signals.


The 12 Building Blocks of Service Culture, is the third and final component of the architecture for building a superior service culture. The foundation is education, the roof is leadership and the 12 building blocks are in the middle.


As part of your message delivery on ‘Up Your Service’, are organizations following your advice all the way through?


Well, not every organization follow all the way through. The ones that don’t, are those that provide training but don’t focus on application afterwards. It is a shame, if you only train people and don’t focus on helping them apply what they learn in a class to actual work experiences. It is really a shame if management and leaders don’t take responsibility for coaching people, being a role model to them, bringing together their teams and actually doing what we call application workshops - where you take real service situations, real service problems and solve them together, using the fundamental service principals that were taught in the service education. However, if you do that, you get really solid results.


How do you measure improvement?


Some people will say you should measure improvement by looking at the top line revenue or the bottom line profit or the market share or the share price. There is nothing wrong with looking at those, except that they are lagging indicators, they come after everything you have done.


For example, at Singapore Airlines we say a profit is the applause you receive for the performances you have already given. So focus on the performance and let the applause come afterward. Thus, if the ultimate objective of profit, revenue, shareholder value is a lagging indicator, what would be a leading indicator? Well it might be your survey scores. If your loyalty scores, your net promoter scores, your satisfaction scores and your employee engagement scores are all going up, you will get those other business objectives. But is there a leading indicator of good survey scores? The answer to that is yes, it is customer feedback and positive compliments. If you are getting a lot of compliments from customers and colleagues, you know that your scores are going to go higher and you will get your ultimate business objectives of revenue and profit.


Here’s the final piece: What must happen before someone gives somebody else a compliment? Well remember, you don’t really get a compliment for doing what’s expected, you don’t get a compliment for just doing what you already said you would do. You get a compliment for coming up with a new idea and taking some kind of new action that creates unexpected value for the other person. In other words, you provide a level of uplifting service that is above what is just standard or average. Therefore, what should we measure? Should we measure the profits, the scores, the number of compliments or should we measure the number of new ideas and new actions that a company or a department or a person within an organization has taken today, this week, this month, this quarter, this year.


If you make that your measure of success, then you will drive the development of a strong and sustainable and uplifting service culture. Assuming your methods are a major factor in management strategy and HR policies, how do you keep a record of achievements or gaps of your delivery and actual outcome?


I am going to focus the answer of this on the HR policies. If our methods, if the fundamental architecture for building an uplifting service culture is implemented, if education is in place and is actionable, if leadership is strong and provides the protection a culture needs, if the building blocks are activated, and are aligned and are supporting the developing of the culture then you are applying our methods in your HR policy. You are hiring the right people, you are orientating them properly, you are providing compensation that is adequate but recognition that is extraordinary, you are encouraging people in their learning process, you are involving them in the service improvement policies inside your organization. That is what it means to put our methods to work in HR policies.


Thus, how do you keep a record of your achievements or gaps between all of this activity and the actual outcome? Well, observe what happens with your employees. If you have a high turnover rate and that turnover rate is not going down, then you are not yet doing the right thing and you need to keep working at it. If you have people who are happy to stay in the company and come happily to work, even if you are not paying them an outrageous amount, then it is the culture of the organization that is driving people to join the organization, stay in the organization and work hard when they are inside the organization. You know Singapore Airlines is a good example of a company that is not really known as an outstanding paymaster, in other words people who work at the company don’t say that they are getting paid very well, but they love to work in the company because they are proud of the culture, they want to be a part of that.


Another metric you can look at from an HR standpoint, is the number of people who wants to join your company. So for example, at Singapore Airlines, there are sometimes 20 people applying for one position as a cabin crew in Singapore Airlines. That is an extraordinary statistic. What is it like in your company? If you have open positions and you have difficulty getting people to join your company then you have a problem with your culture. If your employees don’t stay at the company, then you have a problem with your culture. If your employees don’t recommend your company to their friends to come and work there, then you have a problem with your culture. But on the other hand, if you have many people who want to join you, and lots of people working with you enjoy staying with you and recommend that their friends come and work as well, then you have no gap. You have got an achievement between the actual outcome and the actual practice of HR policies associated with our methods. Can you tell us how you follow up with clients in order to achieve the optimum out of your practice?


We encourage companies to create what we call a Service Culture Steering Committee. It would certainly have some members from HR, or learning and development or organization development but it should also have people from internal communications as well as people from operational, marketing, sales and production sides of business. A Steering Committee needs to have sanction. It needs to have sponsorship, and support from somebody at the top level of the organization.


Members of that Steering Committee are required to meet at least every month. Their job is to review the activities in the twelve building blocks of service culture, and the effectiveness of the educational program that is underway. They also have to identify specific kinds of issues and service improvement areas whether they are external for customers or internal between departments or between colleagues and keep the focus on what needs to be improved as well as the activities and energy on building a stronger culture.


Therefore, one of the things that we do in terms of follow up is regular follow up. We stay in touch with our clients, we consult, we help, we advise those Steering Committees on issues that can naturally come up when building a service culture and how they can improve or what other best practices they can learn from our other clients and answer some of the fundamental questions that come up.



About Ron Kaufman


Ron Kaufman is Founder and Chairman of UP! Your Service and author of the New York Times best-selling book ‘Uplifting Service,’ the proven path to delighting your customers, colleagues and everyone else you meet. He has helped companies on every continent build a culture of uplifting service that delivers real business results year after year. Making transformation his mission, Ron is one of the world’s most sought-after educators, consultants, thought-leaders and customer service speakers on the topic of achieving superior service. Ron works with a successful clientele of government agencies and multinational corporations. He delivers powerful insights and global best practices enabling organizations to gain a sustainable advantage through service.


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