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Effective Service Strategies: Beyond “Spray and Pray”

As I was sitting in a restaurant enjoying my meal I noticed there was a change in shifts. As a result of the shift change, a new waitress approached the table and started clearing the used dishes and utensils without saying a word, making no eye contact with me or any of my guests.  She did not even ask if we were finished.   She seemed frustrated and deeply preoccupied…

Before the new waitress approached the table, we were enjoying the experience. Not only was the food delicious, the conversation was interesting and the table service was above average. So back to the new waitress. There could have been many things going on with her at the time but as a customer, it appeared that serving restaurant patrons was a necessary evil and this negatively affected a previously delightful experience.  The impact of the waitress’ mood was memorable and it was a while before I went back to that particular restaurant.

Business owners and executives know quality customer and client care can help differentiate their brand, products, and services so they often lament the poor customer service attitudes displayed by front-line employees.  Their first thought is that they need to find a good customer service trainer to provide employees with training designed to improve customer satisfaction levels.

So, in comes the trainer, and the sessions earn raving reviews when the seminar is over. Based on the high engagement levels during the class and the positive training evaluations, decision makers are of the opinion the training day was a success. They are optimistic about their plans for differentiation and then the following week, they observe short-term improvement in morale but the same old behaviours resurfaced.

I once read an e-mail by a consultant who was part of an HR Forum. Her statement eloquently summed up this phenomenon.  The Consultant stated, “We ‘spray and pray’, with our myriad of training initiatives providing individuals with techniques, leaving their serving spirit underdeveloped.  With their awareness untouched, participants return to the workplace with great intentions that easily evaporate with uncaring, uninformed, busy and toxic supervision.  How therefore do we get past these knee-jerk, reactive, piece-meal (customer service training) initiatives?”

I have always maintained training in isolation will not work unless you have an engaged team, embedded accountability, empowering leaders, and an organizational culture that won’t “chew up and spit out” all attempts to make meaningful change.

When entitlement seeps into the customer service experience it adds yet another complication that needs to be addressed. For example, there are restaurants that I patronize where no matter the quality of service, customers are obliged to pay a tip. In fact, the tip is included in the invoice automatically. What owners don’t always realize is that this practice creates a culture where the tip becomes an entitlement and not a motivator of quality customer service unless the client is a very big tipper.

7 Tips for Building a Well-Rounded Service Strategy

To create effective flows associated with quality service here are seven suggestions that can help you to bring about long-term, healthy changes in customer and client care:

Create a Service Strategy

We always hear about sales strategies, but what about a Customer Service Strategy? This type of strategy should start with defining a vision for customer care. After you decide what you want customer service to look like, plan how you intend to shift from your current service level to your desired state.  This means you need to identify and evaluate your service gaps and conduct cause and effect analyses so you are strategizing based on real data and root causes.

Bring Your Customer Service Standards To Life

As part of your Service Strategy exercise, create or upgrade your service standards.  Everyone should know and have access to the standards for customer service.   Additionally, all non-client facing employees should understand that internal customers are just as important as external ones.

Develop Well-Thought-Out Systems and Structures

If all your service process is manual, this obviously impactsthe client's experience as there is more room for error and the process is slower. In a digital era, technology is a baseline requirement for the service experience and selecting the compatible technology is even more important. When it comes to structures, work flows, templates and procedural manuals reduce the potential for errors and variations in client experiences.

Manage Performance

Identify key customer service competencies you would like your employees to embody so customer service training can be specifically targeted at skill gaps.  The competencies can be integrated into performance appraisals so they can be used as drivers that will help your organization bring about sustainable change.

Align Compensation, Reward and Recognition

Review your compensation and reward systems to determine if they will support or hinder the changes you would like to observe.  Whether employees are in an environment that makes gratuity part of the bill or not, employees tend to welcome tips/commission. When it comes to tipping, there is a tipping hierarchy, the big tippers usually get the best service and they are protected by their favoured service givers.  Some organizations attempt to combat this dynamic by not allowing tips at all, but this is difficult to monitor.

Analyse and Customer Satisfaction Metrics

Decide how you will measure customer and client satisfaction.  Many organizations conduct satisfaction surveys and hold managers and supervisors responsible for their results by having them create and implement action plans to address gaps.  This process introduces an accountability factor that can lead to quality service / care.

Learning and Development

Service training should come after a service strategy is created and adequate service systems and structures implemented. In this way, the learning and development can target actual deficiencies identified by surveys and internal observation within the parameters of the structure and system.  Targeted L & D practices, combined with a well-defined service strategy can ensure accountability to the new behaviours and can help to bring about me


So as you can see, improving service levels involves more than just attending a seminar. Decision makers ought to consider if they can achieve return on investment if the culture, structures and systems do not set the stage for organized efforts, engaged employees and enhanced customer service. Decision-makers should to focus on building effective systems and structures before they can start quality service training.  In other words, training should not be the only element of a service initiative. 

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With knowledge gained from almost 40 years of Fortune 500 and international consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and proprietary model for changing businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, a multiple award-winning author and cultural consultant.

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