‘What does it take to win?’, a question I am asked frequently by private companies that seek leading positions in their markets. My response to this question is always the same: “make service excellence your number one priority.”
I really believe that most companies know deep down that they need to do three things when serving their customers: one, understand what customers want and expect; two, strive to satisfy them, and three, exceed their expectations whenever they can. But in my experience running the Service Hero Index over eight years in Kuwait and two years in the United Arab Emirates and based on over 150,000 validated assessments over the years, I repeatedly see the same patterns.
Only a handful of companies, less than 10% to be exact, are more fully aligned around an ecosystem of excellence that is at the core of what they do. They are the natural consistent leaders with CSI scores above 80 points. We see that the majority of brands are not doing enough to enable consistent service excellence as 70% of brands score in the seventies. These companies may train staff and measure some key numbers, but what they lack is the full view of how to enable a culture of excellence. The final 20% of companies score in the sixties, which is a low score. They do way too little to ensure they are building customer satisfaction day in and day out and will see their market share erode over time.
I believe that the reason this is happening is that today’s reality is tough on most of us as executives. Markets are unstable and fluid as customer expectations and behavior constantly change every day and are shaped by new technologies. This dynamic market environment makes sticking to a single strategy a challenge for most companies and so focusing on excellence will slip. Our priorities are tested by the need to react and our strategic focus and resolve to execute on the strategy crack under the pressure. That is when internal misalignment begins to happen.
It reminds me a scene from the film “The Titanic”, where the captain is boasting at the dinner table about his ship. He says this ship is the ‘most luxurious, the best-constructed vessel, the safest and the fastest’. He even said they would “break the speed record”. His crew focused on maintaining course and speed in order to break the record but did not effectively keep an eye out for the dangers of floating ice. When the iceberg appeared, it caught them off guard, and the unsinkable sank.
Companies need help to navigate these dangerous waters and make the icebergs, the symbol of competition and other market forces, visible.
As someone immersed in measuring and enabling service excellence, I see my role as a guide to executives. I try to help them navigate turbulent waters in order to stay clear of the dangers and help them maintain an unsinkable course that leaves their customers feeling loyal and uplifted by the experience.
In my opinion, in order to satisfy and build loyal customers, we need to start inside out. We need to build a culture of excellence within our team so that they serve with passion.
Aristotle, who pioneered the scientific method, speaks about consistency and having a method to achieve sustainable excellence. He says, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Accordingly, in our opinion, to have a culture of excellence a company needs a comprehensive framework that ensures excellence is a habit. The three pillars of excellence in my experience are leadership which directs and inspires, winning the hears (emotional factors) and winning minds (rational actions). Leadership drives excellence. Processes and systems enable it. And a passionate team realizes and achieves it. Let’s take a closer look at each pillar.
Dealing and meeting with so many executives over the years, I have come to recognize how real leaders personify excellence: they live it and breathe it. They not only make it so clear what their goal is, but they also create the environment that will facilitate achieving it. Leadership is the key to opening the door to excellence. Once you open the door, you need to do two other things. The first of these things is winning the heart.
Winning the heart, this emotional side of culture is the one with the substantial impact as it creates an environment friendly or conducive to positive change. An engaged, motivated and happy team will drive performance by a substantial 40% impact. It entails three elements: 1) engagement, 2) people management and 3) rewards.
Now that we have seen how leadership opens the door, and we have won the teams’ heart so they have the desire to contribute and achieve, let’s look at the glue that makes it all stick, which is convincing the mind.
The challenge here is how you manage 1) your resources, 2) processes and systems, and 3) metrics so that you satisfy not only for today, but also for tomorrow because as Steve Jobs says, we need to know what they will need in the future.
Let me share with you a case study based on the national customer satisfaction index we have been running in Kuwait and the U.A.E. for many years spanning 17 industries. Our case study is taken from the index results regarding brands that are leaders in thinking differently and innovatively. This top brand is a repeat country winner in the Service Hero customer satisfaction index for 2017 in our Kuwait and U.A.E. indices from among over 300 brands in each market. It obtained this high score entirely based on validated customer assessments and, interestingly, it is not a café or an airline whose core offering is hospitality, but a bank, in fact, an Islamic bank.
Boubyan Bank has been able to unleash staff engagement by constantly obsessing about its customers. To maintain its consistent leadership, the bank has a comprehensive framework for excellence and ensures that everyone is clear, equipped and motivated to achieve it. It enjoys Net Promoter Scores that are unheard of 75% businesses in any industry, let alone a bank. What enabled the bank to achieve such outstanding scores was its leadership which consists of a CEO and executive team that is humble, accessible, supportive and trusting and that led the business with a human touch. This has inspired everyone to ensure they achieve a simple goal – making anyone who deals with the bank smile when they see or interact with them. They encourage decentralized teams to innovate and are, therefore, able to achieve double-digit growth year on year.
The bottom line is that Boubyan Bank has demonstrated that it has made service their top priority. That is the reason they are able to sustainably and consistently lead among all 300 brands in the index. The bank uses a comprehensive framework that has made excellence part of its DNA and which places the customer at the center of its culture. Using an index to independently measure how both staff and customers think they are performing is the way to an enabling tool to ensure positive and consistent performance.
Faten Abu-Ghazaleh is the President of Service Hero.