Q: In your opinion, what are some key differences in Indian service culture compared to global practices?
A: The volume of people in India both – as service providers and customers – has an impact on the way people think about service in the country. With such an enormous number of available people, there is a common sense that talent is replaceable, and customers are, too.
So employers, don’t put as much effort into attracting, keeping and growing their employees as their counterparts do in other developed countries. There seems to be an ease or an acceptance that people come and go…and someone new is always coming. But over a long term the danger of this view is that people do come and go, and the human resource department focuses on getting more on new hires rather than retaining the best people as colleagues.
A similar problem exists in relation to providing customer service. With so many people to serve as potential customers, companies don’t put inas much effort to retain the loyalty of those they have. Continuous customer churn tends to be the norm, while providing truly excellent customer service is the rare exception.
Q: Do different cultures have different service standards, and different expectations? Have you found some cultures better at service than others?
A: Different countries have different service standards and expectations. For example, Americans tend to be gregarious and outgoing while the English tend to be more conservative and reserved. These are cultural standards that shape different expectations.
So are some cultures better at delivering service than others? The answer to this question is not in the standards or expectations of the country but in the country’s willingness to be curious about and sensitive to what other people truly appreciate. The key question is whether Indian service providers can become more curious about their customers, more open to learning about their customers, more sensitive to their customers wants, needs, and expectations. Are Indian service providers willing to adapt and adjust the service they provide to deliver something the customer truly appreciates or values? When you look at service in this way, India has a tremendous service potential for the future.
Q: Why do you say that India has tremendous potential when speaking about service?
A: Indian culture cherishes education and we need powerful service education in the companies, in the labour force, and even in the government. And Indians are always curious; they want to know, want to understand, want to enquire and learn more. If we can turn this passion and curiosity into a desire to understand the people we serve – our customers, colleagues, suppliers and each other – we will have the fundamental ingredients for outstanding service success.
Q: Knowing there is potential waiting to be harnessed, how can the human resource (HR) function inside a company help to achieve service success?
A: The first step is to establish a powerful definition of service. I define service is taking action to create value for someone else. When you look at service this way, the most important aspect is not the action that you take, but the ability to focus on and understand the needs and values of someone else. This can be a customer or a colleague, someone at your own level or a different level, in your department or in a completely different company.
Who is the person that needs you to do something that they will value? That’s the most important question to ask, and the first step for everyone to ask in building the service culture. With this definition, every role in an organization is a service role. HR’s role to keep service at the top of the agenda. HR, as a function, has a fundamental responsibility to help people inside an organization connect with service, connect with each other to make service improvement possible and help the organization connect with the customer base by providing better service. HR also has a responsibility to inspire people about service.
Q: Isn’t providing good service really just about avoiding complaints?
A: Service can be seen as a necessary ‘hygiene’ factor, something that you must do to avoid complaints and to retain the customers you have got. But that approach is not good enough for today’s fast moving world. We need people to be uplifted, to be motivated, to be inspired about providing great service to other people. HR can have a big impact in making that happen in many ways such as identifying the right people, setting the right cultural context, making sure the right people are promoted. No organization is going to grow successfully and sustainably in the future without providing great service to customers, and developing a culture of service inside the organization that employees find to be satisfying, motivating and uplifting.
Q: What is the difference between Actionable Service Education that you talk about, and Customer Service Training?
A: Many companies spend a lot of time and money on customer service training, teaching people how to use the script, follow the procedure, do what is in the checklist. And training works well when something needs to be done exactly the same way over and over again. However, when serving customers, we need employees and team members who have flexibility, who have the ability to think and understand what’s called for in a new situation. We need team members who can decide for themselves the right action to take, rather than simply following a scripted formula.
That’s the difference between educating someone to think more effectively about service rather than simply training them exactly what to do. You inspire, uplift and empower employees by educating to think and work together to create better service experiences for your customers and for each other.