John DiJulius | Customer Experience Blog

August 24, 2010, 8:52 pm
Filed under: Customer Service

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The quality of your customer service, and the level of your organization’s customer service, comes down to one thing and one thing only: The Service Aptitude of every employee you have.  From the CEO to the account executive, sales clerk, call center, receptionist, or service provider, it’s all about Service Aptitude!!!  What exactly is it?

Service Aptitude: A person’s ability to recognize opportunities to exceed customers’ expectations, regardless of the circumstances.

Most people don’t have very high service aptitude, especially when they are entering the work force after finishing school, regardless if that is high school, college, an MBA, or a trade school.  Many front-line employees don’t have high service aptitude even after years of working.  And sadly, a high percentage of executives continue to have low service aptitude during their careers.  Why?  Why is high service aptitude so rare?  What dictates it, and what impacts it?

Life experiences is the primary factor in people’s service aptitude, especially the younger workforce.  Think about it.   Front-line employees’ cost of living typically does not afford them the luxury to fly first class, stay at five-star resorts, drive a Mercedes Benz, and enjoy other higher-end experiences. Yet we, as managers, expect those same employees to be able to deliver world-class service to clients, guests, patients, or whomever we call customers.  It doesn’t make any sense.

Previous work experiences have just as much of an impact. Many of our front-line employees have never worked for a world class service organization, or even a good service organization. So both their life experiences and work experiences have molded their service aptitude. It’s not their fault!

Here is a great example.  Both my companies, John Robert’s Spa and The DiJulius Group, have new employees take an E-SAT (Employee Service Aptitude Test) as part of their new hire training.  Today we have helped hundreds of companies create E-SATs for their new hires.  Many years ago, when we first introduced E-SATs to our training, I was firm that if a new employee didn’t get a 100%, they would not be allowed to work here. Since the test was administered after several weeks of training and it was multiple choice (typically 50-75 questions), if they couldn’t tell which answer was the best, obviously they would never have high enough service aptitude to work in our environment. Well, I was wrong and learned a lot from that.  Many of our newly hired employees did not get 100% on their E-SAT.  Initially I couldn’t understand how an employee couldn’t see that the correct answer was obvious, until we started reviewing their answers with them. That is when we heard things like, “At my last job, I would have gotten in trouble if I would have done C” (the correct answers), or “I am afraid I would have been fired for doing C.”  That was such an eye opener. Think about it.   How many of our current employees or the ones we are about to hire, have worked at jobs that had poor customer service policy and their managers were extremely paranoid and worked in fear?  There are a great many pre-existing influences that only a strong service culture, training and constant reinforcing can change.

Managers and senior leadership are often to blame for fostering low service aptitude, not only in their employees, but because their service aptitude has never increased. This may sound odd or contradictory. It probably makes sense why a front-line employee doesn’t have high service aptitude based on limited exposure to world class experience; however, logic would suggest someone in management typically has enjoyed nicer experiences and therefore should have higher service aptitude.  Yet too often that is not the case. Why?  It’s because many managers and leaders have a technical background.  They started off as the technician, accountant, engineer, service provider, etc. and they were very good in that position. Based on their technical success and a heavy emphasis on technical/operational processes that most companies have, they were then promoted.   That is where their focus remains.

IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT — So many times when a front-line employee makes a decision that upsets a customer, the manager gets frustrated at how the employee handled the situation. Often, it is not the employee’s fault.  Think about it.   Why did they handle it that way? No one taught them any better? They do what they know, what they have been taught and what they see. If they are constantly threatened and reminded about policy, that will influence the way they handle customers.    Too often the majority of customer service training is technically driven.  It focuses on procedures.  The little time that is spent on the experiential side, or soft training, is platitudes, where the manual, credo card and trainer says, “Treat customers like you want to be treated, exceed their expectations, and build rapport & relationships.”  Words like that are worthless, unless you also teach them: how,   what is non- negotiable when dealing with our customers, and the Answer’s ‘yes,’ now what’s the question.

Big Finish is the most important part of this article. Please read it several times. I have found that more than six out of ten employees who have been average at best in their last jobs, can be significantly better — even rise to superstar status — if they are placed in the right culture. That’s a work environment that breeds world class behavior vertically, horizontally, internally and externally. It’s a culture that constantly reinforces the right behavior, recognizes and celebrates it, and makes the company’s experience a burden of the brand.  One more time: Six out of ten average employees can be significantly better, even become superstars, when placed in the right world-class culture. It doesn’t always mean we have to hire those average employees. We have many average employees working for us right now, and if we improve the culture, focus on the “Ten Commandments to Being a World Class Customer Experience Organization” you can create many service superstars from your current employee base.

About the Author
~John DiJulius is President and Chief Visionary Officer of  The DiJulius Group, a customer experience consulting firm used by top organizations, to create, develop, and improve their customer service systems. Our customer service consulting engagements help improve and maintain a healthier corporate culture and performance; lower employee turnover costs; increase customer retention factors; generate more referrals and make price less relevant. Companies across the world use The DiJulius Group to create World-Class Customer Experiences every day.  John will be a presenter at The Secret Service Summit 2010.

1 Comment

Great blog. We are of course assuming the prospective company is willing to pay the cost to create a world class service culture (i.e. equipment, training, etc.)

Having worked in service at world class hotels (e.g. Ritz Carltons, Mark Hopkins in SF) I’ve found many times this becomes an issue when justifying cost on your P&L.

Comment by Augustus Lee

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