Published date: July 31, 2017
Last modified: July 31, 2017

Sustaining a long term customer service initiative

Most customer service improvement initiatives fail to produce sustained results. While such a statement may seem harsh, most would agree with the statement based on their own experiences.

After investing significant amounts of time, effort, and money in service improvement initiatives, most organisations do not attain the sustained results they were hoping for. Failure is usually not due to a lack of creativity or resources. Failure is most often the result of a lack of long-term commitment to the hard work that sustainability requires.

The “launch” phase of a customer service improvement initiative can be challenging, but it is also energising. Top management is involved in the launch, frontline employees join improvement teams, and service communication abounds. There are skeptics, of course, but most are hopeful that this time things will actually get better. Oh and what about the back office – so often left out and managed badly?

The launch phase may last several months, or even a year, depending on the organisation. The service initiative launch usually includes such activities as:

  • Creating a service improvement team or committee
  • Developing service standards
  • Communicating the details of the service initiative to the organisation
  • Developing and implementing training programmes for all employees
  • Developing and implementing a service recognition programme

Each of the above activities are important and must be carefully planned and executed. The launch, however, simply gets things going. Now comes the excruciating and disciplined work to keep things going. Most organisations simply aren’t that committed and stop short of doing the things that truly sustain the service initiative. Delving into the bowels of the organization and messing with processes, procedures, structure, etc. is very difficult and usually not as glamorous as the initial launch. But that is where sustained improvement lies. The purpose of this article is to provide principles and processes for achieving long-term success.


The cause for the failure of most customer service improvement initiatives is the failure to change the organisation’s formal accountability processes. Without proper accountability, service improvement remains a “nice to do.” It must become a “have to do.”, but a have to do because people are engaged! and want to do This means reviewing and adjusting all of your accountability processes to include customer service elements. This can be a painful and time-consuming task, but it is vital for long-term success.

Performance appraisals

Changing the appraisal process can be difficult. While some of us hate performance appraisals, we’ve usually become comfortable with whatever process our company uses. When implementing a service improvement process, it is vital that the performance appraisal process evolves to include specific elements of the customer service ethos and initiative. The behaviours that you’ve identified as core elements of your service initiative must be included in the front and back office performance appraisal mechanism. The leadership team usually attends some kind of training during the launch of a service improvement initiative and their appraisals must also reflect all of the customer service elements that are agreed. Leaders must be required to set specific service objectives for their areas of responsibility and be held accountable for achieving those objectives. Look at the current appraisal process your organisation uses. Does it significantly reflect the elements of service that you say are important to the organisation? Be very critical of the appraisal process. Making changes will be hard and bureaucratic, but such changes must occur to ensure sustained improvement.

Job descriptions

Like the performance appraisal process, all job descriptions must evolve to significantly reflect the critical elements of the service improvement effort. Management job descriptions must reflect expectations regarding leading a service-driven organisation. I’m not talking about a casual mention of service. It must be clear from reading your organisation’s job descriptions that service excellence is a core expectation. Reviewing and changing job descriptions is mind-numbing work. Few organisations are willing to do it. Only those organisations willing to make a long-term commitment to service excellence will take on such an effort.


Who is moving ahead in your organisation? There is probably no single decision that more clearly communicates what an organisation values than deciding who gets promoted up the corporate ladder. It is one thing to say that those employees who live the values of the company are the ones who will move ahead. It is something else to ensure that “living the values” is truly a part of the promotion decision. There are, of course, many factors that go into a promotion decision. If, however, being a customer service role model isn’t ingrained in the process, you are leaving to chance the most powerful factor in developing and sustaining a culture of service excellence. In your company, what is the process for selecting individuals for promotion? Is it a carefully orchestrated process that ensures that those with the right mix of talents and skills are promoted, or is it a process that relies on contacts and connections? Instituting a rigorous system for succession planning is difficult, but it is another action that separates those companies that are truly committed to service excellence from those that simply want a quick fix.


Most service initiatives include training for all frontline and management employees. They forget the back office and what I call ‘line of fire’ staff. Some organisations mistakenly think that “kick off training” is all that is necessary. Organisations that are truly committed to creating a culture of service excellence know that kick off training simply provides a common understanding of the service initiative and begins the education process. Such training must never stop. Most of the organisation’s internal training mechanisms will have to evolve to include consistent messages about service excellence.

On-the-job training

Who conducts the on-the-job training in your organisation? Are those employees selected to train others simply the most available or are they truly role models of your service culture? Being selected as a trainer should be an honour. It should signify that, not only is the employee technically expert, he/she embodies the values of the organisation. Organisations that sustain a culture of service excellence carefully select their trainers using specific criteria that include modeling excellent service. These trainers are, in fact, trained on training others. They are taught how to put together a training plan, how to adapt training to different learning styles, and how to incorporate the organization’s values in the training. This means that train-the-trainer sessions must occur to ensure that service is an integral part of on-the-job training.

Pertinent training materials, such as instructor guides, training manuals, participant materials, etc, must evolve to include the service initiative’s content. Many times I have been asked to assist with an already existing service improvement initiative that had not achieved the hoped for impact. In some cases, the initiative was kicked off 2-3 years previously. One of the first things I ask to see is a sample of training materials. I’m sure you are not surprised that many times these materials are seriously out of date and include nothing about the “new” service initiative. Yes, it takes a lot of time to review and update the materials, but such updates help to ensure that the service initiative continues past the kickoff and doesn’t rely on trainers to “remember” to include service content.

Ongoing training

Formalized refresher training on customer service should occur yearly at a minimum. Such training can take place in a variety of formats such as best practice forums, e-learning, or simply straightforward training that continues to build on the service initiative. Committing to ongoing formal training demonstrates that service is not a flavour of the month initiative, but an ongoing organisational strategy. If it has been a year or more since specific, formal customer service training occurred in your organization, it is time to bring the troops back together.

Interview/selection process

Whenever I discuss with an organisation recruitment needs and strategy I stress the importance of adapting the interview/selection process to ensure that the process is designed to, a) ensure that service-oriented individuals are recruited, and, b) ensure that the interview/selection process models the service standards of the organisation. Everyone usually agrees that this is an important part of the improvement strategy, but it is also an action that typically gets delayed and delayed. Why? Because it is hard to do. The interview process must be analysed to make sure the right questions are asked. Investment should ideally be made in training interviewers in behavioural interviewing techniques.


There is typically a lot of communication during the launch phase of a service initiative. CEO forums, newsletter articles, videos, etc. all help in getting word of the initiative out to all employees. As time passes, however, communication regarding the service effort typically drops off. While this is natural, there are certain types of communications that must continue if customer service is to remain on the radar screen.

Customer satisfaction measurements

Employees at all levels of the organization must know what customers are saying. Employees need to know what is working and what is not working in regard to service. If you are not continually measuring service, either through internal measurement processes or with the help of measurement professionals, you are just guessing at how you are doing. If everyone in the organisation does not receive ongoing communication regarding these measures and how their function impacts the results, you are missing out on 90% of the value of measuring customer satisfaction. Regularly measuring and communicating customer satisfaction requires a lot of thought, a lot of time, and sometimes significant amounts of money. Organisations that have sustained a culture of service excellence, however, recognize that ongoing measurement is really the only way to know how to properly allocate resources to ongoing improvement.

CEO/Executive Communication

When CEOs and executives get behind a service initiative, they usually support the effort with plenty of energy and enthusiasm, for a while. Eventually other business issues overwhelm the executive team. Again, this is natural and to be expected. Mechanisms must be implemented, however, that keep customer service on the corporate ‘agenda’ screen. Each executive must select a regular meeting in which customer service issues will always be a part of the meeting agenda, forever. Attendees must be prepared to discuss service progress and challenges faced by their respective workgroups. The tendency will be to let the subject drop off the agenda as time goes on. Truly committed organizations will not allow that to happen.

At least once a year, most CEOs conduct a “state of the organisation” address. A standing part of such an address should include significant time dedicated to customer service issues – successes and challenges. This is a marvelous time to recognize the service heroes in the organisation. If it has been a year since the top executive of your company has significantly demonstrated his/her commitment to service excellence in a public and company-wide manner, it is time for him/her to do it again.

Ongoing Communication

Take a look at the posters, fliers, etc. that were produced and posted during the service initiative launch. Have they become worn, faded, or have they disappeared completely? Refresh the visible communications mechanisms to let employees know that the initiative is alive and well. As time goes along it is important to revise these materials so that they are in sustain mode instead of launch mode. This takes thought and creativity.

Remember those regular service improvement articles that appeared in your company newsletter at the beginning of the service initiative? Have such articles been nudged aside or replaced completely by other newsletter content? This may send a signal to employees that the customer service initiative is no longer a priority. Again, it’s important to keep such content fresh and innovative, but it is even more important to ensure that such content remains prominent.

Sustaining a culture of service excellence: A Checklist

The following checklist is provided to assist you in assessing how well you are following through on creating a culture of service excellence – beyond the launch phase. The checklist summarizes the thoughts discussed in this article:

  • Have all performance appraisals been revised to significantly include customer service factors?
  • Have all job descriptions been revised to ensure that customer service is reflected as a significant job expectation for everyone?
  • Does your organisation have a rigorous succession planning process to ensure that only those who truly live the organisation’s values are promoted up the corporate ladder?
  • Are merit increases and bonuses connected to customer service performance?
  • Has new recruitment orientation been revised to include the key messages of the customer service initiative?
  • Are on-the-job trainers carefully selected as service role models? Are they trained to be effective trainers? Have all training materials been updated with the latest service content?
  • Have your employees attended formalised customer service refresher training in the last year?
  • Has the interview/selection process been revised to ensure that the company is hiring service-oriented employees and modeling the company’s service values?
  • Are ongoing customer satisfaction measurement systems in place? Are the results communicated to everyone in the organisation?
  • Does the executive team visibly and publicly demonstrate their commitment to the service improvement process on a regular basis?
  • Is there ongoing communication regarding customer service that is up-to-date, fresh, and creative?

Any question to which your answer is “no” or “not really” is an area that should be addressed immediately if you are to keep a service improvement initiative alive. I admit that there is a lot there. But if you are truly committed to creating a culture of service excellence, these are the areas that will yield a long-term payoff.

Concluding thoughts

A customer service improvement initiative is similar to any exercise programme. The beginning is exciting. You buy exercise equipment or join a health club, buy workout clothes, and read about exercise routines and healthy living. The first few workouts are invigorating and you feel pretty good about yourself. Then, other things begin to take priority. You skip going to the gym or taking your run. Each time you skip a workout it becomes easier to skip the next one. Pretty soon your running shoes are gathering dust in the closet or your gym membership lapses. Most people repeat this cycle over and over. Only those individuals who are truly committed to sustaining a healthy lifestyle are willing to put in the hard work of running when it’s raining, working out when they are tired, or eating a healthy meal when a Big Mac is simply a five-minute drive away. The same is true with a customer service initiative. The real success lies in what you do after the big, exciting launch. Yes, it is hard work, but the payoff is sustained service excellence. (Original script ideas from Snow Associates)

Published date: July 25, 2017
Last modified: July 25, 2017

7 things leaders can do to help people change

Ever tried to change anyone’s behaviour at work? It can be extremely frustrating. So often the effort produces an opposite result: rupturing the relationship, diminishing job performance, or causing the person to dig in their heels. Still, some approaches clearly work better than others.

A review of 2,852 direct reports of 559 leaders carried out by Zenger/Folkman found the following…….

Some behaviours were less helpful in changing others. Two had little to no impact, thereby providing useful guidance on what not to do:

  • Being nice. Sorry, but nice guys finish last in the change game. It might be easier if all it took to bring about change was to have a warm, positive relationship with others. But that isn’t the case.
  • Giving others incessant requests, suggestions, and advice. This is commonly called nagging. For most recipients this is highly annoying and only serves to irritate them rather than change them. (This is the approach many tend to adopt first, despite its lack of success.)

There were of course behaviours that did correlate with an exceptional ability to drive change. Seven really helped other people to change. Here they are, in order from most to least important:

1. Inspiring others. There are two common approaches that most of us default to when trying to motivate others to change. Broadly, we could label them “Push” and “Pull.” Some people intuitively push others, forcefully telling them they need to change, providing frequent reminders and sometimes following these steps with a warning about consequences if they don’t change. This is the classic “hand in your back” approach to motivating change. (We noted earlier that classic “Push” doesn’t work well.)

The alternative approach is “Pull,” which we can employ in a variety of ways. These include working with the individual to set an aspirational goal, exploring alternative avenues to reach an objective, and seeking other’s ideas for the best methods to use going forward. This approach works best when you begin by identifying what the other person wants to achieve and making the link between that goal and the change you’re proposing. Inspiring leaders understand the need for making an emotional connection with colleagues. They want to provoke a sense of desire rather than fear. Another approach in many work situations is to make a compelling, rational connection with the individual in which we explain the logic for the change we want them to make.

2. Noticing problems. Lots of management advice focuses on the need for individuals to become better problem solvers; but there is an important step that comes even earlier. It is the ability to recognise problems (to see situations where change is needed and to anticipate potential snares in advance).

For example, in one company we worked with, it was common to hear people being praised for their heroic crisis management skills – rescuing projects on the brink of failure, or getting a delayed product to a client just in time. A new manager recognized this pattern as a serious problem. She correctly saw it not as a sign of hard work, but as a symptom of a broken process.

3. Providing a clear goal. The farmer attempting to plough straight furrows selects a point in the distance and then constantly aims in that direction. Change initiatives work best when everyone’s sight is fixed on the same goal. Therefore, the most productive discussions about any change being proposed are those that start with the strategy that it serves.

4. Challenging standard approaches. Successful change efforts often require leaders to challenge standard approaches and find ways to manoeuvre around old practices and policies – even sacred cows. Leaders who excel at driving change will challenge even the rules that seem carved in stone.   

5. Building trust in your judgment. This is both about actually improving your judgment, and improving others’ perceptions of it. Good leaders make decisions carefully after collecting data from multiple sources and seeking opinions from those whom they know will have differing views. They recognise that asking others for advice is evidence of their confidence and strength, not a sign of weakness. Because of their ability to build trust in the decisions they make, their ability to change the organisation skyrockets. If others do not trust your judgment it will be difficult to get them to make the changes you want them to make.

6. Having courage. Aristotle said, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honour.” Indeed, every initiative you begin as a leader, every new hire you make, every change in process you implement, every new product idea you pursue, every reorganisation you implement, every speech you deliver, every conversation in which you give difficult feedback to a colleague, and every investment in a new piece of equipment requires courage. The need for courage covers many realms.

We sometimes hear people say, “Oh, I’m not comfortable doing that.” Our observation is that a great deal of what leaders do, and especially their change efforts, demands willingness to live in discomfort.

7. Making change a top priority. One of Newton’s Laws of Thermodynamics was that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Slowing down, stopping, and staying at rest does not require effort. It happens very naturally. Many change efforts are not successful because they become one of a hundred priorities. To make a change effort successful you need to clear away the competing priorities and shine a spotlight on this one change effort. Leaders who do this well have a daily focus on the change effort, track its progress carefully and encourage others.

Becoming a change enabler will benefit every aspect of your life, both at home and in business. It will even help you to change yourself.

see full report by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman

Published date: July 19, 2017
Last modified: July 25, 2017

Measuring training – a practical guide.


The measurement and evaluation of training is a key consideration before any organisation makes a commitment to investing in a particular programme. Here’s a plan to ensure all training is continually evaluated and is making a real contribution to the business goals of the organisation.

Business performance and change Before embarking on any programme it’s important to establish a benchmark against which all future evaluation is measured:

  • Goals of the business
  • Staff morale and commitment
  • Staff skillsets
  • Productivity
  • Financial background
  • Working practices
  • Business goals and targets

Identify the training needs of business and the individual There are numerous tools available to assess and understand the specifics of the training required to achieve the necessary outcome. These include:

  • Regular appraisals
  • 360° feedback tools
  • Set a benchmark of business drivers and needs
  • Training needs analysis tools

Measure the programme and its delivery It is important to use a range of tools to assess feedback at the time of delivery. These include:

  • Training programme feedback sheets
  • Debriefing
  • Development of action plans

Review stage outcomes Evaluate effectiveness at interim periods:

  • ‘Before/after tests’ could be appropriate for certain roles
  • Continued self-reporting and/or action planning
  • Revisit training programme content
  • Regular reviews of objectives

Monitor behavioural change Consider how the completed project has made significant behavioural or attitude changes when measured against the original needs of the individual and the organisation:

  • Anecdotal evidence of visible behaviour change
  • Performance – benchmark against ‘before’ position.
  • Regular 360° feedback and self-reporting, including assessment of line managers.
  • Revisit training programme content with individual.
Published date: July 14, 2017
Last modified: July 14, 2017

Here’s a brainwave – unlock, create & motivate


Consider how lifting the lid on the brain can help you rethink the way you train and motivate staff. Yet, we understand less about the inner workings of our brains than we do our calf muscles. Bridging that gap could transform our understanding of the way people work, with a resulting revolution in training, change management and OD. So which neuroscientific breakthroughs could really make a difference in the workplace?

1 Neuroplasticity (why your brain never stops growing)

Until recently, our brains were viewed as fully formed by the time we reached our early twenties. A group of London cabbies to prove the theory wrong.

Researchers at UCL found that cabbies who rigorously learnt London’s streets over the course of decades had a larger hippocampus than bus drivers following a linear route, also pointing to neural development over time. Similar tests show that a taxing job enhances our brain chemistry and extreme stress has the opposite effect.

Understanding neuroplasticity is possible has huge implications for coaching. It means there’s no such thing as not being able to teach old dogs new tricks. It’s about finding the right mechanism to do it. Neuroplasticity also makes “brain training” a reality. If you want to be more positive, or interpret something in a different way, you can think long and hard about it. The brain doesn’t distinguish between thinking and doing (in tests, subjects who merely thought about lifting weights still added muscle mass).

2 Egocentricity bias (other people know stuff too, you know)

A big problem we face is believing we know better than other people. That’s why 94 per cent of us believe we have an above-average IQ, or 80 per cent are convinced we are better drivers than others. When we’re teaching, coaching or managing, such egocentricity bias creates a real headache: we focus on those who agree with us or who are so similar.

Geoff Bird, a cognitive neuroscientist at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “We are using less of our conscious mind when we make assumptions about people,” he points out – which is why it’s easy to ignore dissenters or people who are hard to reach.

Bird says bias often befalls reward managers. The benefits packages they design are often geared towards their own needs.

Egocentricity bias is the enemy of genuine empathy (stepping into someone else’s mindset), and considers mirroring or actively doing the opposite of someone else (crossing your right leg when they cross their left, for example) over a period of time seems to put us in the right frame of mind to recognise difference. Why not try it as an exercise before a training session or meeting when you need to make a connection.

3 The mentalising system (or ‘How to win friends and influence people’)

Why are some people at ease around others while others are awkward? The answer lies in the mentalising system – a way of processing the signals we receive from other people and our status in relation to them, in essence a form of “mindreading”.

L&D professionals would benefit from identifying people who are good at mentalising as they’re likely to learn well on the job, and benefit from peer support and mentoring (forms of “social learning”) because they are open to others. Those without such skills may need more formal learning techniques.

4 Generalisation decrement (or why you forget everything you learn)

If you want someone to learn something new, role-modelling is the key. If we don’t, we risk suffering the generalisation decrement – the difference between the condition of training and the condition of testing. Our brains struggle to apply things we understand in one context (a training course) in another (our working life).

Giving visual demonstrations of concepts and how they’ll be employed in the workplace can help provide context to learning, but it’s just as effective to mix up the locations and times of day for training or coaching, so people’s learning becomes less context-dependent.

The neuroscientific principles behind it were first determined by Giocomo Rizzolatti at the University of Parma 20 or so years ago. He saw that when one monkey watched another monkey reach for a grape, the part of the brain that performs the same action was activated in its own simian shell. The “mirror neurons” in play help embed practical lessons and are important in decoding body language. This is why presenters can reinforce their message through the way they deliver it.

5 Unconscious thought theory (or the power of thinking without thinking)

When it comes to stimulating good ideas, the Apprentice has got it all wrong. Sugar and his panel force people to innovate while they’re being watched and judged, with the clock ticking, all of which is guaranteed to yield truly abysmal breakthroughs (advertising cereal in your Y-fronts, anyone?)

Unconscious thought theory tells us we solve our thorniest problems when we’re not trying – the so-called Eureka moment, because we’re putting things on the back burner. Our rational mind is excellent at analytical and convergent thinking, but not so good at the creative stuff. However, our intuitive mind is processing data even when we’re not aware of it, behind the screen of our conscious awareness. When neural activation levels reach a threshold, solutions often emerge as a ‘light bulb’ moment.” During this “thinking without thinking”, parts of our brain are working double time, processing data and reaching its own conclusions by connecting previously contrasting concepts.

The key is to be informed on your subject matter. Creativity is about joining the dots, but firstly, you need to have the dots to join.

It’s a clear call to anyone in HR, Management, L&D and OD. Equipping yourselves with the latest knowledge and the best emerging breakthroughs to stay one step ahead.

Click below to read the full article:

Published date: July 5, 2017
Last modified: July 5, 2017

Develop people into leaders


Three ways to kick start leadership development

1. Define your leadership principles

These are the leadership traits that you need your people at every level to develop. Even if they don’t necessarily have the desire to become a leader, having these traits will mean that like minded people are working together and reducing conflict.

The key traits are:

  • Vision
    • the ability to look forward in an enlightened and open minded way – to be tactical yet pragmatic
  • Courage
    • to have the courage of your convictions and the bravery to make tough decisions
  • Action-centred
    • the ability to ‘make it happen’ to bring things to a conclusion and to leave no loose ends
  • Communication
    • to be confident and articulate and to simplify complex matters
  • Understand the figures
    • to be finance savvy and to be able to grasp the key performance metrics
  • Positivity
    • to handle bad news in a way the makes people feel as though they are in safe hands, To spot opportunities and to take them.
  • Hard empathy
    • the ability to make people feel important and valued. To know exactly where they fit and what is required.

A good idea is to decide which traits are most important for your organisation and to work on one or two at a time. This of course is not a quick fix, but some effective learning methods ie shadowing, mentoring and collaborative learning resources will help.


2. Developing the leaders of the future

Employees need access to timely development when it is required rather than sheep dip, standard training. This said, if you do create a specific learning programme it’s important to ensure that the approach is business focused so that people are working to solve real issues and adding value as they go.

Of course in many sectors on-job learning or shadowing works better than in others. It’s important that leaders and managers lead by example, displaying the leadership traits that become part of the DNA of the business. These leadership traits should also be added to performance reviews. It is worth establishing how behaviours will be delivered and to work out how you will know this happening consistently.


3.  Invest in a mentoring type opportunity

Encourage employees to find a great mentor: someone who is an inspirational leader who can share knowledge and skills relevant to them. This may take the form of one-to-one mentoring or even in a group environment.

This will not only benefit individuals, but also the organisation as a whole. A recent report from the department of business and innovation and skills has shown that mentoring can result in a 23 % increase in organisational performance.