How Culture Drives Customer Service

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This short note looks at organisational culture as a facilitator of service excellence.

Customer service is focused on meeting or exceeding the expectations of the customer consistently. It is a key competitive advantage in most industries and sectors. There is a lot of literature trying to quantify in monetary terms the cost and or benefits of customer service in organisations. There are also a lot of cases where organisations become very successful mainly by employing effective customer services and likewise organisations that collapsed mainly due to poor service.

Service is directly linked to three main components, the environment, the company and the individual. The Macro and market environment dictate to a larger scale the service culture of a nation or region, for example in highly competitively environments there is a tendency to offer higher quality of service as players jostle for customers, whereas in monopolistic environments customers have limited options hence tendencies towards poor service from organisations. The same applies to times of scarcity or increased demand.

From the organisational perspective, culture, which is shared part of thought and action that distinguishes one group from another, plays an equally important role. Organisational culture includes the shared norms of the organisation, these could be visible or “under the iceberg" as described by Torben Rick, an organisational culture expert. Norms are essentially expectations on how persons in a group or organisation should behave, what attitudes they should express and how they should appear, Dipboye et al (1994). Behavior and attitude are crucial for service culture. Organisations go to the length of developing customer service policies, charters, and standards and adopts various customer service certifications and norms in a bid to entrench customer service among their employees.

The focus will be in trying to adopt and standardize behaviors and attitudes that positively contribute to service excellence. In situations and scenarios where there is buy- in , a common understanding and agreement to provide superior service, a culture of service excellence may germinate and continuously exist. The organisation will then continuously reinforce excellence through reminders, training, and rewards and in some cases punishments. There are other cultural dynamics at play at the organisational level that affect service excellence that include top management's commitment to service culture, motivation levels, systems, other policies and infrastructure to mention a few.

At the personal level service culture is depicted by the individual's desire and commitment to service within the large and corporate environment. I know a supermarket that has a strict policy that says Till Operators MUST greet and smile customers all the time, but many times, some Till Operators don’t. Some times they do not even acknowledge my presence. Individuals have varying personal emotional dispositions with certain qualities, characters and temperament which all affect service delivery.

In order to harness the power of culture in service delivery organisations must therefore first be clear on intent, the unequivocal pursuit of customer excellence and that must be communicated to the employees. Buy- in is crucial and social contracts showing attentiveness to provide service must be entered into. Once devotion has been achieved the culture of superior service must be practiced with no exception. The adopted culture will then be nurtured over time, changing with changing environments and circumstances but the intent remaining steadfast. Employees will also be clear on what the rewards and punishment are for adhering to the culture or otherwise.

Dipboye, RL, Smith CS, Howell WC, (1994): Understanding Industrial Integrated Organisational Psychology, Philadelphia. Harcourt College Publishers