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Monday, November 8, 2010

Internal Service Themes from the 21st Annual Compete Through Service Symposium

I had the pleasure to spend last week at the 21st annual Compete Through Service Symposium (#CTSS). It’s been a few years since I’ve been back, and the experience has gotten even better since I last attended. Speakers as diverse as Fortune 500 CEOs, CNN Money’s Smartest People in Tech, a folkhero entrepreneur, a Cultural Evangelist for arguably the world’s hottest service brand, and the President of a professional sports franchise got together to talk about what makes services businesses successful.

While there was great diversity of perspectives and material, a number of themes remained consistent throughout. I have to caveat that #CTSS attendees generally don’t fall into the typical command & control model of organizational leadership. They’re a group that not only believes in the service profit chain that begins with internal service and ends in customer loyalty and long-term profit, they live it. In formal presentations and informal discussions, there was wide agreement on the principle that exceptional service starts with meaningful engagement of employees, and that only once the internal investment in employees has been made can the meaningful customer engagement occur through exceptional service.

Some other themes around internal service that remained remarkably consistent across speakers:
  • Successful service businesses are made up of employees with a shared vision, understanding of and belief in the culture and the freedom (and responsibility) to make business-impacting decisions. In no fewer than three organizations, employees had a hand in creating core values through some consensus exercises. In one organization, they also prioritized those values.
  • Best-in-class service organizations recognize the linkage between internal satisfaction and external satisfaction. They’re measuring internal customer satisfaction and loyalty and linking it to (and in some cases have successfully established it as a predictor of) external customer satisfaction measures across service touchpoints.
  • We often talk about infusing voice of the customer into service design and experience management. Just as frequently at #CTSS, we heard leaders talk about putting the voice of employees into service design and experience management, though a challenge common to all organizations is to get employees to consistently advance those ideas.
  • Despite being service industry leaders, many of the companies presenting faced financial challenges in the recent economic crisis. Each discussed as a separate topic the challenge of maintaining employee engagement through periods of financial trial and necessary force reductions. Not all approached it the same way, but all addressed the issue as though it was the most important challenge facing their business.

A few select highlights from a terrific week spent with some of the best in service business. Next, I’ll cover the external themes on service, customer satisfaction and loyalty that were present throughout the week’s speakers.

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