One Employee's 'Good Service' Can Be Another's Idea of Bad

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"Always escort. Never point." "Always hang up the phone only after the member hangs up first." "We will answer all calls within two rings."

These are examples of service standards that three different financial institutions have used over the years. In recent articles we have discussed two of the key organization drivers of a brand, the mission statement and vision statement. Service standards, although they are not used by all CUs, are another key component to the organization-driver foundation of a strong brand.

The role of service standards is to paint a clear picture of what service means at a particular credit union. Whether it be service to members or fellow employees, it is imperative that the standards are conducive with the true essence of the brand. Countless companies speak continually about offering quality service to its customers. Many executives preach this endlessly to their staff making statements such as, "It is imperative to the future of our organization that we offer our clients uncompromising, high quality service!"

True first-class institutions, however, actually go the extra step to fully define exactly what high-quality service means for their employees.

Providing quality service means different things to different people. Good service to one person may mean just simple kindness in saying hello or good morning. Another employee may feel that good service is handling a transaction efficiently without even saying a word. They may very well both be right, but at best what this accomplishes is inconsistency in service. A member may come in one day and interact with the first employee, who is kind and friendly, and leave feeling satisfied. On another day he may come in and have his transaction completed quickly and efficiently by another employee, but feel that he was treated rudely because there was no friendly conversation.

Compiling a list of service standards can go a long way in establishing a level of consistent service-and as we have already learned, consistency is one of the biggest keys to a strong brand.

Get Input From Staff

As with any new policy, it's much better to get staff involved and behind the project from the beginning rather than forcing it down people's throats. Getting at least a mild level of buy-in from the start can make implementation much easier. The best way to go about the initial stages of implementing service standards is to explain the purpose and essence of the idea. Then immediately ask the employees for their service standard ideas. You may get some off-the- wall ideas but you will also get some excellent suggestions that management may have never produced given their lack of daily interaction with members.

This step can be handled in a few different ways. Teams can be created to create service-standard ideas, individual departments can develop suggestions together, or each employee can generate ideas on his or her own and then report them at a certain time. There are pros and cons to each approach but any of these tactics will work better than the CEO or a small group of executives creating a list of standards and simply dictating them to your employees.

Once the suggestions have been gathered it is generally effective to select a small team to review them and compile a list of service standards. This team should contain key executives such as the CEO, the VP of Human Resources, and the VP of Marketing at a minimum. It may also be advantageous to add a frontline staff member or two to the team depending upon their professional maturity and the culture of your credit union.

One of the most important rules of branding is to keep all communications consistent. Disconnects are a major problem and lead to confusion not only among employees but also among members. To avoid this problem compare each service standard to the other organization drivers and make sure they are all conducive to the current brand essence. Creating service standards is a positive activity. It should be treated as such. Once they are chosen have a party or some type of event to celebrate-preferably something more than the usual box of Dunkin' Donuts or the receptionist's hard-as-rocks homemade bran muffins.

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

After the celebration and initial rollout, continue to communicate the service standards as often as possible. Put them up on the wall, write about them in the employee newsletter, list them on the intranet, mention them at every important meeting, stand on your desk and yell them out, whatever it takes to make them second nature. And just when you think that you have communicated them enough, continue to communicate them. People forget easily and there are often new employees being hired who aren't familiar with the standards. You should also tie the service standards to annual or periodic performance reviews. If they know they will be held accountable to these standards come review and bonus time, most will ensure that they follow them.

The most important aspect to remember is that, as a key organization driver, service standards should assist employees in living the brand on a daily basis. The organization drivers provide the base for the brand.

Ken Bator is president of Bator Training & Consulting, Inc.. He can be reached at P.O. Box 4844, Naperville, IL 60567, at 630-854-6380, or at kbator

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