by Peter Gurney
Every morning in America, thousands of well-intentioned people go to work and give rotten customer service. Millions more go to work and give service that ranges from mediocre to barely passable.

Every evening in America, these same people get off work, stop at a store or two on the way home, eat out at a restaurant, and then complain about the service they just received.

This is a curious phenomenon. In a country where most of us split our day between giving service to customers and receiving service as customers, why isn’t service better?

As Judith Martin writes in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, “All of us who work for a living are in a position of service when our work brings us in contact with the public . . . this includes just about everybody in America . . . In a democracy, we all get an opportunity [to serve and be served].”

In theory we should all be customer service experts by virtue of the fact that we’re all expert customers. If you interview workers who provide bad or mediocre service in their jobs, they will invariably be able to tell you the difference between good and bad service in stores, banks, restaurants, etc. They will be just as dissatisfied with the state of service in America as everyone else, and will have just as many opinions about how it can be improved.

If companies could only find a way to exploit the untapped service expertise of their own employees, customer satisfaction levels would rise dramatically. What can be done to help employees see themselves through the eyes of customers?

The answer is both simple and obvious: Managers and trainers need to get employees over to the other side of the counter. They can do this by turning their employees into “mystery shoppers” and giving them the opportunity to receive, analyze and evaluate customer service during their workday.

Internal performance assessment programs can be either formal or informal. Formal programs involve scheduled visits or calls to specific businesses, using pre-determined service scenarios and written evaluation forms. Informal programs may be as simple as discussing recent service experiences, or giving an employee an hour off to visit a competitor and make notes about the service techniques used there.

There are three categories of internal performance assessment that companies typically use:
1 Assessing one’s own company
2 Assessing competitors
3 Assessing businesses in other industries

All three have advantages. Assessing one’s own company gives employees a better sense of how they are perceived by the public, and of how their store, branch, unit, etc. compares to others in their organization. It helps employees break out of the bureaucratic mindset that causes them to see customers as impediments to doing their job. Assessing ones own company can be tricky, however, if there is a likelihood that mystery shoppers will be recognized by co-workers at other locations. Therefore, some care needs to be taken in making assignments.

Assessing competitors is a great way to build team spirit and a healthy sense of rivalry. Call it “market intelligence” — or even “spying.” Employees have fun identifying competitive techniques that they can use and weaknesses that they can exploit. At the same time they become more conscious of how workers in their industry are perceived by customers, and how they can use customer service to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Assessing businesses in other industries is useful because it keeps employees thinking like the customer service experts they are, and because it reveals cross-industry service techniques that can be co-opted. An interesting exercise it to send employees to other businesses with instructions to bring back one service idea that they can use in their own job.

Customer satisfaction levels are falling year after year in nearly every industry; to reverse this trend, organizations need to use a broad range of service improvement programs. Internal performance assessment is one of the more effective techniques, but it works best when used in conjunction with other programs, such as service and sales training, third-party assessments, management coaching, and service performance measurement. When incorporated into an well-designed, comprehensive service quality initiative, internal performance assessment can lead to substantial improvements in employee service skills and customer satisfaction levels.

A Curious Phenomenon was written by Peter Gurney – “A Curious Phenomenon” Copyright 2001 Service Intelligence