Volume 13, Issue 3 - May-June 2011

Customer Service
tips for quality service

Discretionary Service
by Carl Tompkins

How companies serve their customers has the greatest impact on profitability. How management serves their employees has the greatest impact on how employees serve customers.

Customer service is what most often differentiates one competing product from another. In this day and age, quality products are easy to duplicate, and, if a supplier desires for more than price to become the driving force behind a buying decision, the customer service that accompanies the company’s core product must exceed customers’ requirements.

However, excellent customer service cannot be delivered through corporate mandates. Most outstanding feats of customer service come from the volunteered discretion of employees that have been motivated in a fitting way by management.

So, at this point, let’s run a sanity check: How are sales? How are profits? How are employees being treated? How are employees treating customers? If sales and profits are not acceptable, customers are not being treated correctly as a result of employees not being treated correctly.

For example, I know of one particular national company that is made up of a team of the best operational and sales professionals that its industry has to offer. I’ve watched these people build the organization into the fastest growing company of its type over the past 10 years. As I observe individuals within this organization, I’ve noticed that each lived a leadership role in serving the customer; each went beyond the call of duty to exceed customer expectations each and every day. The ideas and innovations they have delivered have been incredible. Yet, when competition grew, and the economy reduced the size of the market, this company’s ownership took out its frustrations on those who had built the company’s success by adding additional duties that were impossible to complete. In addition, restrictions, along with checks and balances, were put in place that stifled any opportunity for success. The result of such management intervention is a company that now operates with a broken spirit; people I’ve known and watched excel for years now can’t wait for retirement, hope to hold on until then, and now do as little as possible to merely get by. How about one last sanity check for summary: what does this situation cost?

“If sales and profits are not acceptable, customers are not being treated correctly as a result of employees not being treated correctly.”

Morale Equals Fuel
Business success always will depend on “discretionary service.” Many top-notch professionals only contribute 20 percent of their professional worth in order to get by. Think of what is at stake in terms of performance and results when the remaining 80 percent is left untapped.

Morale is the fuel that powers the engine of discretionary service. Even during the toughest of economic conditions, high morale can be maintained. The following should replace duties that cannot be completed, restrictions and checks and balances:
• Two-way, open communication between management and employees that allows all parties to understand all circumstances and conditions within the organization;

• Genuine interest by ownership and management in gaining employee opinions and recommendations, best proven by asking for information and responding;

• Proving a working environment that is conducive to success;

• Being goal driven and making sure goals are developed as a team by all employees at all levels;

• Management support of those activities that employees feel are necessary to reach goals;

• Making sure that a positive social fiber is maintained throughout the organization; and

• Providing a daily thank you (that comes from everyone, especially those at the top).

Great employees usually are willing to go first in providing a winning performance with their discretionary service, but their tanks can and will run empty if they are not refueled by management’s returned discretionary services.

Carl Tompkins is the global marketing resources manager for Sika Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Tompkins’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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