In February 1998, the National Partnership for Reinventing Government released its report on Best Practices in "World-class courtesy". Long since consigned to the dustbins of bureaucracy, the report (prepared with the cooperation of USAA, Nordstrom, and Ritz-Carlton, among others) deserves to be exhumed. We paid for it, we may as well use it.
Some key findings:
Each of the organizations studied exhibited these characteristics
- The organization's cultural climate reflects a commitment to meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
- Senior leaders demonstrate by example the organization's commitment to exceptional courtesy.
- Employees are empowered to fully meet the needs of their customers.
- Courtesy is practiced by everyone throughout the entire organization.
- Specific and ongoing training in courtesy is provided.
- Formal and informal screening techniques are used to hire employees with exceptional skills in courtesy.
- The organization establishes systems to measure the value of its services to customers.
- Services are provided seamlessly from the customer's perspective.
- There is zero tolerance for discourteous service.
- All the organizations found that courtesy improves customer loyalty.
Courtesy & Behavior
Courtesy is expressed as a wide range of respectful behaviors and positive attitudes. Personal characteristics and behaviors that were repeatedly expressed by our partners as essential elements of courteous behavior are:
- a willingness to discover opportunities to exceed the customer's expectations,
- a friendly smile (even over the phone),
- using the person's last name (unless the customer indicates otherwise),
- a neat appearance,
- proper use of the language,
- exceptional listening skills (attentiveness),
- a relaxed and natural tone of voice,
- appropriate eye contact,
- clear communication at the customer's comprehension level, and
- knowledge about the product or service.
Quick tips for improving courtesy
- Be flexible. People's expectations regarding courtesy vary. Learn to take your lead from your customer. Quiet, reserved people tend to appreciate a more reserved and dignified sort of service. Loud, spirited people often like to know that the person they are talking to is "getting it." Use good judgment always, but be ready to stretch a little to make your style better match your customer's expectations.
- Take some risks to delight and surprise the customer. Consider the chef who, upon realizing he sent a dinner to a table with the meat slightly overcooked, immediately went out to the table, sat down, took a bite from the overcooked meat and said, as the surprised couple looked on, "Hmm...I thought so, a bit overcooked. Please forgive me. The next one will be perfect and on me!"
- Practice servant-leadership. Develop a passion for service and then put that passion to work in whatever position you now hold. If you are already a recognized leader in your organization, then serve as a mentor for others who wish to become servant-leaders.
- Smile your best smile. Customers appreciate a pleasant atmosphere. A smile always helps. Use your smile frequently when dealing with the public. You will come to enjoy the many benefits it will bring you and your customers.
- Listen as if you mean it. The greatest compliment to another person is listening to them. Really listening. You have to listen as if you mean it. Sit up, take a few notes, ask clarifying questions, show some reaction to what is being said.
- Call people back. If you must use voice mail, update your message daily, check it at least twice a day, and get back to people within one day at the latest. Returning calls has a direct relationship to dependability and dependability is the cornerstone of good customer service.
- Demonstrate phone courtesy. The tone and pitch of your voice can assure the caller that you are sincere, friendlyand that you are listening. Create a vision for your caller that you are responsible and dedicated to resolving his or her issue.
- Develop a team focus. Team work is definitely needed when it comes to improving courtesy. Demonstrate your team commitment on a daily basis.
Developing Strategies For Implementing World-Class Courtesy
The following strategies are a composite of the ideas worked out by the team members for implementing world-class courtesy in their own agencies. Depending on your individual circumstances, these suggestions will hopefully serve to stimulate interesting and practical ideas.
Remember: Your journey toward world-class courtesy begins from where you are, not from where you wish you were. The important thing is to get started.
- Establish credibility. Unless you are the CEO in your organization, you may want to first establish some credibility on this topic. Develop a good knowledge base of what world-class courtesy is, or could be, in your organization. You can start by reading this study thoroughly, marking those sections that look interesting , and taking some notes as you go along. You may also want to read several of the articles listed in the selected bibliography.
- Determine your organization's attitude toward courtesy. Determine what your organization's current mission, vision, strategic plan, or value statements say about courtesy. With the issuance of the President's Executive Order 12862 on setting customer service standards, the enactment of the Government Performance Results Act of the 1995, and the National Performance Review's publication of customer service standards, you probably have a good basis for assessing your organization's current level of and attitudes toward customer service.
- Take a "snapshot". Determine where in your organization might be the best place to take a "snapshot" of how courtesy is currently being practiced. Choose an office or section that already has an interest in knowing more about its customer service capabilities. If its not obvious at first where to start, arrange a meeting with an appropriate official or committee to which you can provide a short briefing on the benefits of looking at organizational behaviors leading to world-class courtesy.
- Publicize, promote, and popularize. Through information, actions, and tools, help your organization journey toward world-class courtesy.
The report also includes an extensive bibliography.