Creating a service culture is something that has to be done wholeheartedly by everybody. The top management has to take the initiative – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
If one looks at the history of mankind, a significant positive observation is the ever-present resilience of humanity over time. Every disaster has pushed humanity in the world to rise up to a level higher than ever before.
Having faced a severe earthquake we have built buildings and bridges in a manner that can stand a similar or worse tremor yet to come. After a devastating cyclone or tsunami, we have planned and rebuilt cities that will sustain minimal damage from a similar catastrophe in the future. Subsequent to even manmade calamities like terrorist attacks and insurgent uprisings, we have emerged stronger with more sophisticated security measures than ever before to face the possible threats.
Similarly, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic we will have to follow the footsteps of our ancestors by taking the initiative to reshape a stronger country in months to come. Having overcome the immediate threat, in the long run, there will be shifts in how people work, communicate, shop, and behave. Nevertheless, let us see how customer service culture can be sustained and prioritised to make a valuable difference in the given circumstances.
If we reflect on the crisis times, some entities genuinely cared for their customers. This was done to demonstrate to the customers the fact that they are worth, more than a mere deal. These entities made it a point to be in touch with their customers in the following manner;
A ‘courtesy call’ or ‘short message’ was sent to find out how the customer was doing and ending up with a ‘stay home, stay safe’ message.
Supermarkets, hotels, restaurants and cafes informed customers about the availability of home delivery service with revised menus.
Leading jewellers called the customers, who have already placed orders for their wedding rings and necklace. This was done to clarify whether home delivery is needed in the event of them going ahead with the functions, even in a modest way, given the utmost importance of the auspicious aspects.
Banks made the customer aware that payment due dates for loans and credit cards have been extended.
Banks requested customers to apply for the moratorium prior to 30 April through emails.
Mobile companies informed the customer about the availability of free offers and easy ways of adding more data.
Motor companies educated their customers of the importance of starting the engine of the car every day, running idle for a while and moving a few meters’ front and back regularly.
Life Insurance companies informed their clients that the existing covers are added with COVID-19 at no extra premium.
Hoarding space of a travel company, which was used usually to promote their holiday packages, were painted with new messages like ‘Be Cautious, Be Safe – Act Responsibly, Be The Difference’ or ‘A Secure Nation makes a Difference’ to fulfil a need of the hour. This was done by Classic Travels, Colombo 3.
Utility service providers informed their customers that bills can be settled at their convenience for the month of April by paying the same as the last month, as an estimated amount, since bills were not delivered.
The above were done by the business entities not to secure more business revenue, but rather to supersede the customer interest during a crisis. This is because often, customers tend to value and feel the importance of ‘genuine service’ most, amidst sudden or unexpected circumstances. What is meant by a great customer service excellence culture is; ‘Everybody in the entity consistently trying to create a unique experience of value that is highly appreciated by the recipient’. Everybody here refers to all employees of the entity.
Human nature is such that in crisis situations they tend to stretch more and the subconscious mind keeps on working and facilitating creative thoughts to flow. In the process keep the customer as the ‘centre of attraction’ and see how well you can make a ‘memorable positive service experience’ unique to him or her.
This can only be done by dedicated staff who are passionate about giving a service with a sense of belonging. Hence, keeping the staff happy, free of doubts, peace of mind, less stress and assuring job security become crucially important. Obviously, then the staff will have the fullest focus to create and provide more value to the customer.
In a ‘customer centric culture’ what we know is that, ‘happy employees will create happy customers’ eventually leading towards building lasting relationships.
Case 1 – Cultivating a contagious service culture
Prime Lands Ltd. is a leading real estate and property developer who has won the ‘Great Place to Work in Sri Lanka’ award consecutively for five years. During the lockdown period its staff, on their own initiative, kept in touch with the customers. They were genuinely concerned about the customers’ wellbeing and no reminders were given about the due payments.
The service culture initiated and developed by its top management had become contagious across the company at every level over the years. The staff are also constantly rewarded for their extra ordinary performance. During the crisis the management assured job security and continue to pay their salaries in spite of the fact that staff themselves have opted for voluntary pay cuts.
Learning outcome: Organisations are built by people. A majority of their days and lives are spent at the work place. Make the workplace a corporate mansion and not a corporate prison. When employees are enthusiastically engaged both emotionally and intellectually with the entity, they are willing to grow and protect it in any circumstance. When the staff truly feel that they are genuinely being cared for, employees will work with a sense of belonging at all times.
Case 2 – Employees come first
During the pandemic, the country’s leading bridal jeweller, Vogue Jewellers Ltd. decided to retain all of its 350 staff members. Although their outlets were completely shut down, and no income was generated, all the staff were paid their salaries on time. The Managing Director and the senior management aimed to look after the wellbeing of the staff and maintain their morale at a high level during the crisis.
Realising that the relaxation of the lockdown would not contribute to an immediate boom in sales, the management revised existing incentive schemes to be more realistic by taking the changed circumstances into consideration. This boosted the spirit of the staff. As a result, they continue to serve the customers with a lot of enthusiasm and managed to achieve the required volumes whilst earning the incentives as well in the month of June.
The management understood that finding employment would be difficult amidst the crisis and made the right decision to avoid rightsizing despite the dip in business. Instead they focused on other cost optimisations through which the final benefit was transferred to its greatest asset – the staff. In turn they will go that extra mile to serve its customers even better.
Learning outcome: In strengthening a service culture in an entity, ‘the spirit you seek is the spirit you create’. Therefore, the people element is a vital factor for the protection and growth of any industry. The extent to which companies are ready to make a strategic investment on their staff is a vital factor that management should give due emphasis to even in their Business Continuity Plans (BCP).
Creating a service culture is something that has to be done wholeheartedly by everybody. The top management has to take the initiative. Rather than just saying that we are ‘customer centric’, things have to be demonstrated through practice, by taking real action that touches the hearts of customers in a crisis situation. A dedicated staff willing to put their heart and soul to create value to the customer is the greatest asset to the organisation.
(The writer is a sought-after ‘Service Excellence’ specialist in Sri Lanka. Over the last 25 years he has
conducted nearly 3,000 inspirational and educational programmes for over 750 organisations in 11
countries. His work can be seen at