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Taking Service to the Stratosphere: The Language of Service

Jun 19, 2012

Posted by

Ron Kaufman

Ron Kaufman is a popular keynote speaker and is the author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers Read more

Editor’s Note:  With service so much a part of our daily lives, both in and outside the workplace, why aren’t we doing it better? Ron Kaufman knows the answer to this question, and not only believes we can do it better, but shows us how through the twelve building blocks of service culture and the organizations already getting it right.

We are publishing these twelve tips in a series of four weekly articles (June 19, 26, July 3, 10).

The material in these articles, has been excerpted from Uplifting Service:  The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet, a new book by Ron Kaufman.  The book is available at bookstores nationwide and all major online booksellers. (Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-09847625-5-2, $14.95,

You step off the plane, weary from a long flight. As you walk through the terminal, you can’t believe your eyes. The airport is immaculate with walkways as wide as roadways and not a speck of litter anywhere. As you move deeper into the terminal, you see a butterfly garden, an outdoor swimming pool, playground equipment, a four-story slide, napping rooms, spa treatments, and entertainment venues including movie theaters and video-gaming stations. Airport employees eagerly greet you with smiles and ask how they can help.

Have you stumbled upon some air traveler’s mirage? Is this an illusion in the familiar airport desert of grim décor, stressed out passengers, rude counter agents, and crowded gate areas? No, this oasis of pleasure is what things are really like at Changi Airport in Singapore—and it can serve as the perfect illustration of what service can (and should) look like in our global economy.

Service is everywhere.  But there is a vast disconnect between the volume of service we need and the quality of service we are giving and receiving.  Businesses have turned a very simple human concept into a catastrophic cliché.  They remain blind to the fact that true service comes not from demands and dashboards, but from a basic human desire to take care of other people.

So how do you start your own uplifting service revolution? Start by putting these twelve building blocks of a service culture in place.  They provide the architecture to build a sustainable culture that delivers outstanding service every day.

1. Common Service Language. The whole domain of service suffers from weak clichés, poor distinctions, and inaccurate common sense. For example, “The customer is always right” is often wrong. “Oh, you want service?” an employee asks. “Well, you’ll have to talk to our service department.” Or, “You want something else or something different? That’s not our policy.” This is as true internally as it is with customers. “It’s not my job to make you happy,” says a manager. “Talk to human resources if you’ve got something to say.” An executive might even say, “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

Using and promoting a Common Service Language is the first building block, because human beings create the world in which we live by using language. “We create meaning with language, and we can change our world by inventing or adopting new language. Your Common Service Language should be meaningful and attractive—a shared vocabulary to focus the attention and the actions of your team. It should clarify meaning, promote purpose, and align everyone’s intentions and objectives.

2. Engaging Service Vision. “Many Partners, Many Missions, One Changi.” That’s the Engaging Service Vision that unites everyone who works at Singapore’s Changi Airport.  At Changi, a coffee shop worker can tell you the departure gate locations and the fastest ways to get there. Airline employees know where you can buy last-minute souvenirs.  Airport police can tell you how to find the post office and what time it opens.  At this remarkable gateway, everyone works together to create positive experiences every day.

That’s what Engaging Service Visions do—they unify and energize everyone in an organization.  They pose a possibility each person can understand and aim to achieve in his or her work, role, team, and organization.  It doesn’t matter whether you call this building block your service vision, mission, core value, guiding principle, credo, motto, slogan, saying, or tagline.  What matters is that your Engaging Service Vision is engaging.

3. Service Recruitment. Are you “Googley”? Are you able to “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” at work? These important considerations are made during the hiring process at Google and Zappos, respectively. These companies know it is much easier to build a strong culture by hiring new people with the right attitude than to hire people for their skills alone and then try to align them around a common service vision.

Each new hire either makes your culture stronger or makes your challenge to build a great service culture a little harder.  The right people pull naturally in the right direction. While cultural misfits may be incredibly talented, well connected, or experienced in a specific area, their impact on the team can be confusing or downright disruptive.

Every new hire sends a message to everyone else.  “Either you are committed to your service culture and hire good people to prove it, or your commitment is shallow lip service only, and your next hire also proves it.

Next Installment, June 26:  Service Orientation, Communication, Recognition and Rewards.