Building a Culture of Legendary Service

A company’s culture of service is what keeps customers coming back.

Ken Blanchard is a best-selling author, speaker and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Cos.

Think about the last time you received great customer service — not just good, but actually memorable. Service you would tell your friends and family about.

If you’re having a hard time coming up with anything, join the club! Every organization knows that great customer service is key to a successful operation, yet few have a proven plan to build a service-minded culture. In fact, people in front-line, customer-facing jobs often don’t receive any customer service training other than platitudes such as “keep smiling” and “say thank you” — and many don’t even get that.

When an organization fails to address the need to provide outstanding service, in time a vicious spiral begins. Clients begin to leave. The company finds itself having to constantly generate new business because customers aren’t happy, and the work gets harder. Revenue dips along with morale. When people don’t feel valued, some employees leave to find a better company where they can make a difference. Even worse, some stay and take their frustrations out on the customers. This toxic environment continues to erode the organization’s customer base and its bottom line.

But service-minded companies realize their most important customers are their own people — their employees and managers. If leaders take care of their people and encourage their contributions, those people will go out of their way to take care of the customers. When that happens, the customers will not only come back but tell their friends.

The first reality that must be understood when a company sets out to create a service culture is this: Everyone in the organization is responsible for delivering customer service. It’s not just the leaders or the customer service department; it’s every single person. A culture of service can exist only by intention — by creating a focus on the customer and by holding everyone in the organization accountable for goal achievement.

While some people in an organization, such as front-line workers, deal mainly with external customers, other people, such as HR professionals, have primarily internal customers. Still others, like those in accounting, work with both. The point is everyone with a job deals with some kind of customer. And how people treat each other at work — their internal customers — is just as important as how they treat external customers.

So what does a culture of service look like in an organization? It typically begins with a shared vision and shared values. To get crystal clear on their service vision, leaders might ask themselves: What does good customer service look like in our organization? What does it feel like?

Once the service vision is in place, leaders can identify values — typically no more than four or five. Organizations with too many values often find that people can only focus on a few. The values chosen need to be the ones that truly impact behavior.

Now take that thought one step further and pinpoint expected employee behaviors. The clearer an organization’s vision and values, the easier it is to create a strong service culture because everyone is focused on what’s important and knows what behaviors are expected of them.

Next, organizations turn vision into action by putting structures in place designed to help, not hinder, employees’ efforts to serve customers. In lower-performing organizations, systems and structures can steer people in the wrong direction. The organization may want to serve customers, but policies and procedures make it harder to get the job done.

However, in exceptional-service organizations, all systems are set up to delight the customer. Structures are organized in ways that allow people to respond quickly to customer needs, not just anticipating trends but getting in front of them. Operating practices, market strategies, and products and services are developed to make it easier for employees to serve customers.

When employees consistently deliver outstanding service, it creates a competitive edge for the organization. Everyone in the organization must understand their role, whether small or large, in delivering the service vision.

A company’s products and services get them in the game, but it’s the culture of service — the interactions with people as the product or service is delivered — that keeps customers coming back.

Ken Blanchard is chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Cos. and co-author of “Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster.” He can be reached at