Tag Archives: Service Culture

From Products to Services and Solutions. Embracing Customer Centricity in B2B

Interview with Mary Jo Bitner and Stephen W. Brown, co-authors of the book “Profiting From Services and Solutions: What Product-Centric Firms Need to Know”. The interview was recorded in July, 2014, when the book first came out. To learn more about the Service Infusion Continuum framework introduced in the podcast, check out CSL webcast Profiting from Services and Solutions available on the CSL blog.

Podcast Transcript

This podcast was brought to you by the Center for Services Leadership, a ground-breaking research center in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The Center for Services Leadership provides leading edge research and education in the science of service.

Darima Fotheringham: Today I’m joined by Professor Mary Jo Bitner, the Executive Director of the Center for Services Leadership at the W.P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University, and with Emeritus Professor Steve Brown, Distinguished Faculty with the Center for Services Leadership and a Strategic Partner with the INSIGHT Group, a global services growth consulting firm.

Q: For those who may be new to the Center for Services Leadership, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your coauthors?

Mary Jo Bitner: We represent a 4 member faculty team that wrote this book together. We worked together on the research and the writing of the book from the very start to finish. One of the foundations for the book is a major research project that we did with 5 Fortune 100 companies seeking to understand their challenges, their successes and insights as they moved from being product-centric to customer-centric and service-centric firms. It was a long project, over multiple years. The co-author team is Steve Brown and myself, also Valerie Zeithaml, who is a Marketing professor at University of North Carolina. She’s internationally known for her work in Service Quality and Customer Equity and also in the work that we did for the book. Steve Brown is an Emeritus Professor of Marketing at ASU. He founded and led the Center for Services Leadership for over 25 years. Now he’s a consultant, author and an executive teacher focusing on helping firms in this area. Jim Salas is the fourth author of the book. He’s an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Pepperdine and he recently graduated with his PhD and his dissertation work focused on strategies helping firms move into services. And then myself, Marketing Professor here at ASU and Executive Director of the CSL. We worked together as a team of four from the beginning to the end and are very excited to have our book out.

Q: What inspired you to write “Profiting from Services and Solutions: What Product-Centric Firms Need to Know?”

Steve Brown: There are several things. One, of course, is working with all the member companies of the Center for Services Leadership. Many of them, over the years, came to Mary Jo and myself and others and talked about how they, being very product-centric companies, wanted to grow into services and solutions. This is probably the biggest catalyst for the research project that underlies the book. We also knew that there was relatively little known about this topic except anecdotally. And what the book tries to do is study in depth these 5 companies but also integrate some of the latest literature on this topic and then feature several rich examples from companies that have either gone through this transition or are going through this transition right now. Continue reading

Examining the Student Experience Using Service Blueprinting (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE.edu

“Students often face problems accomplishing their goals because colleges and universities have poor processes. Service blueprinting, a type of process map, focuses on the student (or customer) experience and illuminates things an organization can do to identify and fix problem processes.” In her recent EDUCAUSE article Nancy Stephens shares 3 different examples of how Service Blueprinting can be used in Higher Education.

Do you have examples of how your teams used Service Blueprinting? Let us know! 

Click on the link below to read the EDUCAUSE article:

Examining the Student Experience Using Service Blueprinting (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE.edu

Being Your Customer’s Hero: Interview with Adam Toporek.

cts_toporek-adam_headshot_main_300Your new book, Be Your Customer’s Hero, is launching next week. Tell us, what inspired you to write this book?

My desire to write this book came from the old business axiom of “find a need and fill it.” However, the need I was filling was first and foremost my own. Be Your Customer’s Hero is the book I always wished I’d had during my years of owning and running retail service businesses.

I’d always wanted a single book I could hand to frontline employees that would give them a comprehensive set of tools and techniques for becoming great at customer service. A book that spoke to them in an easy-to-read conversational way about the realities they face day to day. Despite all the amazing books on customer service and customer experience on the market, that book didn’t exist. So I wrote it.

In your opinion, what prevents most frontline service professionals from delivering superior service?

External factors are a big part. Store policies, lack of empowerment, and ineffective systems are just a few of the challenges frontline service professionals face. Organizational leaders need to always be looking at the structural impediments which prevent frontline professionals from delivering great service.

Internal factors are just as important and often more difficult to overcome. Most of the time, these boil down to mentality – how frontline reps view customers, how they handle their own emotions, and how confident they are.

Competence and confidence are particularly important to delivering superior service. Oftentimes with frontline employees, it may be their first job or it may be their first time working in that specific environment. By using culture and training to instill a customer-centric mindset and bolster service skill sets, organizational leaders can give frontline workers both the confidence and competence they need.

You mentioned organizations’ policies as possible obstacles to delivering great customer service. What can organizations do to make policies more customer-friendly? Can you share a couple of examples to illustrate that?

The first step is to identify the touch points that create the biggest hassles from the customer’s perspective. Study your feedback and survey data. Ask your customers directly. Also, ask your teams what policies, in their opinion, create the biggest challenges for customers. Look at both customer-facing policies and internal policies. Evaluate why you have them and how you could make them more customer-friendly.

Two quick examples:
Southwest Airlines has a customer-facing policy of not upcharging for checked bags. Now, admittedly, those fees might be passed on another way, but the policy still makes customers feel that they are not being nickel and dimed.

An example of an internal policy that is not customer-friendly is needing approvals for comps or refunds. Many years ago in a retail service business of mine, we empowered all frontline reps to comp services without supervisor approval. This internal policy change gave the reps the ability to resolve most minor customer issues in real time at very little cost to the company.

You mentioned employee empowerment, can you elaborate on that? What do companies that get it right do differently?

Empowerment is incredibly important to not only delivering great experiences but to proactively resolving issues before they have the chance to escalate. Now, empowerment is not a panacea, but it is a powerful tool that many organizations do not utilize enough.

Companies need to begin with actual empowerment, loosening the reigns in strategically focused areas and granting more authority and responsibility to frontline employees so that they can facilitate experiences and resolve issues. Organizations need to balance the risk of empowerment with the rewards; it’s an idea we call “smart empowerment.”

Whenever you expand authority or responsibility, you generally increase the risk that those expanded powers can be used in a way that hurts the organization. However, the risks must be evaluated because they are different in every situation. By way of extreme example, authorizing each frontline employee to issue refunds up to $100 is not as risky to the organization as authorizing each frontline employee to make wire transfers from the company account. Empowerment will always have limits. When you compare the risks of an empowerment initiative with the potential rewards, both to the customer and to the team, you can make an informed decision about the types of employee empowerment that are right for your organization.

Additionally, organizations should understand the difference between actual empowerment, which gives authority or responsibility, and psychological empowerment, which means the employee feels empowered. The employees have to know that they can make decisions without fear of repercussions, and they need a customer-centric mindset to want to use the authority they’ve been given to improve the customer’s experience.

What can organizational leaders do to better prepare their customer-facing teams?

We talked about competence leading to confidence earlier, but that rarely happens automatically. The expectations placed on frontline reps are often unrealistic. We expect them to be put under great pressure, sometimes being yelled at or bullied, and to not only manage that stress but to behave exactly the way we expect them to. It’s not easy to do, and I’ll admit right now, equipping front-line employees with more than only the most basic “here’s where the paper clips are” type of training is somewhere I’ve missed the mark myself before.

Think about how they train astronauts; it’s amazing. Astronauts in training are consistently confronted with a variety of adverse scenarios that they must learn to deal with. That way, when facing a critical situation, they can manage their natural reactions and respond calmly by working through the problem.

Now obviously, space flight is an extreme analogy—we don’t have the luxury of training our staff for a few years—but the takeaway is the following principle: The more you drill in practice, the more you can depend on your reaction in the real world.

So, training is key. Bring in a consultant, work through a book, or create your own trainings. Invest in the education of your leaders as well. Send them to seminars or invest in programs like the W. P. Carey Certificate in Customer Experience that gives the opportunity to work on frontline skills like service recovery or top-level CX skills like service blueprinting.

Finally, what does it mean to be your customer’s hero?

To be the customer’s hero means one thing above all else: It means being there when the customer needs you and making your personal interaction with the customer as memorably positive as possible. It’s not about over-the-top acts; it’s about consistent execution.

In the end, great customer experiences, or Hero-ClassTM customer experiences as we like to call them, create competitive advantage and lead to a better bottom line. Deliver them consistently, and your organization will reap the rewards.

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Adam Toporek is the author of Be Your Customer’s Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That StickTM blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast. He is the owner of CTS Service Solutions, a consultancy specializing in high-energy customer service workshops that teach organizations and frontline teams how to deliver Hero-ClassTM customer service. Adam has an MBA from UNC Charlotte and the W.P. Carey Certificate in Customer Experience from the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University. Connect with him on Twitter.

The Victuous Cycle

Terry CainBy Terry Cain

EVERY EMPLOYEE, EVERY MINUTE, EVERY DAY…Making memorable moments for our customers…yeah, right!!!

This idea of ‘culture eating strategy for breakfast’ applies to having a consistent customer experience via a consistency in the culture. Our cultures have cycles of virtue and cycles of vicious. Which cycle are you in?

The Virtuous Cycle of service embraces the above headlines along with the attitude that goes with it. We are personable (meaning we are relationship-oriented) and we acknowledge the person on the other line, or on the end of the e-mail, or through a web event as a real person. We call them by name, we say please and thank you, and we verify that we served them the way they would like to be served and expect to be served. We do this internally and externally, creating positive vibes around the customer experience and it’s a part of our culture.

The Vicious Cycle of service is just the opposite. Exceptional service is completed only by super heroes who know how to skirt the systems with heroics, offering an attitude of service externally while often beating people up internally to do so. This cycle may seem like a “hit” initially, but in the long run it’s a “miss” because it burns people out and the culture diminishes into cynicism, a tender underbelly of company-bashing at the water cooler. Employee engagement is inconsistent and so is the customer experience. Employees are working hard at the transactional elements of their jobs, not the relationship or personal nature of doing business with people, and their attitudes show that.

Most of our businesses are somewhere in between, what I call the VICTUOUS cycle. This cycle embodies the fact that even the best cultures have great people who fail once in awhile. In the Victuous cycle of service we are called out on our bad days and we own it and we fix it. Our customers call us out for our attitudes, and we get the chance to build the relationship by providing service recovery.

Creating and sustaining a customer-centered culture is a day-to-day, minute-by-minute process. While many companies focus on maintaining a Virtuous Cycle, there’s no shame in finding peace in the Victuous Cycle. After all, being perfect is impossible and doesn’t speak to the human side of relationships.

Join Steve Church and me at the Services Leadership Institute on April 1st 2015, as we deliver an hour on customer-centered cultures, leadership, and how we can advance our cultures from wherever they are!


As vice president, Global Customer Engagement, Terry Cain manages the strategic planning and execution of Avnet’s global customer engagement, measurement, and experience. Terry’s career began in the warehouse with Avnet over 25 years ago. Growth in technology enabled Terry’s growth in product management and leadership of one of the regional sales organizations, then in corporate shared services, operational excellence, now customer engagement.

Terry studied psychology at Indiana Central College, earned a Lean Green Belt from ASU, Process Master from Hammer and Co.; Master Instructor for Prosci Change Management; and is co-creator of A Culture of Service Excellence taught at Avnet. He serves as guest faculty at the WP Carey School of Business, Eller and Kellogg Schools of Business and is on the faculty of Argyle Customer Care Forum, NG Customer Experience, Consero Customer Care, CX Fusion, Services Leadership Institute and Field Service USA. His board service includes WP Carey Center for Services Leadership Advisory Board and CPLC Parenting Arizona (prior Chairman for two years). Terry is a member of CXPA, plays golf and music and resides in Tempe, Arizona, with his wife, Rebecca, and has one adult son, Jonathan.

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To learn more about the Services Leadership Institute visit the Center for Services Leadership website.

Putting Customers at Ease: The Patient’s Point of View

DoctorBy Andrew S. Gallan

Sally, a married 54-year-old mother of two teenage girls, had just returned from her mammogram follow-up appointment with a troubled look on her face. “What’s the matter?” asked her husband of 25 years. “Again, something showed up, so I have to go for another mammogram and some additional tests,” she responded. This second round of examinations had confirmed abnormal results in her breast tissue. As a result, she was referred by her primary care physician, a nice woman about her age whom she had seen for about 15 years, to a specialist at a local hospital. Although Sally thankfully had never been there before, she knew it had a good reputation for women’s health issues. Continue reading