Does your team agree what customer service is?We complain that “it” is disappearing. We all want more of “it.” When asked to define “it,” we say, “I’ll know `it’ when I see ‘it’.”

Organizations want to be known for delivering high levels of “it.” Many understand that “it” will increasingly determine their success. Team members would like to be known for delivering high levels of “it” to their internal partners and the organization’s customers. And they would like to be appreciated and rewarded for providing “it.”

But when I write about “it,” and you agree your organization needs more of “it,” are we talking about the same thing? Even more importantly, when you talk to your people about improving “it,” are they seeing “it” the same way you are? Or is everyone signing up for “it,” then heading off in opposite directions toward their own vision of “it”?

“It” — customer service and quality — is one of today’s most talked about and least understood concepts. Service/quality is a very slippery concept. It’s exasperatingly difficult to define and a source of great confusion to many managers. There’s a wide range of differences in premises, concepts, and even in the meanings of key words. What’s worse — many managers don’t even realize the differences exist. For example, many people think that a “higher quality” deluxe hotel costs more than a “lower quality” budget hotel. But where is cost and value in that equation? How about brand, prestige, or image? Those simple words; service and quality, pronounced and spelled identically, have multiple meanings.

Definitions of “service/quality” also depend on the mind‑set of servers/producers, their support groups, management, and especially on the culture of the organization. In some organizations, just showing up for work every day, in never mind how snarly a mood, is a heroic feat.

As Ted Levitt, former professor at Harvard Business School and author of the classic book, The Marketing Imagination, points out, “The organization must learn to think of itself not as producing goods and services but buying customers, as doing those things that will make people want to do business with it.” Where’s the customer’s view in your definition of service/quality? Do you know (with facts and data) what your key internal partners and/or external customers expect from your team/organization? Is their definition of service/quality your starting point?

Your team/organization needs a clear, well understood, consistent — and customer-centered — agreement on what service/quality means and how to deliver it. If people throughout your organization can’t consistently define service/quality, how can you measure it? And if you can’t measure it, how can you achieve it? Most managers and team members want to improve service/quality, but they are not all reading the same road map. But then again, they’re not even all heading to the same place. How about you and your team?

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