THE SERVICE CANON
I am often asked what books or other readings have informed my views of Service Management. For our purposes, Service Management deals with those principles and practices that ensure the organization is driven to deliver customer service excellence at every turn.
The approach I took in writing America’s Service Meltdown: Restoring Service Excellence in the Age of the Customer departed from the genre of one-size-fits-all, how-to-manuals. There is too much of that. And, besides, there is no real common nature among businesses even those operating in the same space. America’s Service Meltdown rather, is a book of first principles. Principles or foundational propositions from which one can deduce specific implementation strategies based on an understanding of the enterprise situation at hand. These principles, I believe, assert themselves in every organization whether they are explicitly acknowledged or not.
These first principles or critical success factors are as follows:
- A Customer-Focused Leadership Group
- The Customer as the Centerpiece of Business Strategy
- An Ethic of Service
- Power to the Front Line
A massive amount of reading and research was the backdrop for the several years it took me to develop the above principles and their derivatives and weave them into America’s Service Meltdown. In developing the reading list which follows, however, I have omitted all monographs, journal, magazine, and newspaper articles, reports, research studies, seminar class notes, and blog postings for the sake of economy. I have also left out a large number of excellent books that I felt were not central to our pursuit of an understanding of Service Management. The decision to exclude authors such as Peter Drucker (The Post Capitalist Society, among other works), Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order), David Landes (The Wealth and Poverty of Nations), and Robert Merton (Social Theory and Social Structure), from the current list was a very difficult one. I wish, too, that there were more contemporary readings on the list but I must say that I haven’t been moved by much of what I have read in the recent past.
What I am left with, therefore, is an aggressive distillation of book readings which were most influential – or perhaps merely supportive – of the themes that I find relevant to my views on Service Management. This list then becomes a Service Canon. That is, a list of authoritative, authentic, and original works on subjects fundamental to an understanding of Service Management.
Curiously, the reading list which follows is, for the most part, made up not of service readings but of readings in economics, education, psychology, philosophy, sociology, political science, and other disciplines. This apparent disconnect is a consequence of two factors. One, service is a complex human endeavor multidisciplinary in its makeup. Two, the knowledge framework which is Service Management is still embryonic and yet to be fully codified.
Below is my reading list in alphabetical order by author’s last name with brief annotated comments:
- Albrecht, Karl and Ron Zemke, Service America! (New York: Warner Books, 1985).
This is the first book I read on the subject of Service Management. To this day, it remains a classic in the field. I was so taken by its cogent message that I hired Mr. Albrecht to lecture our executive team at the first technology service company I had the privilege of leading. Among the many things one can learn from reading this book, thirty years after publication, the following is most fundamental: “Unless the shared values, norms, beliefs, and ideologies of the organization – the organization’s culture – are clearly and consciously focused on serving the customer, there is virtually no chance that the organization will be able to deliver a consistent quality of service and develop a reputation for service.”An interesting aspect of this book is the authors’ toying with the likely provenance of the term “service management.” This, however, is a subject that is never conclusively put to bed by the authors.
- Aristotle, Aristotle’s Ethics, ed. Jonathan Barnes, and Anthony Kenny (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).
Aristotle teaches us that one can learn to be virtuous. It’s only a matter of practice as one can become habituated doing good deeds or bad. “Moral goodness”, says Aristotle, “is the result of habit.”The key is to teach people to take pleasure in doing the right thing and pain in doing the wrong thing. Aristotle further suggests that goodness is in the person and not the act itself. In other words, there is a distinction between being good and doing good. Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, had articulated the cardinal virtues as wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage. Aristotle supplemented these virtues with his own set of virtues and with a systematic way of looking at these virtues and in the end concluded that one should seek moderation – the middle ground or the arithmetic mean in Aristotle’s words – in all things. Aristotle’s approach to ethics, therefore, puts the individual’s character front and center. The implication of Aristotle’s wisdom, in the context of our Service Ethic, is that all of the proscriptions of unacceptable behavior – as one might find in corporate manuals of do’s and don’ts – might not get us very far if the individual is not motivated to do what is right for others.
- Bell, Chip, Customers as Partners, (San Francisco: CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996).
Chip Bell, who as author, consultant, and educator has done more than anybody I know to elevate the status of the customer as partner, believes a customer partnership is comprised of six qualities: generosity (which Dr. Bell calls abundance), trust, dreams, truth, balance, and grace. This list of qualities, arguably not an exhaustive list of all the necessary qualities needed for a successful partnership, is striking as it speaks exclusively to the ethical posture of the participants as playing a key role in a healthy business relationship. Partnerships are reciprocal obligations: customers and suppliers must meet halfway. Without reciprocity, there is no foundational basis for a healthy relationship.
- Berry, L.L., A. Parasuraman, and V.A. Zeithaml, Service Quality, ed. Roland T. Rust, and Richard Oliver (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1994).
In their classic studies on service quality the authors determined that there are five factors impinging on the customer’s perception of service quality. These factors are: 1) Reliability (the ability to provide what was promised), 2) Responsiveness (the willingness to help customers promptly), 3) Assurance (the knowledge and courtesy of employees), 4) Empathy (the degree of caring and of individual attention), and 5) Tangibles (the physical appearance of facilities, equipment, and so on). Subsequent research on the authors’ studies found that there is nearly an inverse relationship between the factors that matter most to customers and those factors that suppliers perform best. Reliability, for example, is the single most important factor that shapes customers’ perception of service quality. Yet, reliability is perceived by customers as the weakest factor of supplier performance. Tangibles, the least important factor to customers, is believed by customers to be thearea best handled by suppliers.
- Carlzon, Jan, Moments of Truth, (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Company, 1987).
Jan Carlzon, who as president of Scandinavian Airlines – the consortium of the national airlines of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway – did so much to bring the company back from the brink says that people far out on the line, where the action is, must be given the authority to act. Carlzon asked his front line to think of every interaction with a customer as a “moment of truth.” This is as pithy and potent a maxim as you can find in the literature of service. These moments, which Carlzon figured lasted on average 15 seconds, required the frontline worker to take responsibility for meeting the customer’s needs right there and then. These rapid-fire customer interactions simply did not allow time for consulting a manual or for checking in with headquarters. What is Carlzon’s lesson here? The front line must be given the clout – that is, be empowered by the leadership group – to, in effect, be customer driven not rules driven.
- Covey, Stephen R., The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster,1989).
Mr. Covey’s central message in this classic tome is that interdependence is a higher value than independence. To my way of thinking, Mr. Covey’s Habit 4 – Think Win/Win is the sine qua non of our Service Management principles and practices. And, as Aristotle might have said, character is the foundation of win/win. Mr. Covey suggests that there are three character traits essential to the win/win paradigm: 1) integrity [making and keeping meaningful promises and commitments, 2) maturity [maintaining a balance between courage and consideration for others], and 3) abundance [a mindset which makes clear that there is plenty to go around for all to enjoy].
- Davidow, William H. and Bro Uttal, Total Customer Service (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1989).
The book’s first sentence tells the reader what to expect in this fine book: “A customer service crisis is building throughout the business world, and most managers don’t know it.” Take note that this alarm was sounded twenty-five years ago! The most telling message this book has to offer has to do with managerial tunnel vision: “The majority of managers tend to take a narrow view of service and hence a narrow view of how to produce it. They design and run their organizations more to insulate themselves from customers than to serve them. Instead of dealing with customer service as a top strategic issue and making service quality everybody’s business, they shuffle those responsibilities off onto a customer service or consumer affairs department. Within these corporate ghettos, small, impotent groups of people struggle to field complaints. Their training is superficial, stressing politeness on the telephone and coolness under fire. They have almost no power actually to do their jobs: solving customers’ problems.”
- Gardner, Howard E., Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York: Basic Books, 1983).
Psychologist Howard Gardner reminds us that the conventional thinking on intelligence has been that humans could learn anything if only the subject matter were presented in the right way. That is a roundabout way of saying that success in education is a matter of how much money is thrown at it. Gardner’s own theory is that there are seven different intelligences – linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily kinetic, spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal – each with its own strengths and limitations. It’s important to note that since his seminal work in 1983 Gardner has added an eighth intelligence: naturalist intelligence. Regardless, the point is that Gardner’s work squares nicely with the experiences we encounter in educating and training the frontline worker: individuals learn in a variety of ways, and the diversity of required skills is such that each poses its own set of educational challenges. Further, the onus for learning depends as much on the individual as it does on the educator or the educational system and as such places a premium on new-hire candidate selection.
- Hayek, F.A., Individualism and Economic Order (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948).
This book is a collection of essays written by the Nobel Laureate in Economics renowned for his defense of individualism in the face of state control. For our purposes, Hayek’s relevance is his sense that the knowledge crucial in planning an economic activity is dispersed among many different individuals and rarely in the hands of a central planning body. This is in concert with our view of planning in Service Management which asserts that the knowledge necessary for effective service and product design lies with the customer and those in the organization who are most proximate to the customer. In Hayek’s opus, The Road to Serfdom, the author makes ominously clear that as the scale of the planning effort grows the more coercive the entity needs to become to exercise effective control.
10. Hillman, James, Kinds of Power (New York: Doubleday, 1995).
Dr. Hillman’s book has to rank near the top of any serious study of service. In a 23-page chapter entitled, appropriately enough, “Service”, Hillman offers a profound refutation of the belief that service can be improved through improved efficiencies. This belief, Dr. Hillman asserts, is the unfortunate upshot of importing most ideas of service from ideas of production: As to service productivity; they (service and productivity) need to be kept distinct because “…they grow out of fundamentally different psychological attitudes, even archetypically different styles of existence. Our habitual ideas insist that to serve is closer to surrender; to produce, more like conquering. Production masters material; service submits to it.” Even the word “service” is found to be problematic by Dr. Hillman as it “…invites in its cousins – serf, servile, servant, servitude, servility, all descendants from the common Latin ancestor, servus, slave.
11. Mintzberg, Henry, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, (New York: The Free Press, 1994).
Professor Mintzberg, who has studied Strategic Planning for over forty years, calls the strategic planning process practiced almost universally by organizations an “oxymoron.” Strategy formulation is an art; it takes intuition, creativity, and imaginative thinking; it takes knowing what questions to ask. The point is that strategy is not likely to be a product of the planning process per se. Mintzberg suggests that this is the result of a logical contradiction inherent in the planning process: strategic planning is essentially an analytical process; strategy formulation – or as Professor Mintzberg refers to it, strategy formation, to emphasize the spontaneity of the process – is all about synthesis. A plan, therefore, is orderly, mathematical, and rational; a strategy is visionary and intuitive. Service Management makes clear that the customer must be the centerpiece of business planning and as such cannot be reconciled with the planning process that Professor Mintzberg so effectively debunks.
12. Peppers, Don and Martha Rogers, The One to One Future (New York: Currency Doubleday, 1997).
A marketing classic, yet suffused with service insights that underscore the need for suppliers to keep the customers they’ve tried so hard – and spent so much – to acquire. This book challenges the classic paradigm of that incessant treadmill called customer acquisition. The authors demonstrate that the return on investment directed at customer retention is worth many times the return of landing the next customer. More insightful, I believe, is the authors’ understanding that the more a supplier gets to know a customer the more responsive it can be with product and service design ideas. And, the more profitable that customer becomes to the enterprise. The key is to apply this rule to valued customers, as the authors say, one to one.
13. Reichheld, Frederick, The Loyalty Effect (Boston, MA: Bain & Company, 1996).
Mr. Reichheld has done more work on customer loyalty than anyone I know. A loyal customer might or might not be profitable but with certain analytical approaches and a strong dose of judgment the enterprise can decide whether a customer is worth keeping. On the other hand, Mr. Reichheld makes clear that while the conventional wisdom of focusing on short-term profits is prevalent in business it is, at the same time, misguided. A pell-mell rush to find the next customer is the consequence of an obsession with short-term profits. A better approach, Mr. Reichheld argues, is to focus on those loyal customers whose improved economics accrue to the firm over time.
14. Schlesinger, Len and Bill Fromm, The Real Heroes of Business, And Not a CEO Among Them (New York: Currency Doubleday, 1993).
This is a most entertaining book filled with real-world examples of exemplary service. The authors profile 14 service workers – waitress, hotel doorman, salesman and others – from diverse industries. The accounts are vivid and indeed represent some of the best-of-the-best frontline work anywhere. It is emblematic of the inability of executive leadership to institutionalize service behavior in the enterprise, however, that these service workers have had to figure out how to deliver excellent service on their own. That the subtitle of the book is And Not a CEO Among Them, underscores the persistent vacuum of service leadership in today’s enterprise. The authors are able to tease out common behaviors among the profiled workers: a strong work ethic, individual personal charm, always taking the customer’s point of view, not being in the position strictly for the money, looking long term at the relationship with the customer, and perhaps most importantly never feeling fully satisfied with their own service performance.
15. Smith, Adam, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Edwin Cannan (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976).
Smith’s classic work is less about economics than about moral philosophy. It is on this list for several important reasons. One, as Friedrich Hayek suggests, one can learn more about the behavior of man from this work than from most of the more pretentious modern treatises on social psychology. Two, Smith was perhaps the first to make the connection between commerce, and social liberty and progress. His notion of “self interest” has to do not with selfishness but with community, cooperation and doing good. These are central topics in our construct of the Service Ethic. Three, Smith was of the opinion that an “invisible hand” produces a natural, more rational order than one produced by central planning and control. This is in harmony with our view that planning from an ivory tower whether of an enterprise or of a nation leads to unintended consequences. Finally, there is a mistaken view that Smith was somehow a “damn-the-torpedoes” laissez-faire capitalist totally devoid of ethics. Setting aside the fact that Smith never used the term, he was, on the other hand, a strong proponent of laws necessary for the protection of private property. The myth that he was in the pocket of the merchant class can be put to rest with the merest reading of this classic work. And, there is no more telling quote than the following on how he saw the role of the customer: “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.
16. Solomon, Robert C., Ethics and Excellence, Cooperation and Integrity in Business (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Professor Solomon’s uncompromising principle is that “…business ethics, rightly conceived, is just good business.” Solomon is at pains to examine and reject metaphors that liken business, to a dog-eat-dog world of bellicose behavior and gamesmanship. Community, cooperation, harmony, and integrity, the linchpins of our own Service Ethic construct of Service Management, asserts Professor Solomon are the ends “…without which the corporation will have lost its soul.”
17. Spurge, Lorraine, Failure Is Not An Option (Encino, CA: Spurge Ink!, 1998)
The subtitle of Ms Spurge’s book is How MCI Invented Competition in Telecommunications. This book is on my reading list because it encapsulates much of what Service Management has to say about the customer-focused leader. In this case, the leader was Bill McGowan. McGowan, with co-founder Jack Goeken, was the man responsible for the launch in 1968 of Microwave Communications Inc., a company with a plan to construct microwave towers to carry radio transmission for use between truckers and their dispatchers on the route between St. Louis and Chicago. A service such as Mr. McGowan envisioned could have been provided by AT&T with its vast resources at the drop of a hat, but that was not to be. What came to be known as MCI Communications Corporation, a $20 billion revenue company before its merger with Worldcom, and largely responsible for a revolution in telecommunications is the best example I know that describes what is possible when strong leadership drives a customer-focused vision.
18. Sternberg, R.J., G.B. Forsythe, J. Hedlund, J.A. Horvath, R.K. Wagner, W.M. Williams, S.A. Snook, and E.L. Grigorenko, Practical Intelligence (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Practical intelligence is the ability to shape, and select everyday environments. The authors have studied many aspects of practical intelligence, that is to say, common sense. In this book, however, the authors have concentrated on one aspect of practical intelligence, tacit knowledge, namely the procedural knowledge one learns in everyday life that usually is not taught and often is not even verbalized. Tacit knowledge includes things like knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect. The authors’ work is relevant to how we select, recruit, and train members of the front line because in their estimation practical intelligence is at least as good a predictor of future success as is the academic form of intelligence normally found in new-hire assessment tests.