Discovering the Soul of Service
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Discovering the Soul of Service

The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success

Leonard L. Berry

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eBook - ePub

Discovering the Soul of Service

The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success

Leonard L. Berry

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About This Book

This wise and inspiring book by Leonard Berry, moves far beyond his pioneering work in services marketing and service quality to explain how great service companies meet their toughest challenge: sustaining long-term success. In a world where customers regard flawless products as a given, service is the key differentiator between competitors in any field.From Berry's exacting study of fourteen mature, highly successful, labor-intensive companies comes an astonishing revelation: the single most important factor in building a lasting service business is not a matter of savvy business practice, but of humane values. In all fourteen award-winning companies -- Bergstrom Hotels, The Charles Schwab Corporation, Chick-fil-A, The Container Store, Custom Research Inc., Dana Commercial Credit, Dial-A-Mattress, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Midwest Express Airlines, Miller SQA, Special Expeditions, St. Paul Saints, USAA, and Ukrop's Super Markets -- values-driven leadership connects with strategic focus, executional excellence, control of destiny, trust-based relationships, generosity, investment in employee success, acting small, and brand cultivation to drive customer satisfaction, innovation, and growth. Dedicating a chapter to each of these nine drivers, this book is the most far-reaching and insightful vision ever presented of the principles and step-by-step actions that continuously bring success to life in a company.Berry's comprehensive model reveals the soul that underlies the strategies and day-to-day operations of great service companies, guiding the thousands of daily decisions of individual employees. Clear, compelling, pathbreaking, Discovering the Soul of Service is essential reading for managers everywhere.

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Information

Publisher
Free Press
Year
1999
ISBN
9780684830865
Subtopic
Marketing

1
SUSTAINING SUCCESS IN SERVICE COMPANIES

A customer, recovering from knee surgery and walking with a cane, was Christmas shopping. When the customer asked for an item in most stores, the salesperson would point and say disinterestedly, “Over there.” However, the customer’s experience was different at The Container Store. After determining the product the customer wanted, the salesperson replied, “It’s in the back of the store. I’ll go get it for you.” Before the salesperson returned, two other salespeople cheerfully asked the customer if they could be of service.
Another customer of The Container Store completed her purchase of multiple items and headed for her car, children in tow. She placed her package on the ground as she put the children in the car—and then drove off forgetting the package. Realizing her mistake just a few minutes later, she returned to the parking lot, but the package was gone. She reentered the store hoping that someone had turned in her package, but no one had. Salesperson James Castleberry remembered the customer and asked her what she had bought. He then proceeded to gather up the products, handed them to the customer without charge, and said: “Your day will get better.” And it did, starting at that moment.
Amy Carovillano, vice president of inventory control and distribution at The Container Store, was at the airport waiting for her flight to Houston. She noticed a woman animatedly talking to the airline’s gate agents. Considerable head shaking suggested that the woman was not receiving the response she was seeking. She was obviously displeased when she left the counter.
She began looking around as if she were searching for someone. More than 100 people were in the area at the time. Then the woman headed for Amy, passing at least 50 people closer to her. She asked Amy if she were flying to Houston. When Amy replied yes, she asked for a favor. The woman’s husband had flown to Houston on an earlier flight but was stranded at the airport’s rental car counter. He had left his wallet home and could not rent a car without his driver’s license. The woman had come to the airport hoping that one of the airline’s crew would carry the wallet to Houston on the next flight. No one was willing to do so, which brought the woman to Amy.
Amy was glad to help but did have one question: Why did the woman single her out? The woman said it was because Amy was wearing a Container Store tee-shirt. She assumed Amy was an employee. The woman added that she was a loyal customer and knew how nice and willing to help all the employees were. Amy met the woman’s husband when she deplaned in Houston and handed him his wallet.
The Container Store is one of America’s most successful retail chains because it has employees who delight in helping customers solve problems—and who possess the freedom and confidence to do so. The Container Store sells storage and organization products—boxes, bottles, jars, trunks, trays, racks, baskets, buckets, hooks, shelving systems, hangers, garment bags, drawer organizers, and much more—about 12,000 different products. The company is the largest retailer of elfa® storage systems and Skandia shelving systems in the United States, even though, by design, it is not a large chain with only 19 stores at year-end 1997. From its founding in 1978 with two employees, the company has achieved average annual sales growth of 25 percent without incurring debt. Two-thirds of the revenue growth comes from existing stores, one-third from the one or two new stores opened each year. The company’s owners, Garrett Boone, Kip Tindell, Sharon Tindell, and John Mullen, all actively involved in running the company today, continually say “no” to suitors wanting to fund rapid expansion through venture capital, franchising, or a public offering. Becoming big was never the dream; creating the perfect retail store in which employees would earnestly, enthusiastically, and creatively work together to serve customers and improve operations and products was always the dream. As Garrett Boone states: “We are a company that understands our business is helping customers. We have a willingness to continually reexamine what we do and ask if we can do it better.”
The Container Store has been notably successful in attracting exceptional employees who share the strong customer-focused values of the owners. More than 1,500 employees strong now, The Container Store’s values-driven execution of the business is difficult for imitators to match. The company patiently practices its craft of selling excellent boxes excellently. It waits until it finds just the right employee, just the right store location, just the right vendor. Elizabeth Barrett, vice president of operations, admits: “I still have the reputation for holding a store position open for six weeks to look for the right person.”
The quest for excellence pays off in human terms as well as financial terms. Employees love working in this company that celebrates excellence, and customers love the experience of shopping in the stores. Once a minister announced from his pulpit that for his birthday his family was taking him to The Container Store. The whole congregation applauded. Messages from a departing part-time employee, a ninth-grade student, and a frantic customer reflect the human dividends contributed by corporate excellence.
Dear Kip:
I am a part-time employee working in the Virginia store. I work full-time for CNN.
When I was hired last June, I wanted to gain knowledge about opening a business. What I learned was more important. I learned customer service. Our extensive training was exceptional. The people sent to train us were incredible. Jane Dunnington is one of the best managers I have worked under in my career! She disseminates information and is fair. Chris Hix and Lori Stuardi have gone out of their way to keep me informed and enthused.
I enjoy the “team atmosphere” at the store and will miss it very much. Other projects in television are demanding more of my time. I am forced to resign my part-time position.
I leave with a more demanding attitude about customer service, a better organizer of closets, a contributor to a million dollar sales month, feeling valued and appreciated. If I didn’t love television so much I would be tempted to come aboard full-time.
Thank you for creating a positive environment, and I hope to contribute that attitude wherever I go.
Dear Container Store,
In late April I came to your store to purchase some packaging materials. I needed these materials to ship my ninth-grade science project to Tucson, Arizona, where I would be attending the International Science and Engineering Fair in early May. I had been searching in many places for these materials, and finally found them at The Container Store, thanks to an employee named Amy Robertson. As soon as I walked into the store, she found the materials that I needed to pack my oversize project. Amy not only found the materials but spent an additional two hours and helped me pack the project in the store. She brought out tape, scissors, and screwdrivers and finished within hours what would have taken me days. The project arrived in Tucson in beautiful condition. At the Science Fair, I was awarded third place in the world in the category of microbiology. I would like to sincerely thank Amy Robertson and all of The Container Store employees who helped me on Thursday, April 25. My gratitude cannot be expressed.
Dear Container Store,
I am writing to praise Chris Grey, one of your employees. On September 11, 1996, I spent 40 minutes with her on the phone as she “coached me and encouraged me” as I put the metro system together. The following day I came to the store to thank her in person. I was in the middle of a move and frantic. She helped me tremendously. When I met her I cried, I was so grateful to her.
I hope this letter will go into her employee file.
STUDYING SUSTAINABLE SUCCESS
The Container Store is a mature, service-intensive company that continues to improve its operations; its financial performance is stellar, its human dividends rich. Growth has not dulled its enthusiasm, success has not moderated its work ethic, praise has not slowed its efforts to improve. This company, and 13 other service companies I studied for this book, model sustainable success. The companies in my study range from local to worldwide operations. Although operating different businesses, they create value for customers through labor-intensive service operations. All are highly successful by any measure. The average age of these companies as of 1999 is 31 years.
My purpose in this book is to identify, describe, and illustrate the underlying drivers of sustainable success in service businesses. Creating a successful service operation is unquestionably a difficult task. However, sustaining success can be even more difficult. Services are performances, and the challenge of sustaining the performers’ energy, commitment, skills, and knowledge day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year—especially as the organization grows and becomes more complex—is daunting. The greater the involvement of people in creating value for customers, the greater the challenge. This is a book on the lessons 14 outstanding service companies teach about sustainable success. And the lessons they teach are clear indeed. Although the sample companies differ on the outside—the nature, size, and structure of their businesses—to a remarkable degree they are the same on the inside, sharing the drivers of their ongoing success.
The companies selected for the sample met several tests. The primary consideration was the achievement of sustained customer acceptance and financial success. I also sought a balanced sample—companies in different businesses and of varying sizes. Firms representing fresh case studies for readers also was an important criterion.
Selecting companies with a high labor component in their services was purposeful. Labor-intensive service companies should provide the best test of a services success sustainability model. If a model could fit companies that were absolutely dependent upon the actions, creativity, and commitment of service providers to survive, then it would fit to some extent all companies. All companies after all are service companies to the degree that they create customer value through performances.
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I visited each sample company, interviewing senior and middle managers and frontline service providers. I also followed up with numerous telephone interviews. In all, I interviewed more than 250 people from the 14 companies. In addition, I observed and directly experienced service delivery at the sample firms, collected a small mountain of documentation from them, and conducted secondary research on service management. My career-long specialization in services marketing and management provides a vital backdrop for this research, the most ambitious project I have undertaken.
The sample companies readers will meet in this book are profiled in Table 1-1. In addition to The Container Store, they are:
  • Bergstrom Hotels, a group of three full-service hotels in northeastern Wisconsin: The Paper Valley Hotel, The Pioneer Inn, and The Valley Inn.* The hotels have built strong relationships with employees, customers, and their communities through attention to detail, caring, and a big corporate heart. The company was awarded the 1996 Wisconsin Service Business of the Year Grand Award.
  • The Charles Schwab Corporation, a securities brokerage and investment company that passionately and innovatively champions the investors’ cause. Schwab’s energy for continuous improvement, technological leadership, and profitable growth is remarkable.
  • Chick-fil-A, one of the world’s best quick-service restaurant chains with an unwavering commitment to excellent food, respectful customer service, store operator success, and teamwork. At Chick-fil-A, there is a free lunch—in the employee cafeteria at the home office in Atlanta.
  • Custom Research Inc., a highly progressive marketing research company that has built a strong business with Fortune 500 clients through team service delivery, innovative practices, competence, and an emphasis on continuous improvement. Custom Research won the 1996 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.
  • Dana Commercial Credit, an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Dana Corporation providing lease financing services with integrity, quality, and creativity. Notable for investing in its people’s success, Dana Commercial Credit won the 1996 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The company also won the 1995 Michigan Quality Leadership Award.
  • Dial-A-Mattress, a company that sells bedding over the telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and delivers orders as soon as customers want them—within two hours if desired. For years it was nearly impossible to live in New York City and be unfamiliar with the company’s advertising theme: “Dial 1-800-MATTRES and leave the last ‘s’ off for savings.” The company’s founder, president and CEO Napoleon Barragan, probably is the nation’s most passionate believer in the marketing power of toll-free 1-800 numbers.
  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the fastest-growing rental car company in America, which attracts talented, entrepreneurial-minded people to the organization and allows them to run their businesses. In recent years, Enterprise has been hiring more college graduates than any other company in America.
  • Midwest Express Airlines, a jewel of an airline that began service in 1984 as part of Kimberly-Clark Corporation. Now an independent, public company, Midwest Express takes great pride in offering “the best care in the air.” In Zagat’s 1997 survey of 60 of the world’s largest airlines on comfort, service, timeliness, and food, Midwest Express ranked first in the United States and was the only U.S. airline to place in the world’s top 10.
  • Miller SQA, a highly successful division of Herman Miller that is reinventing office furniture manufacturing and marketing by focusing on the process rather than the product. Miller SQA lives the initials in its name—“simple, quick, and affordable.”
  • Special Expeditions, an environmentally conscious travel company that uses small ships and Zodiac landing craft to expose travelers to dramatic geology, wildlife, and native culture in remote places in the world. Travelers are active participants in an expedition led by a staff of naturalists. The company was rated among the top 10 cruise lines in the world in the 1996 Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards.
  • St. Paul Saints, a minor-league baseball team in St. Paul, Minnesota, that sells out every home game and has a season-ticket waiting list of more than 1,000 people. Operating on the principle that “fun is good,” the Saints offer a strong entertainment value for families and have earned the affection and loyalty of the entire community.
  • Ukrop’s Super Markets, a family-owned chain in Richmond, Virginia, that in 1997 held an astonishing 37.6 percent1 share of the local grocery market. A leader in ready-to-eat meals, a pioneer in relationship marketing, a generous and active corporate citizen, Ukrop’s has forged an unshakable bond of trust with its customers, associates, and community.
  • USAA, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, a worldwide insurance and diversified financial services association that primarily serves members of the U.S. military and their families through toll-free telephone calls, fax, and mail. Aggressive investment in technology, customer feedback systems, employee training, and the quality of work life contribute to superlative service and an insurance customer retention figure of about 97 percent. USAA was included in the book The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.2
These 14 sample companies provide the book’s foundation. Their lessons not only teach but also stretch us to imagine, to ask “what if” questions about our own companies; they inspire. Lessons from the sample firms are infused into every chapter, and readers will be intimately acquainted with all 14 companies upon completion of the book. These truly are great service companies, companies that demonstrate the grand possibilities accompanying leadership with heart, companies that show the way to sustainable success.
THREE CHALLENGES IN SUSTAINING SERVICE SUCCESS
Three specific challenges in sustaining success are accentuated in enterprises that create value for customers primarily through services. The more labor-intensive the services, the greater the challenges of:
  • operating effectively while growing rapidly
  • operating effectively when competing on price
  • retaining the initial entrepreneurial spirit of the younger, smaller company
Execution Versus Growth
Balancing the need for growth with the requirements for execution is one of the most difficult challenges managers face. In the early 1990s, computer marketer CompUSA was the fastest-growing retail company in America. However, by 1994 the company’s survival was threatened as a result of weak financial controls, undisciplined merchandising practices, and poor in-store operations. Rapid growth had outstripped the small-company infrastructure and systems in place at the time. The chief executive was ousted and the new CEO, Jim Halpin, halted the expansion. Most senior managers were replaced. The company centralized merchandising, revamped store operating practices, and strengthened the balance sheet. Only then did it cautiously ramp up new store expansion. CompUSA has become a strong performer under Halpin, and the lesson of out-of-control growth still reverberates in the company’s boardroom to this day.
During periods of rapid growth, adhering to original operating standards becomes problematic. Relaxing standards is common when fastgrowing companies select, orient, train, and educate many new managers and employees. Maintaining effective internal company communications, reinforcing the company’s vision and culture, and delivering consistently high quality service—essential success factors—are challenged by expansion. Not allowing the pressures of growth to undermine the effectiveness of labor-intensive value creation requires a higher level of leadership and discipline than exists in many companies.
No matter how brilliant a company’s strategy, it still must be executed. Otherwise, the strategy is simply being advertised for competitors to imitate, execute better, and win awa...

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