For a retailer to truly become customer-centric, it must begin by clearly identifying and describing what excellent service entails. This includes the establishment of well-defined service standards and behaviours that retailer aims to be known for.

Service standards play a crucial role in providing clarity and setting expectations for individuals, teams, and leadership. Without such standards, customer service becomes subject to individual interpretation, resulting in inconsistencies based on personal backgrounds and experiences. To deliver an extraordinary experience, the team must know what is expected of them.

There are five key ways in which service standards drive customer centricity.

Defining the signature service experience

Service standards create a distinctive and memorable customer experience. To be effective, these standards should be clear, measurable, observable, and realistic.. For instance, there is a significant difference between telling the frontline to be friendly to customers and specifying the expected behaviour.

For example, the widely used 15/5 rule, ‘When a guest is within 15 feet their presence should be acknowledged through some means whether a smile or head nod. Similarly, when a guest is within 5 feet they should be greeted in an appropriate manner whether that be a “hello”, “good morning”, or “good evening.’ Keep them simple, concise, specific, and limited in number.

Involving the team in creating standards

If an organisation does not have service standards in place, it is recommended to prioritise their development. The most successful approaches involve customer feedback, leadership input, and collaboration with teams. By involving the team in the process, an engaging environment is created that fosters creativity and thoughtful input from a range of stakeholders.

When the team has a hand in creating the standards, true magic happens, they come alive and the team takes ownership. Once the standards are established, they should be prominently displayed and readily accessible to every member of the organisation.  There are many ways to do this, from a laminated handout to a pocket card, to screensavers and posters.

Setting expectations in orientation and onboarding

Service standards play a critical role during orientation and onboarding processes, forming the foundation for any customer service training program. When new team members join the organisation, it is a prime opportunity to instil a service mindset. On their first day, the standards should be thoroughly explained by the leader.

This is the time to orient the team around ‘How we do things around here.’ Providing a copy of the service standards and emphasising their importance in daily work is key. These standards should then be integrated into the formal orientation and onboarding processes across the entire organisation.

Coaching based on standards

One of the significant advantages of clearly defined standards is that they can be used for service coaching. Once the standards are established, if a team member fails to demonstrate the desired behaviours, it becomes an opportunity for coaching and providing constructive feedback. Using the service standards as a reference point enables targeted coaching and continuous improvement.

Recognising and reinforcing the team

When team members demonstrate the service standards in their daily work, it is essential to acknowledge and recognise their efforts. Recognising behaviours aligned with the service standards, whether through verbal or written appreciation, helps embed those behaviours within the organisational culture.

Reinforcement of the service standards is crucial for building a service-oriented culture. This can be achieved through daily huddles, team meetings, and catch-ups where the standards are discussed and reinforced consistently. Creating a routine of daily reinforcement ensures that the service standards remain alive beyond the initial orientation and training is essential.

In the words of Diana Oreck from Ritz-Carlton’s Leadership Center: ‘The daily line-up is the most important vehicle we have at Ritz-Carlton to keep culture alive. Every single day, 365 days a year, three times a day (because there are three different shifts), we have our line-up, and we cover the sixteen principles that are central to our service culture in rotation.’

During these daily line-ups, the leader reads the standard, then shares a story or customer feedback and team members also contribute. Just ten minutes a day. Every day of the year. This is what commitment to excellence looks like — ongoing reinforcement and a way to emphasise what was taught beyond the initial orientation and training. It is also why the Ritz-Carlton Hotel is world-famous for its guest experiences. It is deeply embedded in the culture and reinforced every single day.

By clearly defining service standards, organisations can establish a distinctive customer experience. These standards should be visible and communicated continuously. Ultimately, keeping service standards alive is a primary responsibility of every service leader and contributes to the establishment of a customer-centric culture that drives long-term success.

Monique Richardson is a service leadership and customer service expert, and author of ‘They Serve Like We Lead – How To Take Care Of Your People So They Take Care Of Your Customers’.