Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like, it’s how it works.”  Customer Service… please take a lesson!  Asking employees who deal with customers to act friendly helps, but if the service design is flawed and the service culture is lacking, no amount of friendly behavior can create a successful customer experience.

Why friendly employees don’t create a great experience

Many of my buying experiences don’t even involve employees today so the ‘friendly factor’ is important only when I have a problem.  If employees aren’t at the center of my service experience, what makes me a happy customer?  The fact is… how services are designed is playing a larger role.  Why? I gauge my experience based on ease-of-use and results.  Well designed web sites and great self help systems make the critical difference in the buying experience… either easy and fast or excruciatingly painful and slow.

Reason 1: Importance of On-time Delivery

On-time delivery is the most important factor in my customer experience. The standards for on-time delivery have now been transferred to the customer. We decide what on-time delivery means to us, not the company. This is exemplified by companies like Amazon that do an amazing job delivering products and allowing us to choose how fast we want the product delivered and how much we are willing to pay for expediting.  All companies are not like Amazon, however, and when service delivery systems are designed around ‘process’ and not the customer, service suffers.

Reason2: The importance of culture in design

In the book Uncommon Service, one of the key takeaways is that great service is a marriage of culture and design.  “It’s not enough to design your service model right.  Uncommon service is achieved when great service organizational design meets a culture of service excellence.  A basic way to think about it is this: service excellence is a product of design and culture.”  While great design is important, it doesn’t create the energy and excitement in the employees.  That’s the role of culture and when great design meets an inspired culture, great things can happen.

Meet an organization that makes great service happen with culture and design

Recently, Bank Hapoalim, the largest bank in Israel, examined how it was delivering banking services to its customers and they realized they needed to make some important changes.  Customer work was being distributed and accomplished in the branches.  Many employees were unfamiliar with some of the customer work assignments so service processing was delayed, and delivery suffered.  When employees needed to speak with a customer, it became obvious that some employee were not that familiar with these services making the engagement awkward.

Design change meets culture change

The bank decided to streamline its services design and create a new ‘services expert’ culture.  They created a centralized group of service experts who were empowered by workload management.   The workload management system is able to indentify work based on customer commitments, service level, and value and distribute it to the people who were appropriately skilled and available for new work.  Says Gideon Makleff, Executive Vice President of Back Office Operations at the bank, “Our challenge was to find a way to pull operational activities — and part of the risk management activities — out of the branches.

This allowed the branches to concentrate on sales and customer service priorities as determined by the Retail business management. The result is that the new operational group can make a significant reduction in the time and resources required to perform the operational tasks. We now have the opportunity to reduce costs, boost efficiencies, and improve customer service.”