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Uplifting Service

By Jim Mikula, President/CEO

“Uplifting Service” is a NY Times best selling book by global service expert, Ron Kaufman. Having learned about his work in the early 2000s, I enthusiastically embraced the core concepts and with his permission have presented his work as part of keynote speeches and workshops. For the past 20-plus years, I’ve seen how embodying Ron’s principles in service delivery produces happy customers – even raving fans! As he says, it’s all in the mindset, which is something that any of us can adopt, regardless of whether we are serving customers, trying to be a good employee, coworker or friend.

Based on his research and working with local and global companies big and small Ron has defined four categories of value that all businesses provide: Primary Products and Services, Delivery Systems, Service Mindset, and On Going Relationships. It probably goes without saying that the products, services and the ways that they are delivered are really important, but my experience tells me that it’s the Service Mindset and On Going Relationships that most often make the difference in the degree of success of a business.

The Service Mindset includes the service values and service standards that a business stands for and how they train their staff on these. But, ultimately, it’s how they actually interact with customers that is the proof in the pudding: are the customer interactions transactional or are they rooted in building a relationship?

Using his creative style, Ron developed a fairly simple way to think of customer satisfaction. It consists of six levels, and this applies to product, service and delivery systems. You can think of it like a five-story building.  The ground floor is Basic – doing the bare minimum. The second floor is Expected – just average. The third floor is Desired – which is what the customer prefers. The fourth floor is Surprising – something very special (getting interesting, right?). The fifth and top floor is what Ron calls Unbelievable – what we all might call a WOW!! experience. You might be wondering about the sixth floor…well, it’s the basement – that’s when even Basic levels of product and/or service are not reached, and Ron calls that Criminal.

When a customer experiences products/services and delivery systems the first time it could be an unbelievable or even surprising experience. (Think about the creation of ride-sharing like Uber or tapping your credit card to pay.) As the customer has future experiences with the product/service or delivery system the customer’s evaluation moves downward to expected or basic. We often think of new technologies or innovations as “WOW,” but we soon take them for granted.

It is only the Service Mindset and Ongoing Relationships that have a chance of resisting this downward pull or erosion of appreciation. Customers value the service experience and a relationship as more important than products or delivery systems. Some of you might remember the sitcom, Cheers, and the regular customers in the show were always recognized, especially Norm. When he walked into the bar, his favorite seat was always available and a draft beer was placed in front of him in seconds. This is a fun example of Service Mindset and Ongoing Relationship. The beer was basic or expected.

So, how do you create the Unbelievable? The first step is to truly understand your customer’s perceptions of their experience with you. That means critically examining your customers’ journey from the first time they learn about you all the way through to purchase and beyond. Ask your staff what they observe about and hear from customers, and learn about their challenges in delivering service. Ask your customers for honest feedback and suggestions for improvement. Is their overall experience hovering around Basic and Expected or is it consistently hitting a higher level? Are you delivering on an occasional unbelievable?

What I have learned from Ron and other service experts is that it takes discipline, critical thinking, and curiosity to design and implement a service mindset culture and to build relationships with customers intentionally. In some ways, I think it is a courageous act to design and deliver Unbelievable experiences.

To learn more, go to His newsletters are informative and sometimes quite humorous.

Circling back to how the five-story metaphor relates to co-worker relationships. We can all benefit from taking stock of how we are contributing to a good team experience. Are we just Basic or Expected in our interactions with teammates? Since the pandemic, it seems that so many businesses are short-handed or lean, so it’s hard to imagine doing more. But, we’re all in the same boat, so that extra effort to interact in a Desired or Surprising way with co-workers – doing something special or unexpected - might be Uplifiting  for the whole team.

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