Turning Service Into Culture

Professional development consultant Bob Hobbi relates how customer service can be the focal point that gives a business direction, coalescing the company culture.

LAS VEGAS — Consultant Bob Hobbi, president and facilitator for Scottsdale-based ServiceElements, calls it the other case for customer service. It's the concept of using customer service as the catalyst for a renewed, vigorous culture that in time can lead to vested employees, reduced turnover, and happier customers. The vicious circle that starts with high turnover rates, says Hobbi, can be remedied when a company has clearly defined goals and objectives, and an oft-stated corporate commitment.

Explains Hobbi, “One of the biggest challenges in today’s organization is the high degree of turnover. It’s a situation where because of the high turnover, it’s very difficult to have an organization that has a clear, concise set of goals and objectives, because of all this change.

“It’s tough to keep people on the same goals, the same page.”

Pay scales for line positions, he concedes, are an obstacle, but the lure of aviation which translates to job satisfaction, and having a culture in which people enjoy working, can significantly reduce the turnover issue, helping the business.

Companies first need to address causes for turnover, besides pay. The entry level line position is usually viewed as a temporary job, or a stepping stone, says Hobbi, to which almost immediately new hires become disinterested. “When they view us this way,” he says, “and the organization doesn’t have a focus, fueling airplanes and processing credit cards become very mechanical for these people. And they absolutely do not care.”

Worse, says Hobbi, is that attitude transfers to the customer experience; it detaches them. “That leads to the customer not caring about the FBO (fixed base operation) and then it all comes down to, How cheap can I get my fuel? They don’t care about the lobby, the coffee, the meeting rooms, the hi-speed Internet.”

Bring customer service into the company as a cultural event, he advises. Talk about it; meet about it; define goals. Ensure one shift is talking with the next to ensure consistency. And, adds Hobbi, set the example and the bar.

“If as the leader of an organization you’re constantly pointing out when employees demonstrate going beyond the norm, you’re also letting everyone in the organization know what impresses you as the leader.”

’Thinking and Agreeing’

“What you want,” explains Hobbi, “is to get people thinking about customer service, what it is, and agreeing on it. By having it as the main focus, you showing you have a goal: taking care of customers. To do that, you need employees to be talking with one another; talking to each other at a shift change about airplanes that need to be made ready. We don’t want the pilots to show up and find their aircraft buried in the back of the hangar.”

Detached employees have as their goal getting the paycheck, says Hobbi, with little interest in going above and beyond what’s expected.

Once leadership commits to creating the customer service culture, the next step is to drum a steady beat of the goals to employees, says Hobbi. “It’s newsletters; championing people who are going the extra mile for customers; patting them on the back publicly. Not just focusing on the mechanics of the job,” he explains.

“We’re competing with other lower paying jobs, but we have that aviation aura that still has a certain level of sexiness to it, especially for entry level people. It’s not like getting a job at a gas station or flipping hamburgers. We’re getting young folks who can get really excited about being around airplanes. It’s a thing we don’t always use. For a kid in college, coming to the airport and watching these operations going on, it’s an exciting place.”

More than money, people have to enjoy what they do, says Hobbi. The fact that customer service in itself can seem an abstract concept can be a benefit — management can define it in a way that is flexible but appropriate for the clientele.

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