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Issue 18 | September 2016

I sometimes encounter resistance to quality standards for customer service.

Why is that? They are a good thing, right?

One common misconception is that "standards" are overly rigid and scripted. While few executives would ever argue against the need for quality standards in the production of physical products, some feel that standards for service are not a fit for their culture.

Yet, while the most successful organizations harness quality standards, those standards are anything but scripts. You'll never catch Cinderella smoking by the backstage door. (And I'm referring to the real Cinderella, of course, the one you meet at Disney theme parks. Not the rogue Cinderellas that prey on Times Square.) Yet, she doesn't have a four-inch thick manual of do's and don'ts.

I hope you enjoy this issue.

Warm Regards,

Brad Cleveland

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To be effective, the quality standards you establish for customer service employees must meet three key requirements.

The first is that they must flow directly from your organization's mission, vision and values. The Walt Disney Company provides a longstanding example of this principle. When Disneyland opened in 1955, they described their vision, simply, as "We create happiness." They developed a simple set of standards to operationalize the role of employees or, in their terminology, "cast members."

Those same four standards are at work today. They are:

  • Safety
  • Courtesy
  • Show
  • Efficiency

Underneath each standard, Disney itemizes two or three key actions. Under show, for example, are the actions "I stay in character" and "I keep my area show-ready." They then describe the behaviors that support each action.

You aren't likely to find gum wrappers littering the ground or Cinderella using inappropriate language off stage. Through this simple tiered approach, quality standards flow directly from Disney's mission. See Disney's Four Keys to a Great Guest Experience.

REI, the successful outdoor clothing and equipment retailer, builds their quality standards around their core purpose, which they describe this way: "We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventures." Think of the clarity that simple statement provides to employees before a customer calls or walks in the door.

A second requirement is that the standards must be within the control of the individual. You can't, for example, expect an individual to keep customer wait times to a minimum. That's a matter of forecasting and scheduling at a team- or function-wide level. But you can expect individuals to adhere to their schedules. You can establish an understanding of timing and the importance of being there at the right times for customers.

Consider another example. Entering data correctly is a common aspect of customer service. It should be reflected in quality standards for employees. But even something so seemingly straightforward can be influenced by other factors. If standards specify that data is repeated back to the customer to ensure accuracy, do they have the time to do so? Or are there competing expectations? It's imperative that standards for individuals be based on the things they can control and be workable in a real operating environment.

A third requirement of standards is that they are clear and easy to manage. This means:

  • They must be easy to understand and implement.
  • They must be concrete enough to be described, measured, trained to and coached to.
  • They should be limited to a manageable number.

Disney's four standards can be memorized in the first morning of employment. The actions and behaviors underneath each — the more detailed version of their standards — are built out through training, coaching, and reinforcement over time. (In another great example from a very different organization: the New South Wales police department's service quality guidelines)

When standards for individuals flow directly from your vision, mission and values; when they are within the control of individuals; and when they are clear and easy to manage, they boost consistency and quality.

And there's an added benefit. They often contribute to higher levels of employee engagement, as employees see the connection between the work they do and the benefit to customers and the organization.

Recent Issues

65% of consumers would cut ties with a brand over a single poor customer service experience. (Source: Parature)

80% of customers who switched companies due to poor service feel the company could have done something to retain them. (Source: Accenture)

Consumers tell 21 friends on average about a bad service experience. (Source: American Express)

Consumers prefer the following channels when engaging with an organization for assisted service: telephone 36%, chat 33%, email 25%, online support portal/FAQ 5%, social media 2%. (Source: Parature/Microsoft, Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report)

REI, the successful outdoor clothing and equipment retailer, describes their core purpose this way: "We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventures."

Consider how this statement helps guide customer service. What does it mean when a customer calls, chats, or walks in? While it doesn't take the place of quality standards, per se, it provides strong support to them.

Exercise: Think about your organization's mission or mantra. Is it universally known within your organization? Does it help guide behavior? Is it interpreted the same way by employees? Do your quality standards align with it?

Brad will be speaking at TEDx Sun Valley, on "Thriving in an Always-On World," November 30, 2016, Sun Valley Opera House.

Public workshop opportunity with Brad: San Diego, CA, November 15-18, 2016; courses include contact center strategy and management.

Brad was recently interviewed by Jeff Guylay on the radio program, In Search of Insight.

See the frequently updated statistics page at, with sections on customer expectations, contact centers, and social/mobile/tech.

*Brad delivers many private keynotes, workshops, and executive briefings to organizations and associations. For more information, contact

Brad has devoted his career to maximizing the value of customer-facing services. As a speaker, consultant, entrepreneur, executive, and president/CEO, he has seen change from many perspectives and has a deep understanding of the critical importance of customer service delivery to an organization's success. He has worked across 45 states and in 60 countries, and has been privileged to assist in the evolution of service delivery for clients such as American Express, Apple, Coca-Cola, USAA, and others, as well as for governments across the globe. Brad serves as a senior advisor to the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), and is an in-demand speaker and consultant.

To inquire about consulting or speaking, connect through any of the channels below.

© 2016 Brad Cleveland   All Rights Reserved