Are service culture and consideration symmetry universal? To answer the question, leading international firms from industry and services give us insight into two connected issues: fostering service culture internationally (with a Think Global, Act Local approach) and accelerating the conversion of industry towards the uncharted territory of services.
The conclusion appears to be the same for most groups with international reach in every industry: after undertaking considerable transformation throughout the first decade of the 21st century, such as the extensive overhaul of processes or the deployment of new information systems, a large number of bosses have come to realise that there is no Service DNA in their business culture. This aspect is however essential, often part of the innovation potential of the firm, and capable today of increasing its effectiveness. Espoused by many directors, the challenge of differentiation by service is not just a marketing ploy. For the approach to pay off, the company must sustainably take on a service culture, on all floors and in all job departments.
Companies are not on a level playing field in this enhancement process. “In banking, which is by its nature customer-facing, we can see that what’s going to make us stand out tomorrow is personal contact and our ability to create a more effective and value- added service relationship,” acknowledges Sébastien Heitz, Project Manager Spirit of Service at the Resource and Innovation Department (RESG) of Groupe Société Générale. This awakening rst led the group’s retail banking to start up a service culture approach, before being followed by support functions. But such a voluntary initiative is far from a foregone conclusion, contrary to appearances. “In sectors which are both technical and highly regulated, it is actually quite dif cult to put the client front and centre,” emphasises Claire Bonniol, associate director of L’Académie du Service. “In industrial companies, management through quality and the logic of the customer-supplier partnership have encouraged these actors to gradually embrace a logic of service and co-construct new service offers which take into account the changes related to use.” Looking at things from a perspective of utility and co-constructing with customers and suppliers could well be the new foundation for cultural transformation in industrial companies.
Universal common sense (of service)
Having noticed that many teams worked cut off from their colleagues, in ‘silos’, Groupe Société Générale’s Resource and Innovation department engaged in a Spirit of Service approach, starting around the turn of 2013. With approximately 6,000 employees across the world, the RESG is a support function (IT, property, procurement) for the Group’s business lines (retail banking, corporate investment banking, special financing). This customer- supplier relationship is a B2B2C type. “Our internal clients are sometimes more demanding than external clients and they expect us to provide a service with the same level of professionalism as an external service provider,” comments Sébastien Heitz. After being started up in France, which accounts for 50% of the RESG headcount, the Spirit of Service approach was tested in mid-2013 in Bangalore (India) where Société Générale manages part of its banking processes and IT developments as well as its technological resources (work station, servers, etc.). “Before we rolled out the programme to all our staff, the vast majority of whom are Indian, we translated it and we listened to their feedback,” recalls Benjamin Thomas, Head of Global Technology Services at Société Générale Global Solution Center, and sponsor of the local deployment. “We had to take into account cultural and social differences in the way we talked about the content, but in terms of management and human behaviour, we worked according to universal common sense: there were only marginal adjustments. This success is partly due to our 14-year presence here.”
Is this tangible proof that service Esperanto exists beyond borders and cultural differences? Yes, but as long as certain precautions are taken, as suggested by the example of Eurostar. “Our customers are from different cultures and origins, so it is logical that the staff at Eurostar, headquartered in London and with of offices in Brussels and Paris, also come from a variety of backgrounds,” states Delphine Merlot, Eurostar On Board Services Customer Experience Manager. “At Eurostar, to be sure that a practice can be deployed internationally, we test it: in addition to our most frequent customers who are involved in the approach from the start, we also ask our employees to take part as internal customers.”
Building on culinary and linguistic culture
In autumn 2013, the British rail operator launched a new service for its Business Premier customers. Going by the name of Afternoon Team, it was inspired by the old British tradition of taking tea – or champagne – and cakes or sandwiches, around 4pm. “We tried to roll out this service on all of our trains, but it didn’t work as well as we had planned,” admits Delphine Merlot. “Our Anglo teams and customers were familiar with the idea, but the rest didn’t know how to react: should you eat the sweet stuff before or after the savoury, with tea or with champagne? So we improved on our offer by building on our customers’ own cultural and linguistic cultures. We gave it the name Café Gourmand for the Continentals, and kept Afternoon Tea for the British. That’s what customising a service is all about.” And also how complex it can be to adopt a local custom in an international setting. Beyond the content, Eurostar is also putting effort into the way it proposes its services, revolving primarily around service attitudes. “Here, we cultivate emotion Esperanto: every staff member can draw on their own personality to make the service a unique moment for the customer, whilst remaining within the boundaries of Eurostar’s own image and culture,” concludes Delphine Merlot.
The leading subsidiary in terms of turnover (€1 billion in 2013) and by the headcount outside of the USA (2,500 employees), the French entity of the pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) is also the first in its sector to deploy a service culture today. This corporate initiative was taken by its CEO France to change practices in terms of customer culture. “In recent decades, the pharmaceutical industry was focussed on itself and its products, with an effort made since the 2000’s to communicate better with customers using digital push,” says Marc Delavarenne, Associate Director in charge of Customer Experience at BMS France. “We realised that it was urgent to adopt another “pull” strategy and find out first of all what the customer wanted, so as to then respond to their need. In the 21st century, we can’t just be a supplier of medication: we owe it to ourselves to be an actor in public health, and this is why it is important to know what the end patient needs, and in particular what their doctor needs.”
The top line impact of the service culture
This was what brought BMS France to use the Net Promoter Score (NPS), a tool which measures the recommendation level of a customer through one straight question: Would you recommend company A / brand B / product C to a friend, colleague, or a relation? On a scale of 0 to 10, a percentages are obtained of “promoters” (mark 9 or 10), “passives”, (7 or 8) and “detractors” (0 to 6). “If we ask our contacts what they expect of us in terms of customer experience, then aiming for excellence in our services (our congress logistics, payment times for fees, etc) will make the difference,” explains Marc Delavarenne. “If we correlate our NPS scores with turnover, as General Electric or Philips have done, we can measure the impact of a one NPS point improvement on the top line.” A year after launch, the cultural transformation initiated by France has just been presented to the BMS Group.
Michelin solutions1, a new company and brand in the Michelin group, was established to develop innovation for fleets, and illustrates a new business model based on the creation and the sharing of values. Its stated objective was to be the partner that engages with its clients, to improve their profitability and mobility.
This conversion to services is a reflection of the founding vision of the parent company, in its production of road signs, maps and tourist guides, to accompany its customers in their travel. “Today Michelin solutions takes this a step further, and has entered the world of highly innovative services with a vengeance,” warns Yane Correc, Customer Relations Director at Michelin solutions. “To help our haulage clients to gain better control of their costs, we offer our EFFIFUELTM solutions which, beyond helping them control their tyre spending line, also helps them to control their fuel consumption. We are the only company to make a firm commitment to fuel saving, splitting the value created between ourselves and the client.” This 360-degree revolution is also justified by the service culture of staff members. “’At Michelin solutions, they do what they say’ is the saying we have heard from several clients we have interviewed,” smiles Yane Correc. “Contrary to an industrial activity, in a service we are co-producing, in direct contact with the customer, which requires that teams have the ability to take the right initiatives, and are reactive to deal with the many unforeseen events that can’t all be provided for in the rule book.” Thus the importance of the customer culture which ultimately acts as a compass for the employee. “It is up to management to encourage this empowerment, accept errors and leave people room for manoeuvre,” concludes Yane Correc.
Transformation always in the customer’s direction
Elsewhere in mobility, Renault Academy’s mission is to design and deploy the product and business training courses for dealer network staff everywhere in the world, an audience of 75,000 people. For a long time, just like other major industrial groups, the economic model of car manufacturers was based on the design and sale
of handsome, increasingly reliable products. “With the shift in customer behaviour towards utility rather than ownership of their car and under the influence of Internet and social networks, the question was raised about differentiation by service,” says Serge Khemis, Director of Renault Academy. “And alongside this question there was also that of winning over new clients then retaining them, through the deployment of a service culture which is also a source of new profits. ”The compulsory condition for this to work is to change the business culture, starting even more systematically from overall customer expectations and culminating in the design of the car offer. “When the Company follows this process, the absolute necessity of Service emerges. Every customer hopes that what he’s been sold will improve his life. Today therefore, you can’t have a product without a service. The differentiation between manufacturers will happen through service,” suggests Serge Khemis. And when customer satisfaction is the priority, this requires new structures and new skills to be acquired, to continually act in the direction of the customer. As a result, when Renault Academy produces a new training module for the launch of a new model, it includes new items such as customised customer advice, accessories, finance, associated services (insurance, assistance, etc.). “Over the years, behavioural training has been added to these modules in order to listen, understand and increasingly satisfy our customers,” added Serge Khemis. “The aim is to train all customer- facing staff, not just the sales network but now also our call centres who talk to our customers around the world on a daily basis.”
1- Formerly Michelin Fleet Solutions.
Recurrent practices define corporate culture
Even if things are changing, it is not incorrect to say that French administration is bureaucratic by nature: in its way of working, it deals with its own problems before those of taxpayers. “We call this an endogenous culture, inward-looking, which is different to, for example, a logistics firm which will offer their customer a delivery time frame of 10.00 to 12.00, acceptable enough to not tie them down,” says organisational sociologist François Dupuy1. “By being structured to offer an acceptable time to its customer, this logistics company is truly cultivating service.” Already at the centre of discussions at the prestigious Harvard University thirty years ago, the notion of service culture is nothing new. In a competitive environment, it is less your product that makes a difference than the way of putting it together (cost) and offering it (service). “Back then, they understood that service was a more differentiating factor than the product itself,” emphasises François Dupuy. “For an industrial company, turning to service was a way of going and teasing out connected value.” This change which, apart from the necessity of the transformation should inject cooperation between teams, the only way of improving the TCQ (time-cost- quality) equation that is synonymous with good service.
- Latest publications: Lost in management (pub. Ed. du Seuil) and Sociologie du changement (Sociology of Change) (pub. Ed. Dunod)
«We are in the process of reinventing the company, rebuilding it, on the solid foundations of our values»
Interview with Sven Boinet, Deputy,CEO of Groupe ACCOR, in charge of Transformation, Human Resources and Legal.
The ACCOR Group takes into account, in its service offers and in its recruitment and management methods, the local characteristics of the 92 countries in which it operates. But beyond that, it is undergoing transformation on the backdrop of a deeply changing economic environment.
How does the international dimension of ACCOR manifest itself?
ACCOR doesn’t just have an international dimension. It IS international by the very nature of its activities and since it was founded. Our booking system is global, our digital ecosystem is too, with partners such as Accenture, IBM and Hewlett-Packard. The same goes for our customer loyalty programme. As for our new concepts, they are launched and spread simultaneously across the planet, even if they are deployed in a local form.
So what’s left of ACCOR that is French?
The French Touch is an important component of our Sofitel offer but is also part of our service culture. We are governed by French law, we are listed on the Paris stock exchange and we pay the majority of our taxes in France. But in our functioning and in our development strategy, we are international.
What importance to you give over to the local specificities of the countries in which you operate?
Considerable importance. For example, one of our ambitions is to become the best employer brand in the world, so in our recruitment and training policies we take into consideration the particularities and customs of each country or culture, and how they evolve. The Académie Accor, the central structure for our employees’ skill enhancement, has an international network of 17 Academies. In China, Accor is careful to work in Chinese, because even if the young talented individuals in this country continue to pursue their higher education in the USA, they dream of then joining Chinese companies, as they are convinced that they will in due course gain the world leadership in their sector. But we have to combine the consideration of these specificities with the changes of a larger nature in our economic environment.
The emergence of new competitors, new ways of doing business, new offers, new technology and the new behavioural patterns of our customers and also employees are all changing our environment. The aspirations, skills, re exes and habits of the “Generation Y” according to the accepted term, are very different to those of their elders. And the Chinese Generation Y is not that far in terms of expectations and behaviour, from the American Generation Y. ACCOR has to adapt to this evolution is it wants to win and retain the customers and new talent which will tomorrow guarantee its long-term survival and development.
How do you go about that?
By transforming a lot of stuff! We are changing our practices, our business activities, the presentation of our results, key figures, performance, and our structure too. In 2014, over half of our top managers changed scope of responsibility. We are in the process of reinventing the company, rebuilding it, on the solid foundations of our long-standing values which remain intact, and are part of our DNA, but by constantly taking the pulse of this moving, living, changing world.
Services and consideration symmetry, on all levels
Dealing with people, listening and observing, the priority pursuit of customer satisfaction… although most companies today are familiar with practices relating to customer culture, it would be wrong to claim that consideration symmetry exists on all levels. “To begin with, consideration symmetry is a management principle which aims to give the same quality and type of consideration to both employees and customers, but not just that,” says Claire Bonniol, associate director at L’Académie du Service. “In parallel, management by initiative gives everyone in contact with the customer the opportunity to dare to add a gesture, a word or an attitude of their own to satisfy the customer beyond what is set in stone.” Without of course neglecting the principle of cooperation between colleagues, the expression of a strategy of solidarity and mutual assistance, and ultimately a powerful lever for cultural transformation within a company. “Progressively, through successful experiments, managers will end up understanding that introducing consideration symmetry will allow them to round off the accomplishment of service culture in their organisation, and thus guarantee the long-term future of their differentiation,” predicts Claire Bonniol.
“In banking, which is by its nature customer-facing, we can see that what’s going to make us stand out tomorrow is personal contact and our ability to create a more effective and value-added service relationship”, Sébastien Heitz, Société Générale
“Managers will end up understanding that introducing consideration symmetry will allow them to round off the accomplishment of service culture in their organisation, and thus guarantee the long-term future of their differentiation.” Claire Bonniol, Académie du service
“In a service we are co-producing, in direct contact with the customer, which requires that teams have the ability to take the right initiatives.” Yane Correc, Michelin solutions
“Here, we cultivate emotion esperanto: every staff member can draw on their own personality to make the service a unique moment for the customer.” Delphine Merlot, Eurostar