By Lior Arussy
We live in challenging times. Customers’ expectations are increasing exponentially. Their tolerance for anything less than amazing is diminishing. They demand excellence or they go elsewhere. Competitors are trying harder to delight customers constantly raising the customers’ expectation bar. On the other hand, cost reduction efforts are everywhere. We try to control costs by optimizing services. We do so by creating consistency everywhere. While striving to solve the excellence question, we end up with consistency as the answer.
We often make the mistake of confusing excellence and consistency. Consistency is about optimizing services and products to be without flaws. Delivering a “consistent” product or service focuses on removing elements of dissatisfaction and achieving parity.
At best, consistency meets customer expectations. Eliminating inaccurate invoices is an example of a consistency effort. Ensuring that all your products share the same level of quality is consistency. Responding to customer inquiries in a timely manner is consistency. Consistency is heavily dependent on processes, and these processes become the primary objective of the performance; employees are merely executers of carefully managed procedures. In a consistency-driven environment, employees themselves are secondary to the process. They are subservient to the roles dictated to them by the process definition. Consistency emphasizes optimized processes and de-emphasizes the role of employees. At best, consistency reaches parity but never exceeds expectations.
Consistency is basically just doing your job. Some companies do it well; others do it in a mediocre way. Delivering consistency is nice, but it is not excellence—unless the rest of your industry is consistently awful and you stand out for being able to meet basic customer expectations. In fact, the definition of consistency is being on par with customer expectations. It is a boring, uninteresting place to settle. No one will celebrate your consistent performance.
Excellence and superiority, on the other hand, are about going above and beyond. They are about pleasantly surprising the customer. Excellence is all about exceeding the expectations, not just meeting them. By definition, this type of performance requires human intervention to set higher goals, individualize and humanize the interaction, and be authentic throughout the whole experience. At the core of the contrast between consistency and excellence is the role of people and processes. With excellence, processes are merely a means to a goal. A tool to deliver a greater solution. Employees are in charge, and use of accepted processes are subject to their judgment. If a process assists them in achieving the goal, they will use it. Otherwise, they use their discretion to get the job done and exceed expectations. With excellence, the corporate culture permits such employee discretion and provides permission to perform, as well as permission to make mistakes.
Excellence requires an emotionally engaging performance that delivers an authentic and memorable caring touch. Processes are not able to do this, only people are. So, excellence is not a matter of a better process. To achieve excellence we need to place processes in their rightful place, as tools, and give people the freedom to perform.
In times of excellence or nothing, we must exceed the consistency paradigm and focus on reaching to the excellence standard. To do so we will need to rethink the tools, information and authority we provide our employees to deliver on the ever increasing customer expectation for excellence.