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We all know that succeeding in customer service is great for a brand but having customer service ambition is what separates business leaders from the survivors.

Having customer service ambition is not just about minimising costs or reducing calls into service teams. Great customer service develops loyalty and entices your customers to stay longer and spend more. In addition, with a bit of luck, they will also bring more customers through recommendations and word of mouth.

Customer Service Ambition

Understanding your organsiation’s customer service ambition will help shape your investment, plans and activities. But it’s not always an overnight change. Shifting gear in customer service, and being recognized for it in the marketplace, can only happen quickly if the investment and above-the-line marketing are significant in scale. It will take a substantial amount of time, consistency, and investment over time to grow in service quality and reap the full benefits.

Ambition levels

All organisations have a view on where they want to position themselves when it comes to customer service, whether they consciously know it or not. Generally, organisations fall into three levels of ambition:

  • Customer Service Normalcy – maintain mode
  • Customer Service Differentiators – using customer service to act as a differentiator against competitor brands
  • World Class Service – striving to be a market leader in customer service

Customer Service Normalcy

This group hasn’t defined their ambition, they only maintain their status quo. Without a strategy or coordinated plan to move forward they are not developing, and at best they will stand still. The problem with normalcy is that customers’ expectations increase over time, so even maintaining this position will require improvement and effort. Frequently we see organisations reaching a tipping point where the gradual erosion of service levels starts to impact the brand and brand perception. Inevitably this will require a significant shift in investment on a periodic basis to correct.


Running customer service sometimes turns into firefighting. Often there is not enough bandwidth to step back and assess future goals, or the internal capability to leap forward.

Frequently leaders within Customer Service find stepping out of operational management and into digital service intimidating because Development teams in IT are siloed from the Customer Service teams. Bridging this gap can be challenging so expert help may be required. Getting help to shape the ambitions, strategy and plans can help both maintain normalcy, or even improve service performance.

Customer Service Differentiators

The more mature service-oriented organisations realise that service can be a brand differentiator. This is especially true when there is limited differentiation between brands/products in a marketplace. Utilities are a good example of this because our electricity and gas come through the same pipes or cables with limited differentiation between providers. The Big 6 Utilities have traded on their longevity, brand values and scale to drive market share. New entrants in the market are using service as a factor for consideration when customers are making a brand and purchase decision.

Money Saving Expert sets its energy company recommendations by what’s important to customers. Customer service is high on the list as being a factor that customers care about and value when deciding on which energy provider to select.


If an organisation is operating with the ambition to differentiate itself in customer service, it needs to establish the metrics by which it can demonstrate its performance. This includes standard metrics like NPS (Net Promoter Score), regulator assessments like Ofgem, Ofwat, Ofcom, independent reviews such as JD Power or industry awards. These all matter in contributing to a comparison based on service levels. Customer recommendations can also fulfill this function and be powerful in validating service performance.

Customer Service Differentiators

Moving from the normalcy stage to the differentiator space requires consistent management of the metrics. Plus, you need to be providing a pretty decent level of service or customers will be merciless if you do not live up to your promises.

Developing a differentiator mindset and ambition will have added benefits as it enables you to galvanise the troops internally. You are publicly committing to a standard and this can be helpful in shifting organisational boundaries to improve and deliver a better standard of service.

Service as a differentiator needs to become part of the brand promise and promoted in above-the-line campaigns, reinforcing the quality-of-service provision internally and externally to customers. Robust metrics can be used to underpin and demonstrate market position against competitors, allowing you to measure the quality and performance of service.

World Class Service

These businesses are the leaders of the pack. Once an organisation has put time and effort into excelling in customer service it has become an intrinsic part of its brand. Think of First Direct and John Lewis. These organisations are known for their quality-of-service provision. They have successfully built trust with their customers and frequently this holds a premium value. To get to this position and hold it, you really must deliver on:

  • Consistency and longevity:

A brand needs to be on point all of the time and build a reputation over time.

  • Availability:

    Customers feel that getting a response is achievable in a reasonable timeframe. This doesn’t always mean 24/7 service across every channel. The best-in-class customer service operators utilise a range of different contact methods. First Direct opts for voice (call) as its primary means of contact. Barclays promotes its best-in-class digital experience. Both characterise being consistent in promoting a contact method and invest in that channel.

  • Omnichannel:

Achieve a single customer view for any service issues picked up across social media channels. Resolve problems quickly and ensure that negativity and noise are well managed.

  • Timing:

Good service ensures that customers know what will happen and when. Manage expectations so they know they are not lost in the system or forgotten.

  • Emotion:

Create a touchpoint that drives an emotional response, it goes a long way. During my time at Hilton, I always felt that the Doubletree brand managed to nail this. Their warm cookie on arrival turns a low point (check-in) into a positive emotional moment – customer impression on arrival is key to a good or bad stay.

  • Personal:

Great service is also about personalisation, and when combined with emotion, the impact is amplified.

  • Innovation:

Leverage the best of innovative and new technologies such as using AI to deliver great chatbot experiences.

  • Awards:

Invest in winning awards. It’s not enough to be good on your own terms, so you must leverage external assessments and awards (e.g., Which, JD Power, etc.) to help build credibility in service.

Operating at ‘World Class’ level doesn’t necessarily mean you have to invest in all of these customer service tools and practices, but they do set brands apart from those in the Differentiator category. Being great in service isn’t simple, quick, or easy however it can reap significant rewards over time.

So, what’s your customer service ambition, and what action are you taking to either achieve it or maintain it?

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Andrew Salmon