While working in the Corporate Planning & Development division at Aetna Canada with SVP Dobri Stojsic in the early 1990s, our small team of strategists was charged with developing a customer service strategy for the organization that would help Aetna become “the recognized leader in service to targeted financial intermediaries and group sponsors.”
This was no small undertaking.
In searching for a methodology to develop a measurable strategy, we discovered the pioneering work of three academic leaders in the field: Leonard Berry, Valarie Zeithaml, and A. Parasuraman. At the time, the work was generally referred to as SERVQUAL. We gathered as much of their published work as we could find and used it as the basis to develop a unique service quality strategy
We created a theoretical and practical process at Aetna that was extremely successful in developing a multi-faceted customer-focused service-quality game plan that was meaningful to customers and employees, and significantly improved the service culture and brand reputation of the company over a number of iterations.
The process we developed for Aetna was later converted into a service quality strategy MBA course and taught for a number of years by Dobri Stojsic in the University of Toronto’s MBA program (now Rotman School of Management). We also converted it into a consulting product for The Strategic Planning Group to help many of our blue chip clients develop and implement service quality plans, among them two large Canadian banks.
On January 15, 1993, Dr. Leonard L. Berry, one of the masterminds behind the original service quality research, Dr. Leonard L. Berry gave a talk titled “Lessons of Service Quality” at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto at an event sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Institute of Market Driven Quality (IMDQ), founded and lead by Dr. Douglas Snetsinger, who was also Director of Rotman’s MBA program at the time.
At the time Dr. Berry held the JC Penny Chair of Retail Studies and was the Director of the Center for Retailing Studies in the College of Business Administration at Texas A&M University, and was the former national president of the American Marketing Association. He is the author of a number of excellent books: Service Quality: A Profit Strategy for Financial Institutions (1989); Delivering Quality Service: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations (1990); Marketing Services: Competing Through Quality (1991); On Great Service: A Framework for Action (1995); Discovering the Soul of Service: The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success (1999); and Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic: Inside One of the World’s Most Admired Service Organizations (2008).
A more current profile of Marketing Legend Dr. Berry and 2016 interview can be found here. (
Here are my notes from Dr. Berry’s presentation, which are as valid today as they were 25 years ago, and worth revisiting.
Dr. Leonard Berry’s Ten Lessons of Quality Service based on ten years of observation and research:
- It is too easy to overlook the customer.
- When it comes to service, only the customer is judge and jury
- It’s so easy to get it wrong
- Lack of commitment is often based on ignorance of management. They are committed, but don’t know what to do.
- Middle managers must be on the service bus and involved in all service activities
- Do a better job nurturing, developing, and promoting leaders into management positions
- Service quality is hard work.
- Too often managers pursue an easy solution to a very difficult journey. Cultural change is hard work
- Disney cleans every square foot every 15 minutes. They steam clean every square foot every evening
- It is important to keep the service promise.
- Core of service quality is reliability, not friendliness
- Service quality is also service system design.
- Service quality is often designed out of the service system
- Pull of the old paradigm – doing it the way it has always been done. “If it ain’t been fixed, it will break.”
- Service excellence is more fun (not only more profitable).
- Excellence requires the creation of an achievement culture
- Common sense is uncommon.
- If common sense were common, service excellence would be much more prevalent
- The frozen food section should be near the checkout
- Q1: What would the customer think?
- Q2: Does this decision pass the common sense test?
- Lesson of surprising customers.
- You have to surprise customers to exceed their expectations
- You have to exceed their expectations some of the time to achieve service excellence
- Interactive opportunities (responsiveness, empathy, tangibles, assurance) are the way to exceed expectations
- Quality service and fair play are inseparable.
- Customers expect fair play
- If customers think you are being unfair, they think you have provided bad service
- Customer trust is an important asset
- Communicate openly both what and why
- Guarantee your service
- Ask the question: not only is it legal, but is it just? Is it fair?
- Competitive advantage of passion.
- Needed to inspire leadership and change
- Are our businesses (departments) run by dispassionate “just a job” managers?
Barry Linetsky is a Partner with The Strategic Planning Group, specializing in value-driven strategic management, and author of The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017), which is available in print and Kindle editions from amazon. A number of my business journal articles are available here. Visit www.BarryLinetsky.com. Twitter @BizPhilosopher.
© 2017, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved.