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As a Service Evangelist, I’ve noticed how easy it is for business leaders to speak eloquently about their commitment to making their businesses customer centric and I’ve noticed how seldom the eloquence converts into evidence of achievement. So, I have some thoughts on what causes such a gap between the talk and the action.

I am convinced that for some leaders, the talk is cosmetic, whilst for others, I believe that they become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the undertaking to shift a business to a customer centric style. Yet others may be immobilised by an aversion to change. Regardless of the reasons, the outcome is the same…inaction.

When mental blocks become real enough to be considered “reasons” for inaction, the businesses in question just continue along their merry way, comfortable in their comfort zones. That is, until something happens to shake them into a new reality. Remember how the pandemic made its presence felt? Swiftly and like an accelerating mushroom cloud. The pandemic led the digital transformation for many businesses that had been basking in their comfort zones. Whilst their leaders knew that digital shifts had to happen, they were thinking, erroneously, that the timeline for progressing the shift was on their side.

Navigating a business to the point where it is customer centric, is different to simply showing incremental service improvement. Customer centrism requires enterprise-wide immersion in a culture-shifting intervention called service transformation, so that the business becomes a culture of service. Transformation essentially means changing the service DNA of a business and bringing a service personality, service standards and service behaviours into a whole, to create the culture of service.

Many business leaders are simply overwhelmed at the scale of service transformation. The mere thought of the massive effort to overcome all of the operational, infrastructural, people and performance issues and challenges facing their businesses, elicits a cold sweat. When your business is not a start-up, this shift can appear to be major surgery without anaesthesia.

Something that always surprises me is how fearful some leaders are when it comes to activating change in their businesses. I can understand some level of anxiety, some consternation, but the immobilising fear that inhibits action in a way that places the business in jeopardy, is alarming. Especially when this inhibition happens at the executive level.

The pandemic has brought with it, a point of reckoning for businesses regarding service excellence.

Why? Because the modern day customer is shaping up to be massively different to the customer of the past two or three years. The sound and fury of the service excellence endgame must match the newly minted expectations of customers, newly minted by the force of a pandemic, who are indicating that they will not be treated as disposables, will not be statistics and will only settle for consistently amazing customer experiences.

A good starting point to activating service transformation is self-evident. Leaders should just stop talking about service improvement until they are ready to act. Because transformation typically involves the delicate co-ordination of multiple moving parts, leadership time is best spent in visioning and strategy design until it’s time to launch the initiative. When business leaders over-talk about their intentions and that talk is not followed up with action, the “lyrics-weary” audience becomes dismissive and hard to recapture.

Very often, employee engagement plays a pivotal role in supporting the shift from talk to action. When leaders begin to involve employees in the change process, this creates momentum for boosting the level of acceptance of the change and can signal that the leader may be starting to get serious. But a word of caution. This is not a point where employee support is won outright. Employees have to be won over mostly through the evidence of change, something that happens over time and not overnight.

Another positive signal would be for leaders to act on employee suggestions. Nothing shows intentionality as much as action being taken on the heels of talk. Interestingly, as leaders lean into this flow, they usually begin to feel emboldened enough to keep making small steps towards breaking their own glass ceilings, signalling a lowering of their change reluctance levels.

Whilst there is quite a bit of evidence that many leaders can get stuck in the service eloquence trap, moving towards service evidence does not have to be as onerous an undertaking as it is generally made out to be. What I would say though, is that the conversion from eloquence and “talk” to evidence and “shift,” needs to happen in businesses sooner, rather than later.

Why? Because customers have shifted and will continue to shift to a more unforgiving stance regarding their expectations of the new service endgame. Mercifully, notwithstanding all of this shifting, there is still time in this new customer-driven market space, for the “talker” businesses to pivot.

However, wouldn’t it make sense to get cracking before the lightning strikes?