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You step off the plane, weary from a long flight. As you walk through the terminal, you can’t believe your eyes. The airport is immaculate with walkways as wide as roadways and not a speck of litter anywhere. As you move deeper into the terminal, you see a butterfly garden, an outdoor swimming pool, playground equipment, a four-story slide, napping rooms, spa treatments, and entertainment venues including movie theaters and video-gaming stations. Airport employees eagerly greet you with smiles and ask how they can help.

Have you stumbled upon some air traveler’s mirage? Is this an illusion in the familiar airport desert of grim décor, stressed out passengers, rude counter agents, and crowded gate areas? No, this oasis of pleasure is what things are really like at Changi Airport in Singapore—and Ron Kaufman says it’s the perfect illustration of what service can (and should) look like in our global economy.

“Consider how frustrating service can be in airports today,” says Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet (Evolve Publishing, 2012, ISBN: 978-09847625-5-2, $14.95,

“Typically, passengers are focused on where they are going and have business or family concerns on their minds. They are often tired, or stressed, and can be easily upset. And the process often makes things worse. Lines move slowly, agents can be impersonal, and going through security can feel like you’re part of the day’s prison intake. Sure, security is important—we have to get people through the system safely and efficiently. But that doesn’t mean airport service has to be unpleasant. Why do we accept it as the norm—when it can be so much more?”

Kaufman’s intention is not to pick on airports. Bad service is rampant in every industry. It’s just that Changi Airport happens to be one of the most dramatic examples he’s seen of what service can be—and the contrast between it and other airports is just too stark not to describe!

How do you start your own uplifting service revolution? In Uplifting Service, Kaufman pinpoints the 12 building blocks of a service culture. With these building blocks in place, you’ll have the architecture to build a sustainable culture that delivers outstanding service every day.

1. Common Service Language. The whole domain of service suffers from weak clichés, poor distinctions, and inaccurate common sense. For example, “The customer is always right” is often wrong. “Oh, you want service?” an employee asks. “Well, you’ll have to talk to our service department.” Or, “You want something else or something different? That’s not our policy.” This is as true internally as it is with customers. “It’s not my job to make you happy,” says a manager. “Talk to human resources if you’ve got something to say.” An executive might even say, “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”

2. Engaging Service Vision. “Many Partners, Many Missions, One Changi.” That’s the Engaging Service Vision that unites everyone who works at Changi Airport. At Changi, a coffee shop worker can tell you the departure gate locations and the fastest ways to get there. Airline employees know where you can buy last-minute souvenirs. Airport police can tell you how to find the post office and what time it opens. At this remarkable gateway, everyone works together to create positive experiences every day.

3. Service Recruitment. Are you “Googley”? Are you able to “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” at work? These important considerations are made during the hiring process at Google and Zappos, respectively. These companies know it is much easier to build a strong culture by hiring new people with the right attitude than to hire people for their skills alone and then try to align them around a common service vision.

4. Service Orientation. Unfortunately, many company orientation programs are far from uplifting. Often they are little more than robotic introductions: This is your desk; this is your password; those are your colleagues; these are the tools, systems, and processes we use; I am your boss; and if you have any questions, ask. Welcome to the organization. Now get to work. These basic introductions and inductions are important, but they don’t connect new employees to the company or the culture in a welcoming and motivating way.

5. Service Communications. A company’s Service Communications can be as big and bold as a sign in the front of a store proclaiming that the customer is always right or as simple as including employees’ hobbies or passions on their nametags. Service Communications are used to educate and inform, to connect people, and to encourage collaboration, motivate, congratulate, and inspire.

6. Service Recognition and Rewards. Service Recognition and Rewards are a vital building block of service culture. They are a way of saying “thank you,” “job well done,” and “please do it again” all at the same time. Recognition is a human performance accelerator and one of the fastest ways to encourage repeat service behavior.

7. Voice of the Customer. Key drivers of satisfaction at Microsoft include product quality, value for money, security, accuracy, and speed of solutions. But that’s not everything the company’s customers and partners value. Microsoft carefully studies the millions of words and phrases people type into free-form comment fields every year. Through careful analysis of these “verbatim” comments, the company discovered other drivers that also make a difference, including “Microsoft is easy to do business with,” “Microsoft cares about me,” and “Microsoft helps me grow my business.”

8. Service Measures and Metrics. Think of the last survey you were given at the end of a flight, a meal, or a hotel stay. Or the last survey you were asked to complete online. Were you really glad to see it? Do you feel your responses made a difference? Surveys are commonly used to measure satisfaction, assess loyalty, evaluate staff performance, and find areas for service improvement. But these evaluations are notoriously unpleasant for customers to complete and difficult for people in organizations to decipher.

9. Service Improvement Process. This is where customer complaints are wanted and welcome, where survey reports are carefully examined for new ideas and insights. A Service Improvement Process creates synergy by connecting people between levels and functions. Some issues require ownership on the front line, involvement from the middle, and sponsorship from above. Other service issues are quickly solved by teams working across silos.

10. Service Recovery and Guarantees. Would you log a customer complaint into a system if it might get you into trouble? Probably not. This was exactly the problem Xerox Emirates found it was having with its Customer Care Management System. So the company changed courses and created Bounce! Instead of blame and shame, Bounce! presents shortcomings as an opportunity to elevate service.

When a problem occurs, employees are encouraged to make it bounce by raising the level of the company’s service much higher than it had been to start. Now, rather than ignore customer complaints or try to cover them up, employees see them as opportunities to be recognized and excel. While the number of complaints logged into the Bounce! system has increased substantially, the company’s “satisfaction with service recovery” scores have also risen dramatically.

11. Service Benchmarking. Everywhere you look, best practices are waiting to be discovered. Where is it enjoyable to test or try a sample? Häagen-Dazs wants you to sample every flavor. Which organizations are great at teaching new customers how to get the most from their products and their service? In Portland, Oregon, Apple buses senior citizens from the local community center to its stores and teaches them to use a computer, some for the very first time. Which company is best at bouncing back if you are not completely happy? L.L. Bean makes it guaranteed.

12. Service Role Models. Four times a year, the general manager of a well-known exclusive hotel in Paris becomes a bellman. The refined gentleman greets guests at the roadside, places their bags on a luggage trolley, and escorts them to their rooms. He uses these opportunities to get feedback from guests about what they do and don’t like about the hotel and any other suggestion they’re willing to share. On these days, he eats in the basement cafeteria with the rest of the staff, and talks with them about their jobs, answering any questions they might have. He cherishes these four days, as do the members of his team.

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