Managing Your Service Culture: A Case Study

As I read a recent blog post on Fast, “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch,” I found myself repeatedly saying, “Yes!”. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it to anyone interested in cultivating a service culture. And as pointed out in the post, this should be everyone! The article highlights many of the reasons why I believe service culture is so important.  Shawn Parr points out that, “Long-term success is dependent on a culture that is nurtured and alive. Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death.”

In other words, every company has a culture, but the most successful companies recognize its importance and manage it accordingly. This is easier said than done and it takes an ongoing commitment from the top down in order to be successful. Done right, it will endure the test of time. EMC provides an excellent case study on successfully managing a service culture that has done just that.

Flashback to May 31, 2001 when another Fast Company article hit the press entitled, “Customer Service: EMC Corp.” Paul Judge dedicated pages of copy to explaining EMC’s commitment to customer service.  I also recommend reading this article to gain an understanding of how customer service has been built into the DNA of this company.  As Judge said, “it is impossible to understand EMC’s 10-year rise without appreciating its commitment to customer service.” It was that commitment that propelled EMC to being a leader in customer service. The article highlights a Forrester Research report in which Carl Howe, a director of research at Forrester, noted, “EMC came out looking like God. It had the best customer-service reviews we have ever seen, in any industry.”

In the 2001 article, Judge pointed out that, “No competitive advantage lasts forever, of course, and EMC’s rivals are betting that its commitment to service may be less meaningful as competition in the storage field heats up.” Here we are 11 years later, and we believe customer service is more important than ever – and that the same will be true 11 years from now. More importantly, EMC’s commitment is greater than ever as well. This story about EMC’s response to a State of Michigan oil spill disaster is a modern day examples of this commitment. In fact, a recent third-party survey of more than 300 customers showed that 88% identify support as a key reason they recommend EMC technologies.

How have we been able to maintain this service culture? I will tell you it is not coincidence, and we haven’t been without challenges. High growth, global reach, and acquisition activity are all examples of potential threats to a service culture. Here are a few things that have helped fuel our success.

  • Invest in employees – Service professionals want to help their customers! Provide the ongoing training, processes, and tools that employees need to be successful. For example, EMC support staff is required to complete ongoing training and certifications – for EMC technologies and beyond. This has led to industry-leading retention rates. And customers benefit because they consistently work with expert support professionals.
  • Voice of the Customer must drive strategy and initiatives – and the improvements you make must be things that are of value to the customer. My previous posts, Face-to-Face with Customers – Still valuable after all these years and Rethinking Customer Support – “Consumption Economics” and the New Normal touch on this as well.
  • Ensure global alignment – We have a Customer Support Playbook that ensures everyone on the team has a common understanding of priorities and how they are expected to contribute to the success of the business. Individual goals and initiatives can be developed to align with the stated objectives of the organization.
  • Listen to employees – We do this through an ongoing stream of global focus group workshops. Executives and facilitators meet with frontline employees in all regions of the world to discuss service excellence and enhancement ideas.

In summary, I will add that one element of our success stems from the fact that EMC has never looked at culture as something that merely existed. From day one, EMC consciously built the company on a “customer first culture.” Service excellence extends beyond our front line services teams. It is pervasive in virtually every aspect of the company and from the top down.

About the Author: Mary Cay Kosten

Mary Cay leads a team of 1400 professionals that provide operational support to the Dell Technologies Services organization. Her team is responsible for driving operational excellence and implementing innovations across Dell Technologies Services. This includes areas such as eServices & Knowledge Management, Program and Change Management, Business Services, Remote Support Contact Center Operations, Command Center, Process Engineering and Data Sciences, Data Enablement and Analytics, and the Global Centers of Excellence. Kosten has over 30 years of experience in service and supplier management, with a proven track record in building outstanding service delivery organizations. Prior to joining Dell EMC, she was Vice President of global customer services delivery for Oracle/Sun Microsystems, responsible for delivering all elements of Sun Microsystems’ support services. Under her leadership, Sun achieved the prestigious J.D. Power Certified Technology Service and Support (CTSS) Award for "An Outstanding Customer Service Experience," the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) Award for Excellence in Service Operations, and Sun was inducted into the STAR Awards Hall of Fame. Kosten is a 2008 recipient of the Denver Business Journal's Outstanding Women in Business (High Tech and Telecommunications) Award and a 2006 recipient of the Silicon Valley YWCA Tribute to Women and Industry (TWIN) Award. She also is on the Advisory Board for TSIA’s Field Services discipline. She holds an MS degree in systems management from the University of Southern California and a BS in marketing from the University of West Florida.