Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service
Authors: Chip R. Bell, Ron Zemke
Pub Date: May 2013
Print Edition: $18.95
Print ISBN: 9780814432044
Page Count: 256
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Third Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814432051
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1 Recruit Creatively and Hire Carefully
Development can help great people be even better—
but if I had a dollar to spend, I’d spend 70 cents getting
the right person in the door.
—Paul Russell, Director of Leadership and
On Interstate 4 southwest of Orlando, Florida, a striking cream
and tan building fronts the freeway. A big—very big—sign
defines it in one eloquently simple word: casting. It’s the Walt
Disney World personnel office. That one word says a lot about
not just Disney but all companies that are focused on becoming
known for Knock Your Socks Off Service. They don’t
“hire” people for “jobs” in an organization; they “cast” people
for a “role” in a service performance.
In service-focused companies, customer service jobs are
thought of less like factory work and much more like theater.
At a play, the audience files in, the curtain goes up, the actors
make their entrances and speak their lines, and—if each and
every cast member, not to mention the writer, director, stagehands,
costumers, makeup artists, and lighting technicians,
has prepared themselves and the theater well—the audience
enjoys the show and tells others about it. Then again, the
whole production can be a magnificent flop if just one person
fails to do a job on which everyone else depends.
In today’s service-driven business world, you are more
director than boss, more choreographer than administrator.
Your frontline people are the actors, and your customers are
the audience for whom they must perform. Everyone else is
support crew, charged with making sure the theater is right,
the sets ready, and the actors are primed and prepared. You
have to prepare your cast to know their cues, hit their marks,
deliver their lines, and improvise when another cast member
or someone in the audience disrupts the carefully plotted flow
of the performance. And, of course, once the curtain goes up,
all you can do is watch and whisper from the wings. You’re
not allowed on stage. You’d just get in the way!
Balancing Efficiency and Effectiveness
Given all the currents flowing under and around the hiring
process today, the last thing you want to do is rush into a
decision that can make or break how the critics—your
customers—rate the quality of your service performances.
Once the casting decision has been made, your entire production’s
reviews are going to depend on the person you’ve chosen
for the role. It’s as easy to be taken in by an attractive
external facade as by a well-proportioned résumé. Neither
may be truly indicative of whether someone can play the part
the way you need it to be played.
Yes, the show must go on. But if you’ve been building a
good, versatile cast, you should have understudies ready to fill
in while you look for new additions to your service repertory
crew. Despite the pressures for output or scarcity of talent, don’t
rush the process. Invest the time and effort needed to get the
right person. When you do, you’ll find you’re in good company.
In our research of companies with exemplary service
practices, we found painstaking thoroughness built into every
step of their selection process for service employees. Rather
than focusing only on metrics like cost-per-hire or time-to-fill
open jobs, these organizations were just as concerned with
finding the right fit—in both an applicant’s technical skills as
well as hard-wired attributes like personality and values—for
customer contact jobs. Customer-centric companies understand
that success in service roles is as much about having the
right temperament or the desire and emotional fortitude to
deal with customers day in and out, as it is about product
knowledge or mastering new technologies. While plenty of job
prospects are blessed with good social skills, not all have a
high level of tolerance for contact—the ability to engage in
many successive short bursts of interaction with customers
without becoming overstressed, robotic, or unempathetic.
Casting a Role, Not Filling a Job
Filling out your service cast with people who can star in their
roles is the key to success. But casting your customer service
play is far more involved and difficult than hiring “somebody—
anybody” to sit in a chair and answer a phone or stand
at a counter and take orders. Consider the following three key
differences between merely filling a slot and finding someone
capable of playing a part.
1. Great service performers must be able to create a relationship
with the audience. From the customer’s standpoint,
every performance is “live” and hence unique. It earns the best
reviews when it appears genuine, perhaps even spontaneous.
And it should never be rigidly scripted—certainly not canned.
• Implication: Customer service cast members must have
good person-to-person skills; their speaking, listening,
and interacting styles should seem natural and friendly
and appropriate to the situation—neither stiff and
formal nor overly familiar. As Jim von Maur, president
of Iowa-based Von Maur department stores, says of his
own company’s hiring philosophy, “My Dad had a theory:
We can train them to sell. We can’t train them to be
nice—that was their parents’ job.”3
2. Great service performers must be able to handle
pressure. There are many kinds of pressure—pressure of the
Recruit Creatively and Hire Carefully 5
clock, pressure from customers, pressure from other players in
the service cast, and pressure from the desire to do a good job
for both customer and company even though the two may be
• Implication: Members of the customer service cast
must be good at handling their own emotions, be calm
under fire, and not be susceptible to “catching the
stress virus” from upset customers. At the same time,
they have to acknowledge and support their customers’
upsets and problems and demonstrate a desire to help
resolve the situation in the best way possible.
3. Great service performers must be able to learn new
scripts. They have to be flexible enough to adjust to changes in
the cast and conditions surrounding them, make changes in
their own performance as conditions warrant, and still seem
natural and knowledgeable.
• Implication: Customer service cast members need to be
lifelong learners—curious enough to learn from the
environment, comfortable enough to be constantly
looking for new ways to enhance their performance,
and confident enough to indulge the natural curiosity
to ask, “Why is that?” and poke around the organization
to learn how things really work. Those who are
comfortable with change and handle it well can be the
most helpful to customers and need minimal hand
holding from their managers.
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