In a nutshell...

We were asked to help the client improve customer service in their stores. To do this, we developed a unique 3-hour workshop which was designed to promote the values of service that were important to our client’s overall vision and strategy. We then built on the facilitation capacity of the client’s internal training department, up skilling their team of facilitators in our method and process and equipping them with the necessary understanding and skills to be able to deliver the workshop we had designed. To date, the team has facilitated the workshop with over 800 staff all over Ireland. Last time we spoke, the client was referring to the process as a ‘service revolution’.

Creating Service Excellence

Assisting a retail group to make service excellence a distinguishing feature of their stores.


A multinational retail group.


The client wanted to improve the shopping experience for the thousands of customers visiting their stores every day. Their objective was to establish exceptional service as the distinguishing feature in their different outlets. We were asked to design a customer service workshop that would be presented to all front-line staff by the client’s own training department. They knew from the outset that success was going to depend on actively engaging with staff as opposed to passively ‘informing’ them.


The biggest challenge was up-skilling the team in the dialectic method of facilitation which they knew was necessary in order to engage staff and affect a change in behaviour. The second difficulty was that the client’s view of service was focused mainly on the quality and availability of the product and not so much on the human factor.


It seems that most of us are hard-wired to see ourselves as receivers of service and not as providers of it. When it comes to improving customer service this is the first difficulty. As a result, whenever you ask someone to tell you about their worst ever customer service experience, they will invariably talk about their experience on the receiving end of appalling service. It’s rare that someone will answer this question by referring to an experience where they provided poor service to others. The second difficulty is a widespread one and it is that the level of service is often equated with the quality of the product. However, we have all had experiences where we have been served an excellent product and yet we would describe the service as mediocre or even disastrous. This is because, while the quality of the product is essential, it is in fact the attitude of the person serving us which determines the quality of the experience. Having met with the client, it was clear that in order for them to see any real transformation on the shop floor, they were going to have to address these two issues, not just with front-line staff but with management and in particular, the training team itself.

What we did

Step 1: Developing the internal training team

We started by bringing the training team through the same process that they would eventually be conducting with staff. Among other things, we asked them to reflect on their own experience of great service and identify the essential qualities and attributes which made that experience unforgettable – i.e. the characteristics of their best ever service experience. The results of this work influenced the design and implementation of the customer service programme that was eventually delivered to over 900 frontline staff.

Step 2: Designing the service excellence programme for front-line staff

In conjunction with the team, we spent a further six sessions designing the service excellence programme for staff. We had them work directly on their own level of service and test and experience every element of the programme that they would eventually be presenting. As a result, when the facilitators did present the workshops, they came from a place of real knowledge combined with actual experience which ensured that the training was authentic. During this process, the team presented the programme to mock groups made up of their immediate colleagues in order to test its impact and adjust the content.

Step 3: Up-skilling the training team in our method of facilitation

Having perfected the service programme, we proceeded to up-skill the team in the dialectic method of facilitation. This method is different to the standard training approach. Rather than telling or lecturing people, it seeks to question, challenge and engage. The aim is to facilitate a live, un-rehearsed, dynamic discussion in order to shift mindsets and get people to really think about the subject. The process was found to be particularly challenging as the team was used to delivering well rehearsed, structured training modules involving slides and other media support to somewhat passive audiences.



The team conducted workshops with over 900 staff from the different stores throughout Ireland. Management expressed a high level of satisfaction with the programme and its effects. In particular, they have subsequently reported a noticeable difference in staff behaviour when interacting with customers. The concepts and principles around service that we worked with have found their way into the new customer charter of the organisation. Recently we spent a number of sessions with the training and development team designing and preparing a Service Refresher module as a follow-up to the initial programme. When we last checked in, the client was referring to this work as a ‘service revolution’.


A Vision for Authentic Performance Management