No business can stay in business without customers. How you treat—or mistreat—them determines how long your doors stay open. And bad service has doomed probably as many businesses as bad products.

How do you go about creating a service culture? I asked John Tschohl, president of Service Quality Institute and a legitimate customer service guru. 

He broke it down into six steps:

1. Understand you’re in the service business.

Most companies think they’re in manufacturing and retail. It’s a paradigm switch. Southwest Airlines is successful because the company understands it’s a customer service company. It also happens to be an airline.

2. Eliminate dumb policies, procedures, and systems.

You could have the nicest people in the world, but you could have stupid hours, stupid rules, and stupid procedures that are making life miserable for your customers. And they won’t come back.

3. Empower employees.

Every single employee has to be able to make fast and powerful decisions on the spot, and each one better be in favor of the customer.

4. It starts with hiring.

The service leaders hire one out of 50 applicants, sometimes one out of 100, but they’re very, very careful. You can’t afford not to be extremely choosy when you hire.

5. Retrain the whole staff on good service every four to six months.

There is no magic speaker, no magic training program. No matter if you have 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 employees—constantly refresh your team’s skills with new ideas.

6. Measure the results financially.

You have to track the numbers so you understand that it’s worth the time and effort because it’s making an impact on revenue, profit, and market share.

John’s methods shouldn’t shock anyone—and it’s likely that most successful businesses are doing some of those things. But I think it’s the commitment to following through on all six that establishes a service culture. As I tell our staff at MackayMitchell Envelope Company, “We aren’t selling envelopes. We’re selling people.” 

Mackay’s Moral:  Your service is only as good as your people.