Ron Kaufman [Service]

Ron Kaufman – New York Times Bestselling Author “UPLIFTING SERVICE”

Ron talks about:
  • What it takes to build a service culture
  • The difference between excellent service and service culture
  • And the importance of a service mindset
The person who has influenced Ron the most in the past year:
Afeef Hussain
His note to all customer service professionals:

“Be grateful for the privilege you have for today to touch and uplift other people’s lives.”


Nick Glimsdahl 0:02

Welcome to the Press 1 For Nick podcast. My name is Nick Glimsdahl. And my guest this week is Ron Kaufman. Ron is a global service consultant speaker and educator who specializes in building uplifting service cultures with leaders in the world’s largest and most respected organizations. He has authored over 15 books on service, business, and inspiration, including a New York Times best-selling uplifting service, the proven path to delighting your customers, colleagues, and everyone else you meet. Ron, welcome to the Press 1 For Nick podcast.

Ron Kaufman  0:34 

Delighted to be with you and your listeners, Nick.

Nick Glimsdahl  0:36 

Thank you. So one question I asked every single guest at the very beginning is what’s one thing that people might not know about you?

Ron Kaufman  0:44 

Nick, I’m in the ultimate frisbee Hall of Fame. When I met, you would realize Wait, how does the little guy like that doesn’t look like the athletic, you know, state of the art end up in the Hall of Fame. It’s not because I was an outstanding performer, or competitive, highly competitive player. But I was there when the rules of the game were first created, and was one of those people in an early high school who went off to college who went off around the world. And I’m actually in the Hall of Fame, because I’m considered one of the Johnny apple seeds of the sport, who actually helped to popularize it. And one of the things people may not know, but mentioning it because it was deeply influential to my own orientation to the rest of my life, is that the first rule of the game in Ultimate Frisbee is called the spirit of the game, which says that the players on the field are responsible for the quality of play, which means there aren’t any referees, which means those of us who are in the field are responsible for making sure that the experience of the play itself is something that all of us can enjoy.

Nick Glimsdahl  1:49 

That is fascinating. And it really brings it back to the the experience brings it back to service. Because if you have a great experience, and you have a great service, or vice versa, well, we’ll get into that. So you’ve always had that experience in the back of your your work at the very beginning. And the passion for popularizing

Ron Kaufman  2:11 

it as far and as wide as I possibly can. I love that in from my research, it sounds like you traveled the world doing so many, many, many, many, many times. And gratefully at this point in my life for the past year, not at all, except digitally as I’m doing with you right

Nick Glimsdahl  2:31 

now. Very good. So at the very beginning, what does service mean to Ron,

Ron Kaufman  2:37 

when I started focusing in this field way back in 1990? My first question was, what do we actually mean by service. And what I discovered was that there was either a lot of academic answering, which was too complicated to be used as a practitioner, or it was very shallow. So there were things like the customer’s always right, or the customer is king or do whatever it is that makes the customer happy. Or the treat other people the way you’d like to be treated, which is actually bad advice, because other people are like them, not like you. So I ended up working in the field for about a decade before I wrote the definition that goes like this service is taking action to create value for someone else. And with that simple definition, whether it’s from the boardroom or all the way to the front line, b2b b2c, external or internal service, it makes sense, what I’m doing is some form of action, the purpose of the action is to create value for the person being served. Now recently, I’ve upgraded the definition to services taking action to great value for someone you care about. But that opens up a whole nother conversation we could save for another podcast about what do we mean by uplifting care? This podcast is on uplifting service.

Nick Glimsdahl  3:54 

I love that. I love that because my mission in life and I’ve talked about it maybe one other time on a podcast is to have fun serving others. Because if I’m not doing what I want to do, then I should be doing something else. But if I’m passionate about it, I should be able to help others along the way.

Ron Kaufman  4:11 

That’s right. And then the joy that they get from being helped comes back and fuels and feeds you and that becomes a virtuous cycle. uplifting everyone.

Nick Glimsdahl  4:20 

Absolutely. So you started your journey in the United States. You grew up in the United States.

Unknown Speaker  4:27 

I’m a Connecticut Yankee,

Nick Glimsdahl  4:29 

Connecticut Yankee. But today you currently live in Singapore and have for what the last 30 years.

Ron Kaufman  4:36 

Yes, I had done work in China on the Soviet Union and the Middle East and Northern Africa and, and in Europe. I studied there when I was in college. But way back in 1990, the country of Singapore realized that all of its low cost manufacturing economic base was moving to China. And all of its back office operations and call centers were moving to India and literally the country was Going to need to move up the value chain in order to have an economic future. Now the educational system had prepared people, essentially to work well, in factory environments. Don’t make a mistake, get it right the first time, Six Sigma zero defects. That’s great for manufacturing. But in a world of continuous value add, you need people who can be more creative, more collaborative with each other, more responsive and more proactive. And that wasn’t really what the educational system had prepared people for back in 1990. And so the nation funded the development of an entire service quality, uplifting improvement program for the entire working adult population. I was invited here to take a look at the project for a week, I said, we’re dealing with adults, we want to teach them something new, we better put them in a good mood, we better get them actively involved. Sounds like a frisbee festival to me. So I actually was the one designing the training games. As we built the curriculum, then I became the national Master Trainer did the train the trainer, and that program helped to uplift the entire nation. So I’ve stayed then for a week to a month to a year, it’s now been 30 years.

Nick Glimsdahl  6:13 

Wow. So they didn’t, they had no idea that they were going to get Ron Kaufman to stay for 30 years, they just thought they were going to be able to build that legacy of the service for a week.

Ron Kaufman  6:28 

Ron Kaufman didn’t know what Ron coffin was going to become. 30 years ago, it so happened that Singapore is a multicultural, multi ethnic, multi, multiracial environment. It’s very pluralistic, and people get along, it’s too small of a country to afford to have any enemies. So within the neighborhood, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, we got to get along with everybody. And everybody in the country has got to get along with everybody. And for somebody who started running frisbee festivals based on the spirit of the game, that was a pretty good fit. So I was pretty happy to stay here after one week. And then over the decade of the 90s, I really learned a lot about service. I started writing about it in the year 2000, consulting traveling around the world. And here we are in 2021.

Nick Glimsdahl  7:16 

So the great transition, what does it take to build a service culture?

Ron Kaufman  7:23 

So when you ask the question, let’s assume that you’re requesting a response for an organizational context. You’re not asking what does it take to build a service culture inside an entire country, although that’s what we did here. That’s a whole

Unknown Speaker  7:39 

nother podcast.

Ron Kaufman  7:40 

It’s another podcast, and it’s not incorrect to look at the same answer. So let me let me structure it for you. If you build a cultural environment, it’s like having a place that people step into, and they go, Oh, I get how things work around here. And by the way, I you know, I understand the rules of engagement, and I want to be part of this, then you could say that the culture itself is, is strong, and at the same time, it’s uplifting and appealing. And there are three fundamental components. Let’s use the metaphor of a house, you got to lay a foundation of what I call actionable service education that our school system is not providing. People are graduating today with diplomas and degrees and certificates. And they can’t answer the question, what do we actually mean by a customer? What does it mean to create additional value for a customer? How do you differentiate from a competitor by making a better customer experience, if that’s not being taught in school, it’s gonna have to be taught in a working environment. So we need to provide that education and not academic, it’s got to be actionable, like useful in real service situations, whether it’s for external customers, or internally between colleagues. That’s the foundation, the roof of the house is having a truly engaged leadership team, not just one charismatic leader who says, let’s go do that. But every single person in a position of leadership, understanding the same service principles, but also understanding their very important role in guiding, encouraging, supporting and enabling empowering people to take a new action that creates more value, which is service improvement. Now, between the foundation of a house and a roof, usually what you would have is steel, wood, pipes, wire, tiles, windows, etc. But it’s the way you assemble that, that turns it into either a cottage or a hotel or a restaurant or an office or a hospital. When you’re building a culture. those building blocks include things like Who do you recruit? How do you onboard new people? How do your internal communications work? How do your recognition programs work? What’s your service recovery policy? How do you capture your voice of customer and spread it within the organization etc. etc, there are 12 building blocks in this whole architecture is what that New York Times bestselling book uplifting service is all about.

Nick Glimsdahl  10:08 

Yeah, and I don’t expect you to break down those all 12. But I do recommend all my listeners pick up that book uplifting service, the proven path to delight your customers, colleagues and everyone else you meet, because it’s not just, I’ll jump on my soapbox just a little bit. There’s a lot of people out there regardless of customer experience, or customer service, who go and talk about the the benefits of it, or I call the pixie dust and fairy tales of cx work customer service, but they don’t have actionable insights of what to do, and how to build it and what to do next. And so it’s refreshing to hear somebody like yourself, who can actually say, here’s the building blocks of how to build that foundation or that house.

Ron Kaufman  10:56 

That’s right. That’s right. And by the way, for those who are listening, if you’d like to get the whole first section for free, the website, which is Ron Kaufman, aro n KU F ma, slash books, and you’ll find a whole section there where you can download the opening chapters of the book.

Nick Glimsdahl  11:13 

Perfect. I’ll make sure that’s in the show notes.

Unknown Speaker  11:15 

Thank you. So

Nick Glimsdahl  11:15 

yeah, so the next question I have is, what is the difference between excellent service then and service culture?

Ron Kaufman  11:23 

Great question. So excellent service performance is taking the necessary actions to create a valuable experience that contributes to the well being of somebody else. And you can work with people give them insights, tools, principles, procedures, checklists, process training, so that they’re able to actually deliver an excellent service experience. That’s what service excellence is. That’s what great service performances, a service culture, is the entire organizational environment that consistently reinforces that encourages, that recognizes that brings in new people who want to do that, collectively helps people solve problems that are getting in the way of being able to do that has leadership teams who understand that that’s what’s going to differentiate the organization from the competition. So you can have great service performance from a hero a superhero without having a great service culture. But if you want to consistently deliver excellent service performance, you have to build that cultural environment that supports everyone, not just the occasional superhero.

Nick Glimsdahl  12:34 

I would 100% agree with that doesn’t mean that these people need to be measured by, by customer experience or by service as an add on the individual level.

Ron Kaufman  12:46 

Well, the appropriate measure is first of all, not the internal KPI. It’s not Did you do it on time? Did you follow the process? And we met the minimum quality standards, do we hit the service level agreement, it’s always going to be calibrated based upon the experience and the perception of the person who is being served. So you can measure that both on an organizational level, like what is it what is a customer or a customer base, think about a particular organization, brand differentiation tends to live within that space. But you can also calibrate it to individual service performers, where you can ask somebody for their immediate feedback after a service interaction, or even during a service interaction, where a good service provider may pause and go. Just before we go to the next step. Can I just check? How are we doing together? Are you okay with where we are? Is there anything I can change about the way I’m serving you that will make this experience even better or more convenient, or easier for you to understand. And that mid process check is a great way to ensure that when you get to the end of the experience, the customer is saying God That was incredible. So you can measure both.

Nick Glimsdahl  13:55 

So taking the pulse of the customer throughout that journey. The one thing that you just mentioned was perception. So what makes perception so important in service,

Ron Kaufman  14:06 

it’s incredibly important to recognize the difference between service process and service perception. Service purchase process is everything we do. It’s our checklist. It’s our system. It’s our mechanism. It’s our, our flow of step by step. And everyone who works in an organization knows what their service process is. If you ask them to map that out from the beginning to the end, people have no problem being able to say this, then this, then we do that then these people do this, then I wait for that until it’s all done. But the perception is the experience that the person being served by that process is having while this whole thing goes on. And there can be very many perception points that don’t even show up in the process. I give you an example. Let’s say you apply for a bank loan. And so there’s a whole set of documentation that you need to start out and Send in. And you go through that. And you can see through the portal or they call you and let you know what’s missing, and what do you still need to submit. And finally, they say, Okay, we’ve got everything we need. And then what happens? You wait. And you wait. And you wait. And maybe you wait a little longer. And what you don’t know is where your application is within the internal process, because from the process standpoint, they don’t have another point that says, inform the customer here of where it’s at whether or not it pass through the next filter, how much longer they should expect, when you’re going to get in touch with them next. And so there’s a perception point in the process that doesn’t even show up in the process, until the service provider or the organization actually maps it from the perception point of view. And then you start to realize, gosh, we should put something in there to help take good care of that.

Nick Glimsdahl  15:53 

So it’s stressful and to go through that process as a getting alone or whatever that next step is in perception, I love that, how you just describe that, but it’s not just perception. It’s it’s how do you make them feel because as you’re going through that journey, and somebody says, so what? I have a great example I purchased a vehicle and most of it I’m going back and forth on which vehicle I wanted from which dealership and I’m, you know, finagling, you know, you got a you got a bargain back and forth. And I’m doing it via text. I go to the dealership, I find the car I test drive it, it’s the one I want. I sit down, and I said, Great. What’s next? Well, now we wait. Now you have to, since you agreed, we signed these three papers. And now we wait for it to that process. I sat there for three hours in the middle of this dealership, drinking bad coffee, waiting for my vehicle to be processed. And immediately I’m thinking the worst case scenario, your mind starts processing, if you’re not being informed by the organization, you’re, you’re filling the blank.

Ron Kaufman  17:06 

And there are two ways they could have handled that they could have let you know ahead of time, once we signed the papers, then a certain process is going to kick in the average time is between three to five hours, if you’d like we can schedule with you letting you know when that process is complete, and you come on back in and we’ll have the keys ready for you. That’d be one approach, let you know it’s going to be a long haul. But it can also be what Singapore Airlines would call a creeping delay. So for example, when there’s an aircraft on the ground due to air traffic control, congested airspace, whether or a technical issue, you can have everybody on board, they’re ready to take off. And the pilots, the one has got to announce Ladies and gentlemen, we’re on the ground here. There’s this kind of a situation, we’re not 100% sure, at this point, how long it’s going to take. But here’s what I can promise you, I’ll come back to you in 15 minute within 15 minutes, and let you know what we know. All right, that’s cool. 15 minutes from now I’m gonna here 15 minutes later, he comes on and he says, ladies and gentlemen is pilot here. As promised, I’m giving you an update, we still don’t have any further information. But I’m committed to stay in touch with you let you know, we know sit back, relax, let our cabin crew take care of you. I’ll be back in another 15 minutes, you know, this thing can creep along for an hour. And they end up getting compliments rather than complaints.

Nick Glimsdahl  18:29 

That’s so interesting. There’s so much to be learned just in this first 18 minutes of the conversation. But I want to go next to talk about mindset because you’ve mentioned that inside the book, so what do you mean by when you talk about how service is a mindset?

Ron Kaufman  18:47 

Mm hmm. Well, people often use that phrase, you know, I want to inculcate a mindset into my people, I want it to be part of their DNA. And, and I, you know, I step them back and they go, listen, mindset is not some magical thing that you wave, a wand and something changes, you’ve got to give people a toolset that they may not previously have learned not in their education, not in their technical training. So we need to bring it to them. That’s part of that foundation of education. And then we’ve got to help them use those tools frequently enough that they develop a skill set, when you’ve got a tool set, and you’ve got a skill set, a certain mindset can then naturally evolve because you feel proud of it, you feel confident of it, and you’ve seen the consequences and the results of actually applying it. Now to answer your question about what do I mean by a mindset? It’s a fundamental orientation to the world. And we’re suffering today from what I call the culture of calculation, where part partly due to science and mathematics and partly due to the way our educational institutions evolved, you know, everything can be counted. And if it can’t be measured, then it doesn’t really matter. I mean, that’s Such a crock of what we really want is people to have a different orientation to not what’s in it for me with them. But what can I do for you, which is unfortunately, an acronym acronym that comes out as WC ID f w, not quite the same as with him. But what we need to do is create a culture, of uplifting service to evolve to counter this culture of calculation, in which so many all of us have been raised. That’ll shift the mindset.

Nick Glimsdahl  20:35 

Yeah. Yeah, there’s a lot to that. And again, we don’t have time to continue to go in we’re, we’re, we’re doing a little drops of the bucket. So go go and look at the, at the on YouTube, go to his website and read his book along that journey, because he’s got a ton of nuggets that we can’t get to today, but couple more that I want to get to. So let’s keep rolling. Today, with customer expectations, it’s constantly changing, and it’s constantly increasing, and they’re demanding. So is meeting customer’s expectations good enough, today? Or do customers expect more?

Ron Kaufman  21:13 

I think it’s pretty clear that this whole field of customer service has evolved dramatically over the three decades that I’m involved in it. And I think many of the professionals who are listening to this podcast have also been part of the evolution of this field. So let me just narrate it. When I was a young kid back in Connecticut, the service center was also called the repair center. It’s basically where you went when there was a problem. Service was the caboose at the end of the train. And you really didn’t want to go there unless something broke down. And there were even business models that evolved on that called break fix. Now that you know, service, customer service equals service recovery, then change that became No, no, let’s focus on customer satisfaction. And that was based on a premise that a satisfied customer would be a loyal customer, oh, the world change. And we realized no customer satisfaction has become commoditized, you can get it from many different providers, it’s not going to guarantee loyalty. So we have to bring it up another notch. And that was the era if you will of customer delight, or the pixie dust that you were referring to, or moments of magic, or let’s amaze people or, you know, it was just that the problem was that it was too ad hoc, it was too spontaneously incidental. And that’s when the era of customer experience really showed up. And then it was journey mapping and looking at the lifetime cycle of the customer. And, you know, really had to look at this whole thing from end to end. And and then it moved up the next level, which was, well, we actually want customer loyalty. Now what do we need to do to make sure that the customer will actually come back and the Net Promoter Score evolved during that era, and people started focusing on that satisfied customer, even happy customer not enough? How do we make sure that the customer either recommends or refers or comes back for repeat purchase. And then it went the next level, which was the era of social media, where we actually wanted customer advocacy, we wanted them to become ambassadors, we wanted them to speak on our behalf and tell their friends and family. And now I think we’re in the era of what I call customer care, where it’s authentic engagement between the service provider and the customer, so that the customer recognizes that we’re committed, not just to fulfilling the service level agreement, not just to delivering a high level of satisfaction, not just to creating a lot of value, but we’re actually committed to the future well being of that customer. And that requires a completely different level of culture and commitment and concern.

Nick Glimsdahl  23:52 

And like you said, the very beginning, it’s getting everybody on board. It’s not just the the C suite saying, Hey, I heard from a buddy of mine that we’re supposed to do customer experience. So today, let’s flip the switch. We’re now going to do customer experience everybody bringing the balloons, we’re gonna do some lunch today. And now we’re all going to focus on customer experience. It is that full on shift, seismic shift inside that organization. So it’s, it sounds easy, to an extent, but it is difficult. And but it takes change. And it takes process and it takes people like Ron and the books that he’s written to drive change.

Ron Kaufman  24:36 

And the leaders inside the organization who have to take responsibility for a sustained commitment, and a real what we call an implementation roadmap to bring about this kind of transformation of culture, which takes an extended period of time and you’ve got to get all the mechanisms playing together. You’ve got to use your internal training and development capability. You’ve got to have your internal communications connection. to it, your mechanisms for appraisal recognition and reward the way in which you bring new people on board and then actually onboard them, etc, etc.

Nick Glimsdahl  25:09 

Well said, so I could continue this for the next five hours, but we don’t have the time. So I wrap up every single podcast with two questions, Ron, and the first one is what book or person has influenced or, or in customer experience or customer service has influenced you the most in the past year. And then the second one is, if you could leave a note to all customer service professionals, it’s going to hit everybody’s desk Monday at 8am moated site.

Ron Kaufman  25:38 

So first, let me answer the question about who in customer experience has influenced me most in the past year, and it’s a gentleman I’ve known for many years. He’s one of our certified workshop leaders, but he’s much more than that. His name is a fief Hussein. And he is a Maldivian. And he is in charge of quality and training at a resort in the Maldives, where my wife and I love to go. We’re scuba divers, and it’s called Lux, South Ari atoll. We’ve been involved with this group for a decade, help them develop the brand. And the culture, the culture is so strong that when new people join the company, now they they say in the orientation program, you need to be Lux defied, like he dipped into the culture deep enough before you can actually join the team. And they had a situation occur recently where there were 400 staff on Island, and 450 guests. And they had somebody come on the island who was COVID positive and didn’t know it. And it spread into the island into the staff. And this gentleman had to lead the entire experience from the front on the ground on the island with his team and his guests to get the guests safely off the island to get the staff members tested in the medical care for those who needed it to shut the island down quarantine the island long enough and then very gradually where they are now opening it back up. And when I reached out to him, and we spoke, you know, he and I have become good friends. And there were tears just as he was recounting what occurred. So I know how deeply emotionally this impacted him. But he said something to me that I am now sharing with you. He said I learned something that every iota of investment we made over the years and our staff members, when it was really the toughest it could possibly be all of them were there for us doing everything they could. And he was so proud of the fact that when this whole episode had passed on social media, there had been not one single negative comment from any staff member or any guest. And that gentleman a feat who’s saying has been responsible for building that culture over the years and then leading from the front during a very difficult time. And so you know, that kind of guy really uplifts me.

Unknown Speaker  27:54 

Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

Ron Kaufman  27:56 

For and for anybody who’s interested, just go to Lux resorts online and enjoy what you see. And then when it’s time to travel again, book a vacation as to what note what I leave on the desk of every customer service professional, it would simply say this, be grateful for the privilege that you have today to touch and uplift other people’s lives. May doing that also uplift you.

Nick Glimsdahl  28:23 

Well said, Ron, what is the best way for my listeners to get a hold of you?

Ron Kaufman  28:29 

I would invite them to simply visit the website at Ron or Google Ron Kaufman service and you’ll find the 300 videos on YouTube and you’ll find the blog posts and you’ll find me and most importantly, I look forward to the privilege and the pleasure one day of also being able to connect with you.

Nick Glimsdahl  28:50 

Awesome, thank you so much for your time, Ryan.

Ron Kaufman  28:52 

pleasure to be with you Nick. All the best


The Press 1 For Nick podcast is both educational and engaging, and each episode offers listeners a dynamic blend of insightful stories, best practices, and invaluable lessons.

Nick’s guests – each with a unique wealth of knowledge – include leaders from a variety of backgrounds and industries. Some of his guests include:

  • Customer service & customer experience leaders
  • A hostage negotiator
  • Award-winning authors
  • Home Depot’s Senior Director of Customer Care
  • Former VP of Disney’s Magic Kingdom
  • Lyft’s Head of Partner and Customer Engagement
  • Deputy Chief Veteran Experience Officer from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

On every episode Nick asks his guest two questions:

  1. What book or person has influenced you the most in the past year?
  2. If you could leave a note to all the Customer Service and CX professionals, what would it say?

You can find all the podcast guests’ answers under their episodes below.

If all you want is the guests’ book recommendations, you can go here.

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