Customer Experience

What Does Maturity Look Like? Defining and Publishing Your Service Standard

AskNicely Team

Here at AskNicely, we believe that service businesses who invest in their frontline teams experience higher levels of customer satisfaction, retention and profit. To put our belief to the test, we partnered with research and strategic advisory firm, Metrigy, to conduct a one-of-a-kind study that analyzed over 200 service businesses across the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany. The survey is unique in that no other study has been conducted at this level to tie investments in frontline workers to improvements in business outcomes. Read more about the study here. 

The results from the State of Frontline Work study have allowed us to solidify what leading service businesses are doing to excel in customer experience, and create a benchmarking framework to help service brands measure up. 

Here’s a question to ponder: what is it that makes some service businesses successful and others not? While there are thousands of factors at play, we can be sure of one: brands who define, publish and coach on consistent service standards outperform their competitors.  The State of Frontline Work found that while the majority of companies in the study had defined consistent service standards, over half had not made those standards visible to staff, and only 17.7% had made those standards visible to staff AND customers. But what exactly is a service standard? What are the varying levels of mastery? And where do you sit amongst other service brands? Read on to find out. 

What is a Service Standard? 

Put simply, service standards are a set of tangible guidelines that help to define a) what a customer can expect from a service, and b) how the experience should be delivered by the frontline. 

Disney, who needs no introduction, is an example of a business with exceptional service standards that are clear, concise, widely understood and a little bit magical. Their common purpose to “creative happiness by providing the best entertainment for people of all ages everywhere” is defined by four basic standards that help their frontline team to deliver magical experiences;

Safety – every employee is empowered to step in and act on a customer or colleague’s behalf… because when done right, customers probably won’t notice, but gone wrong, your brand could suffer exponentially.

Courtesy – always a non-negotiable for frontline teams! Disney is particularly famous for their friendly employees. Never underestimate the power of a smile and a chat.

The show – add your own element of ‘pizazz’/magic/wow factor...whatever you want to call it – go the extra mile and make the customer feel really special.

Efficiency – always important, but deliberately in last place… and never at the expense of the first three values!

As well as the four key basics, Disney also has seven service guidelines:

  • Be Happy – make eye contact and smile.
  • Be like Sneezy – greet and welcome every customer. Spread the spirit of hospitality. It's contagious!
  • Don't be Bashful – seek out guest contact.
  • Be like Doc – provide immediate service recovery.
  • Don't be Grumpy – display appropriate body language at all times.
  • Be like Sleepy – create dreams and preserve the magical guest experience.
  • Don't be Dopey – thank every Guest!

These standards act as a roadmap for frontline teams to deliver an exceptional, consistent level of service to their guests. 

The Levels of Service Standard Mastery 

The State of Frontline Work survey revealed that service businesses fit into one of five levels of service standard mastery: 

The Rookie

At the lowest end of the mastery spectrum is the Rookie – that is service businesses who have no published standards in place. While management may have an idea of what their standards of service are, they haven’t been solidified, published or communicated to their frontline teams, or customers. 

10% of the surveyed businesses fall into this category. 

What are the repercussions? 

Disengaged Employees

Companies cannot expect their employees to deliver awesome customer experiences if they don't know what is expected of them. Without published service standards, employees have little direction and nothing to measure success against. As a result, employees become disengaged, and both the employee experience and customer experience take a hit. 

Losing Customers

A good customer experience is one that matches the customer’s expectations. Without communicating to your customers what your standards of service are, you risk creating disparity between expectations and service delivery. When expectations aren’t met (highly likely without service standards), customers simply move on to a competitor’s offering. 

Loss of Revenue

Think of having no defined service standards as a money pit. Employees lack direction and become disengaged, inconsistent customer experiences are delivered as a result, and customers ultimately find an alternative where their expectations can be met every time. 

The Advanced Beginner 

One level up from the Rookie is the Advanced Beginner. While the Advanced Beginner has some published service standards in place, the standards vary across different locations. If you fall into this category along with the other 11% of surveyed businesses, you’re on the right track to service standard mastery, however it’s likely the experience you’re delivering to your customers will be highly inconsistent. 

Imagine you go to a pizza place for dinner with your family and you’re totally blown away. The atmosphere is vibrant, the pizza is delicious, and their service is extraordinary. You walk out feeling full (physically and spiritually) and can’t wait to return again. Next time, you go to the same pizza place but at a different location, with clear expectations that were formed from your last visit. However, you have to wait an hour to be served, the pizza doesn't taste the same, and the waitress was rude. You're left confused and disappointed because one experience with the same brand is completely different to another. 

In this scenario, it’s likely that the two different pizza restaurants have two different sets of service standards. One, clearly better than the other. With 46% of customers saying that consistency is key for a positive experience, brands need to assure that the same service standards are set in place with everyone in the company and in every location if they want to win on customer experience. 


Halfway to service standard mastery, and making up the largest majority of service businesses at 35.9%. These businesses have consistent documented standards across various locations. If you fit into this category, the good news is, you’re halfway down the road towards achieving service standard mastery. You’ve done the work to carve out what your standards are and why, and every location is on the same page. 

The issue? 

They’re not visible to employees. 

Let's say you've written all your service standards down: what you want your brand’s service experience to be and the tangible standards to get there. You share them in a meeting once, everyone loves what you’ve come up with, then that document never sees the light of day again. 

Companies need to make sure to publish their standards to everyone across the organization. Your service standards should be everywhere: written on your office walls, highlighted in meeting documents, and on the heart and soul of every person involved with your company, which brings us to the next level of service standard mastery. 

The Seasoned Pro

25.4% of service businesses have consistent standards that are visible to frontline employees. If you fall into this category, awesome job – you’re right around the corner to achieving service standard mastery. When a company has its standards visible to its team, the frontline has a strong sense of direction, is highly motivated, and has a clear benchmark to measure success against. 

What’s holding them back?

The Seasoned Pro does a good job at making the service standards visible to employees, but they forget about making them visible and understood by the customer. As stated previously, without communicating to your customers what your standards of service are, you risk creating disparity between expectations and service delivery. 

The Service Standard Master 

The Service Standard Master has consistent service standards that are published for both staff and customers. They use these standards to coach frontline employees, and they truly guide all customer interactions. 

An example of a Service Standard Master is Zoom+Care, who operate over 50 urgent care medical centers across Oregon and Washington. Their mission is to reduce the waste of traditional healthcare and to keep people healthier, happier, sexier and more creative. Zoom+Care promises “twice the health, at half the price, with ten times the delight,” and they back this up with 10 service standards, which are printed on the wall of every clinic (you can’t miss it). It’s a unique, holistic experience that starts with a mobile app for booking appointments, and includes an online chat with doctors and a “Perfect Visit” experience that ensures appointments are always on time.

Unfortunately, only 17.7% of respondents fall into this category. 

How Do You Measure Up?

Based on the study results, companies that display service standard mastery, that is, companies who define, publish and coach on consistent standards of service outperform their competitors. While the majority of companies in the study had defined consistent service standards, over half had not made those standards visible to staff, and only 17.7% had made those standards visible to staff AND customers.

So, how do you measure up? Are you a Rookie, Advanced Beginner, Team Tertiary, Seasoned Pro or Service Standard Master? 

This seemingly simple, yet underrated act is proven to set companies up for success in the remaining three areas of customer experience maturity (tracking, sharing, and acting on feedback, empowering and rewarding frontline employees, personalizing coaching to increasing training effectiveness). 

Mastering these four areas often requires significant business change, which means making a strong business case. To help you along that journey, AskNicely offers free benchmarking, where you can map your business alongside the results of this study, and suggest next steps to get the biggest impact for your efforts. 

[Request benchmarking report today]

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

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