Build Lifetime Customer Loyalty

From the inside out

A Spirit of Service is an element of caring, a spirit of interest, and an air of hospitality that is woven into the very fabric of a company’s culture. It’s reflected in the way employees think, talk and act. It’s a genuine, authentic way of doing business that reveals the character of the people who work there and the nature of the environment they work in. A Spirit of Service is what causes people to go above and beyond the call of duty and give something of themselves beyond just doing a job. People who possess a Spirit of Service are usually people who have consciously decided to choose service over self-interest. For example:

  • A call center operator at American Express gets a call from a card member needing immediate cash because he has to have emergency surgery. When the bilingual operator learns that English is this customer’s second language, she responds by purchasing some basic necessities for the customer and his wife, driving to the hospital, and serving as their interpreter well into the evening during the initial preparation for his surgery.
  • A restaurant manager at Red Robin International sees some kids admiring the store’s Christmas tree and asks them what they think of the tree. When they say it is beautiful, the manager asks, “What does your tree at home look like?” The kids respond, “Well, our daddy couldn’t afford to buy a tree this year.” So this store manager recruits a couple of team members, packs up the tree, ornaments and all, and puts it on top of the family’s car.

Create a Service Culture
Why is creating a Spirit of Service so important to your success? It’s your major point of differentiation. Let’s face it, anybody with the necessary capital can build a store and inventory. The difference is in the spirit and attitude of the people who work for you. Competitors may be able to compete with you on price and model, but it’s very difficult to compete with you on cost, quality and service because all three depend on the commitment and enthusiasm of your people—spirit and attitude are extremely difficult to replicate!

It’s very difficult to compete with you on cost, quality and service because all three depend on the commitment and enthusiasm of your people.

A lot of carriers are trying to emulate Southwest Airlines. Anyone can go out and buy a Boeing 737 and hire pilots, flight attendants and ground crews. What Southwest’s competitors haven’t figured out yet is how the company gets its people to be so incredibly productive, so detail oriented and so nice. As a matter of fact, people frequently ask Libby Sartain, Southwest’s vice president of people, “How do you get your people to be so nice?” Sartain says, “We don’t get our people to be anything, we just hire nice people!” Most of the Southwest “wannabes” have focused on the tools and techniques that support the company’s operating strategy and not its culture and its people. Why? Because operating strategy is more tangible and therefore easier to emulate.

Look Beyond Programs
Many quality and customer service efforts fail today because businesses have reduced quality and service to a series of programs without understanding the spirit of the people who infuse those programs with life. Programs become nothing more than sophisticated ways to manipulate employees into a prescribed set of behaviors if they aren’t grounded in a corporate culture where people have a deep-seated passion to serve. Training programs can be powerful tools, but they lose their impact if they’re not supported by a culture where people enthusiastically live the values of service.

Creating an organization where people take personal responsibility for sensational service is much more a hiring endeavor than it is a training endeavor. Hiring people who are more inclined to choose service over self-interest must become a key strategy in building a Spirit of Service within your company. When it does, the effect will be a workforce that is passionately involved in and personally committed to building lifetime customer loyalty.

Pull a team of your employees together and discuss the following questions:
What do we want our Spirit of Service to LOOK like and FEEL like for all the
customers we serve? In other words:
  • What do we want our customer to think, to say, to feel about doing business with us?
  • What do we want employees to think, to say and to feel about us as an employer?
  • What do we want the community we work in to say about us and the way we do business and participate in the community?
  • If this Spirit of Service existed within our company, what would we be doing differently?
  • If this Spirit of Service currently exists, how can we turn up the volume?


Gases and Welding Distributors Association
57a_freibergkevin Meet the Author
Kevin Freiberg, Ph.D., is a professional speaker based in San Diego, California. He is co-author of NUTS! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success and the soon-to-be-released GUTS! Companies that Blow the Doors Off Business-as-Usual.