The Service Line with J. N. Halm … The Customer Service Board: a multiple management plan for service excellence


McCormick and His Company

Willoughby M. McCormick is not a name that many instantly recognise. It is not a name that is easily identified with any revolutionary trend in the world of business. However, it should. Because for one thing, the company McCormick started sometime in September 1889 is still around.

From one small room, a cellar and a very small backyard used for storage, McCormick and Company has grown into a Fortune 1000 company with more than 11,000 employees. The company currently serve customers from nearly 50 locations in 24 countries around the world. For all these to happen, Mr. McCormick must have known something many of others have no idea about. How many companies do you know that have the strength to last for more than one hundred and thirty full years?

The Multiple Management Plan (MMP)

As far back as 1932, McCormick and Company initiated a revolutionary style of management that was ingenious, to say the least. That plan is the Multiple Management Plan (MMP). At its simplest, MMP is the plan of management that permits employees to take part in policy formulation.  Practically, it involves management from different schedules and different levels coming together to solve a particular challenge. The Multiple Management Plan is participative management at its best.

One of the greatest advantages of MMP is that it serves an auditioning of a sort for future management roles. By bringing lower to middle management members into a roundtable with top management, the big bosses get up close with the next batch of potential candidates for the top. This is why experts tout MMP as not only a business improvement process but also a professional development program. Lower-level managers get to understudy their senior colleagues at a very personal level.

Many organisations from all over the world have been using multiple management plans for various purposes. There is a company with a Junior Board of Directors. There is another one with a Factory Executives Board. There is even one company that has a Sales Board. This statement from a publication of McCormick is a clear indication of how much the company relies on MMP.

“Multiple Management Boards at numerous McCormick global locations engage our employees in action-learning projects in which they bring their innovative ideas, take part in decision-making and implement plans to grow the business.

The said document quoted a former Multiple Management participant:

“The philosophy of Multiple Management created a spirit which has become our inner strength. It augments and transcends goals, strategies and business plans.”

Multiple Management embodies the McCormick credo of The Power of People.

The Customer Service Board

Drawing on the concept of the Multiple Management Plan, one can easily conceive the creation of an MMP purposely for customer service. The sole purpose of this MMP would be ensuring that the customer is fully represented in every decision-making meeting of the organisation. This Board would as usual comprise of individuals selected from the various departments within the organisation. This means that within this very MMP, there would representation from a greater number of schedules, units and department of the organisation—especially of individuals who have a passion for excellent customer service. This representative team is what I refer to as the Customer Service Board.

Much like a Board of Directors, this team would meet regularly and deliberate on ways of ensuring that the experiences the organisation presents to its customers are always world class. Many organisations have the desire to offer world-class customer service on a consistent basis. It is a no-brainer to want to be a top-notch customer-centric organisation.

It is common knowledge that organisations that use service excellence as a competitive advantage, eventually become market leaders. However, it is one thing to want to want to do something and it is a totally different thing to actually do it. In the grind of the day-to-day operations, the desire remains just a desire. One way to convert the desire into something concrete is to set up an MMP specifically for customer service.

The key objective of the Customer Service Board would be to ensure that the organisation is able to properly define who its customers are, what really matters to those customers and how to go about meeting those needs. Individuals would be invited to join the Customer Service Board based on their complementary skill sets as well as their commitment to service excellence. It is important to note that with MMP, the responsibility for making the organisation a customer-centric firm rests on all members of the Customer Service Board—although the group would be composed of both senior and junior managers.

Another advantage of having a Customer Service Board is that it is able to provide speed of action when it comes to decisions that affect the customer. When something regarding a customer comes to a member of the board, the one is able to expedite action on the matter because the one has the backing of a Board. Responsiveness is one of the key elements in service quality. In this day and age, when time is becoming scarcer by the day, it is important that a business puts its customers’ needs first. Any structure or system that can get customers the necessary attention promptly will be a welcome advantage for the organisation.

A Customer Service Board takes advantage of the experience and expertise of various individuals. What this does is that it ensures that the skillset that is needed in serving customers is disseminated throughout the organisation. When members of the Customer Service Board go back to their various departments, they will take back the knowledge they have acquired and spread it around. Eventually, everyone in the organisation becomes customer-focused. Everyone would begin to see things from the customer’s point of view. Pretty soon, a customer-centric culture will begin to take root in the entire organisation.

One of the most important advantages of setting up a Customer Service Board is that it provides an assurance of consistent communications with customers. Customer service is founded on consistency of communications from an organisation to its customers. It is always disastrous for the organisation when conflicting messages are sent regularly to customers. This does not only confuse customers but it even infuriates them.

The truth is that, when dealing with organisations, customers use the information they receive from these organisations to plan their next decisions and, to an extent, their lives. Therefore, if these customers are given conflicting information, it tends to throw lives into disarray and no customer enjoys that.

A Foundation of Teamwork

The foundation of the concept of the Customer Service Board, and its forebear, the Multiple Management Plan, is teamwork. Plain and simple. it is true that many management initiatives are built on solid teams. For instance, new product development is usually a team effort. Even if the initiative is started by one person, it usually requires other people’s inputs to make it work. The need for teamwork in serving customers is so important that it would be very difficult to debate it.

It is true that customer service is as emotional as it is logical. Customers buy emotionally. However, an organisation, by its very makeup, consists of different people from different backgrounds with different emotional levels all attempting to achieve one aim—to consistently give customers a pleasant experience. Therefore, to serve customers and serve them well, there is a need for each individual within the organisation to work together to achieve this aim.

A team that is fraught with negativity rarely achieves much. A team that is not united is there for the taking by any competitor. The closer a team is able to work together, the better able it is to serve its customers. The MMP is a fantastic way to ensure that leaders from every stratum of the organisation get to work together.

What McCormick and Co has been able to achieve with the implementation of their MMP is to establish a culture of teamwork and camaraderie that is serving the organisation well. As a matter of fact, the company states clearly that the MMP is the cornerstone of its culture. The company says that the MMP has been the driving force behind its leadership of its market. Considering the importance of culture in every organisation, one can say that McCormick is on to a good thing. When every individual within the organisation knows that his or her views are valued, many will go out on the limb for the organisation.

Implications for Service Excellence

The Customer Service Board (or any variant thereof) is highly recommended for any organisation that intends to stay in the market place for a long time. It is ideal for any organisation that desires to place its customer at the centre of all decisions of the organisation. As a matter of fact, organisations that care about their customers cannot leave teamwork to chance. One of the best ways to create and fully make use of a team to help serve customers is to form the Customer Service Board. Why not form one today? What do you have to lose? Just think of what you might lose (or be losing) if you do not.

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