World-Class Courtesy

A Best Practices Report

Go to the Introduction

Section 2.1


Be flexible. People's expectations regarding courtesy vary. Learn to take your lead from your customer. Quiet, reserved people tend to appreciate a more reserved and dignified sort of service. Loud, spirited people often like to know that the person they are talking to is "getting it." Use good judgment always, but be ready to stretch a little to make your style better match your customer's expectations.

Take some risks to delight and surprise the customer. Consider the chef who, upon realizing he sent a dinner to a table with the meat slightly overcooked, immediately went out to the table, sat down, took a bite from the overcooked meat and said, as the surprised couple looked on, "Hmm...I thought so, a bit overcooked. Please forgive me. The next one will be perfect and on me!"

Practice servant-leadership. Develop a passion for service and then put that passion to work in whatever position you now hold. If you are already a recognized leader in your organization, then serve as a mentor for others who wish to become servant-leaders.

Smile your best smile. Customers appreciate a pleasant atmosphere. A smile always helps. Use your smile frequently when dealing with the public. You will come to enjoy the many benefits it will bring you and your customers.

Listen as if you mean it. The greatest compliment to another person is listening to them. Really listening. You have to listen as if you mean it. Sit up, take a few notes, ask clarifying questions, show some reaction to what is being said.

Call people back. If you must use voice mail, update your message daily, check it at least twice a day, and get back to people within one day at the latest. Returning calls has a direct relationship to dependability and dependability is the cornerstone of good customer service.

Demonstrate phone courtesy. The tone and pitch of your voice can assure the caller that you are sincere, friendly­and that you are listening. Create a vision for your caller that you are responsible and dedicated to resolving his or her issue.

Develop a team focus. Team work is definitely needed when it comes to improving courtesy. Demonstrate your team

commitment on a daily basis.

Section 2.2


The following strategies are a composite of the ideas worked out by the team members for implementing world-class courtesy in their own agencies. Depending on your individual circumstances, these suggestions will hopefully serve to stimulate interesting and practical ideas.

Remember--Your journey toward world-class courtesy begins from where you are, not from where you wish you were. The important thing is to get started.

  1. Establish credibility. Unless you are the CEO in your organization, you may want to first establish some credibility on this topic. Develop a good knowledge base of what world-class courtesy is, or could be, in your organization. You can start by reading this study thoroughly, marking those sections that look interesting , and taking some notes as you go along. You may also want to read several of the articles listed in the selected bibliography.
  2. Determine your organization's attitude toward courtesy. Determine what your organization's current mission, vision, strategic plan, or value statements say about courtesy. With the issuance of the President's Executive Order 12862 on setting customer service standards, the enactment of the Government Performance Results Act of the 1995, and the National Performance Review's publication of customer service standards, you probably have a good basis for assessing your organization's current level of and attitudes toward customer service.
  3. Take a "snapshot". Determine where in your organization might be the best place to take a "snapshot" of how courtesy is currently being practiced. Choose an office or section that already has an interest in knowing more about its customer service capabilities. If its not obvious at first where to start, arrange a meeting with an appropriate official or committee to which you can provide a short briefing on the benefits of looking at organizational behaviors leading to world-class courtesy.
  4. Publicize, promote, and popularize. Through information, actions, and tools, help your organization journey toward world-class courtesy:
    • Send a copy of this report to the formal and informal leaders in your organization and ask for their thoughts and ideas. Use their suggestions as the basis for your next steps in moving toward an organizational culture that supports world-class courtesy.
    • Help organize an action team that assesses the organization's current level of courtesy and establishes recommendations for improvement.
    • Administer the Organizational Self-Assessment on Courtesy in section 2.4 to a randomly selected group of employees. Then perform the suggested analysis (see section 2.5) and present the findings to a group of individuals who are empowered to lead the organization toward world-class courtesy.
    • If you have identified an interested group or section within your organization, let its employees complete the short Employee Courtesy Attitude Assessment in section 2.3. Use their answers and ideas to stimulate a discussion on courtesy. Use the survey's last question as a springboard for introducing this follow-up question: "What do you think we could do in our office to achieve that level of courtesy and service?"
    • Summarize and publish your findings on courtesy in your newsletter or any similar publication that reaches the maximum number of employees within your organization.

Section 2.3

The following short survey tool has been used successfully by members of the study team in soliciting information from their organizations and stimulating dialog in small discussion groups about improving courtesy. You can use this survey to gain some preliminary information from members of your organization­at all levels­regarding their beliefs about courtesy.


Date: _________________

To: _________________

Subject: World-Class Courtesy

We're reviewing a recently completed National Performance Review report on world-class courtesy, and we would like to gather some preliminary information from a random sample of staff in our organization. I would greatly appreciate it if you would answer the following brief questionnaire and return it to me by ________.

Please circle your answers on the following scale of 1 (very important) to 5 (not important).

1. When you are the customer, how important is "courteous behavior" compared to other characteristics of quality service that you value?

     1         2         3         4        5

Very Important   |    Neutral    |    Not Important

2. As someone who provides services to customers, how important is "courteous behavior" compared to other characteristics of quality service that you value?

     1         2         3         4        5

Very Important   |    Neutral    |    Not Important

3. Within your own work area, how would you rate the level of courtesy now practiced on a daily basis?

     1         2         3         4        5

Very Important   |    Neutral    |    Not Important

4. Please list any organization or type of service where you have personally experienced world-class courtesy? What made this experience stand out in your mind?

Section 2.4


This survey tool may be used to determine how close your organization is to providing world-class courtesy. Because this survey instrument will result in an item-by-item score as well as an aggregate score, it will be easy to assess and organize the findings. After reviewing it, feel free to reproduce or adapt it in any way to better meet your organization's customer service objectives. Use this survey with senior executive, mid-level supervisory, and nonsupervisory staff in your organization. The more employees who participate, the more useful the information will be.

Assessing Courtesy in your Organization

This self-assessment survey covers 10 areas organized as an easy-to-complete checklist. These 10 areas comprise important characteristics for an organization to consider in moving toward world-class courtesy. Answer this survey from your perspective in the position you presently occupy in the organization. Perspectives will differ from person to person, which makes the findings much more useful when they are discussed later.

For the purposes of this survey, the following definitions are provided.
Courtesy: Using accepted and appropriate manners, as interpreted from the customer's perspective, to meet the expectations of the customer.

World-Class Courtesy: Using exceptional manners, as interpreted from the customer's perspective, to exceed the expectations of the customer.

Organizational Self-Assesment on Courtesy

Instructions: Please check either (Yes), (No), or (N/A) to all characteristics. When you are not completely sure which to select, check the answer closest to your current understanding of the situation being described. Only (Yes) answers count toward your final score.

1. The cultural climate reflects the organization's attitude toward meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
Yes No N/A The physical environment (floor, halls, waiting areas, grounds, etc.) is attractive, clean, and otherwise conducive to meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
Yes No N/A Senior management ensures that all staff members have a clear understanding of the organization's mission and key objectives.
Yes No N/A There is a written document(s) that describes the organization's beliefs on how customers should be treated.
Yes No N/A The organization's beliefs regarding courtesy are included in a written document provided to all employees.
Yes No N/A Employees are provided with parking, food services, fitness and recreation facilities, and other comparable employee benefits.
Yes No N/A The organization features employee amenities.
Yes No N/A The organization solicits feedback from both customers and employees regarding the quality of service provided.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Employees who believe that they are valued partners in the organization are more likely to treat customers in the same way.

Possible strategy: Ask 10 customers currently using your services what their first impressions of your employees and environment were and why. Take notes. Discuss the results and make changes. Do this again in four months to see if there has been improvement.


2. Senior leaders demonstrate by example the organization's commitment to exceptional

Yes No N/A Leadership has developed a written strategy, mission, and vision that include courtesy.
Yes No N/A Senior managers demonstrate by personal example the organization's commitment to providing the highest quality service to customers.
Yes No N/A Mid-and entry-level supervisors demonstrate by personal example the organization's commitment to providing the highest quality of service to customers.
Yes No N/A Courtesy among employees is as important to Senior-, mid-, and entry-level managers as courtesy provided to customers.
Yes No N/A The organization's leadership development program includes a segment on courtesy.
Yes No N/A Leadership plays a significant role in new employee orientation.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Among world-class organizations, courteous behavior is an intrinsic and inseparable aspect of the customer service strategy, and is supported by senior leaders and all employees who seek to lead and improve the organization.

Possible strategy: Who in your organization seems to be a leader in courtesy? Seek out these people and talk to them about their approach to courtesy. Work with them to design and implement a courtesy program in your organization.


3. Employees are empowered to fully meet the needs of their customers.
Yes No N/A Employees are fully empowered to perform their jobs at a high level of competency (e.g., sufficient training and mentoring, good computer support, functioning equipment, adequate space to perform their jobs, and strong management support).
Yes No N/A Employees are empowered to do whatever it takes to satisfy the customer.
Yes No N/A Employees are encouraged to be innovative, take risks, and seek out opportunities to improve services provided to customers.
Yes No N/A Employees are formally rewarded for outstanding work, skills, and accomplishments pertaining to customer service.
Yes No N/A Employees are informally rewarded for outstanding work, skills, and accomplishments pertaining to customer service.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Who in your organization is most likely to be the first person your customers will see or hear? You really need to focus on this idea and on this person: In his or her first few seconds of contact with the customer, this person will be seen as the exemplar of everything your organization knows about courtesy and customer service.

Possible strategy: Ask your employees what would better empower them in meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Act on these suggestions and give your employees what they need to do their job.


4. Courtesy is practiced by everyone throughout the entire organization.
Yes No N/A Substantive efforts are made in this organization to provide and encourage the same level of courtesy to employees, contractors, and stakeholders as is provided to customers.
Yes No N/A Management and union representatives conduct business in an atmosphere of mutual respect and courtesy.
Yes No N/A Employees are as courteous to and respectful of each other as they are to the external customers of the organization.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Employees treated with dignity and respect will provide the same to their customers and co-workers.

Possible strategy: Write down what you consider the three most important aspects of being a good friend. Now ask "Do I practice these behaviors with my co-workers? With my boss?" Reflect on your answers with an eye to possible improvements.


5. Specific and ongoing training in courtesy is provided.
Yes No N/A Employee orientations specifically address the organization's expectations regarding courtesy.
Yes No N/A Employee orientations include presentations by senior-level management on the organization's expectations regarding customer courtesy.
Yes No N/A A training manual or other written material used for training exists that specifically addressees customer courtesy.
Yes No N/A Employees are given specific courtesy or customer service training.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Timely and innovative training should be linked to the organization's key values and services.

Possible strategy: Create a list with two columns, one titled "Customer Service Goals" and the other "Training." Write down your organization's key customer service goals in the left column. Then list the completed or planned training for that goal in the right column. Are there any goals for which no training is offered? And, if you are providing training, who is attending? Should others also attend?


6. Formal and informal screening techniques are used to hire employees with exceptional skills in courtesy.
Yes No N/A A screening protocol or process that addresses courtesy is used when hiring employees for positions requiring customer service skills (such as multiple interviews or personality testing).
Yes No N/A Customer courtesy is included as an element in an employee's job or position description.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Can you imagine The Ritz-Carlton hiring a concierge who didn't smile, speak clearly, dress neatly, or seem particularly enthusiastic or helpful to customers? Why not? Because this hotel understands the requirements of a professional concierge and selects only those employees who are best suited and expertly trained for this type of work.

Possible strategy: Coordinate a meeting of key staff in your area of the organization and thoughtfully answer the following questions.

How do you know you're hiring the right people for the right job?

What options are available to you to ensure a "hire right the first time" model?

How might your organization achieve the same certainty of success that The Ritz-Carlton has when hiring?

What two things can your organization do now to begin needed improvements in this area?


7. The organization establishes systems to measure the value of its services to customers.
Yes No N/A At least one reliable and validated system of measuring customer feedback is used in this organization (e.g., customer survey cards, employee survey cards, team meetings, focus groups, complaint-handling system).
Yes No N/A Data collected from this system are analyzed and distributed throughout the organization for review.
Yes No N/A Specific improvements in customer service were made over the past year as a direct result of the system for measuring customer satisfaction.
Yes No N/A Customer waiting times for services are monitored, analyzed, and otherwise used to produce continuous improvements in services.
Yes No N/A An integrated and effective complaint-handling system is in place that is easily accessible to all customers in the organization.
Yes No N/A Organization-specific customer service standards exist, and are periodically monitored, and results are provided back to the customer in a timely manner.
Yes No N/A The organization solicits feedback regarding services provided.
Yes No N/A ) Customers are encouraged to provide specific feedback regarding their perceptions about courtesy.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Characteristics that relate to courtesy like "sincerity," "respect," "dignity," and "being treated as a valued person," are best determined through the use of a validated survey tool that asks customers to determine whether, and to what degree, they feel these qualities were present.

Possible strategy: Ask 10 customers about the following behaviors they observed in your organization, then record the answers and discuss them with an appropriate courtesy team.

  • Initial contact­ Did your greeting include a smile and a handshake?
  • Use of eye contact­ Did employees maintain good eye contact with you?
  • Appearance­ Was the employee's appearance neat, well-groomed, and appropriate for the setting?
  • Customer assessment­Did you say anything to the employee that would imply satisfaction or concern?
  • Use of customer's name­ Was your name used appropriately in the context of the dialog?
  • Tone of voice­ Did the employee's tone reflect confidence, helpfulness, and friendliness?
  • Body language­ What effect did the employee's body language and posture have on the interaction?


8. Services are provided seamlessly from the customer's perspective.
Yes No N/A Computer technology and other technological support mechanisms are fully utilized to support employees who serve in a front-line role with the customer.
Yes No N/A Front-line employees are encouraged and expected to take a prominent and active role in determining how to improve services to their customers.
Yes No N/A Front-line employees are authorized to take whatever actions are required to ensure that customers receive the full measure of service expected by the organization.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: As your customers are transferred from one employee to another (handed off), their perception of your service quality will most likely decrease in satisfaction and expectations.

Possible strategy: Write three examples of what you consider to be seamless service between two parts of your organization. Then write two examples of what you consider poor hand-offs between two parts of your organization. What makes these situations different? What opportunities can you explore to improve the poor hand-offs? Where could you start immediately to apply these lessons to other parts of your organization?


9. There is zero tolerance for discourteous service.
Yes No N/A Discourteous behavior to customers, if observed, is viewed by the vast majority of employees in the organization as a situation requiring their immediate attention.
Yes No N/A Discourteous behavior among employees, if observed, is viewed by the vast majority of employees in the organization as a situation requiring their immediate attention.

__________ Total number of yes answers

Consider: Effective complaint-handling systems provide a pathway for quick resolution of allegations of discourteous service. How's your complaint-handling system?

Possible strategy: The next time you are waiting for a telephone call or have a few moments to spare, perform a quick check of your attitude and evaluate your performance in the midst of an otherwise hectic day. Ask yourself:

How good was I with my last customer?

Am I really listening to my customers to determine their needs?

If I fail to meet my customer's expectations, do I apologize sincerely and stay with the customer until the problem is solved?


10. Courtesy improves customer loyalty.
Yes No N/A The vast majority of employees in this organization take pride in their ability to exceed customer expectations.
Yes No N/A The organization presently enjoys a reputation within its community and among its peers as "best in class" in the area of customer support and services.
Yes No N/A The organization has been publicly recognized for its outstanding customer service and support within the last year by an outside evaluator.
Yes No N/A The organization spontaneously and frequently recognizes outstanding staff achievements.

__________Total number of yes answers

Consider: World-class organizations strive for 100 percent customer satisfaction. How would a goal of 100 percent customer satisfaction work in your organization?

Possible strategy: Save articles with outstanding customer service ideas in a file. Keep this file and refer to it often in your customer service areas. Play "secret shopper" and explore customer service areas in other organizations rated as world-class. While visiting, rate the aspects of the organization that relate to your own.


Section 2.5


Survey QuestionNumber of Yes Answers
1. Culture Climate ______
2. Leadership ______
3. Employee Empowerment ______
4. Organizational Courtesy ______
5. Training ______
6. Hiring Techniques ______
7. Performance Measurements ______
8. Seamless Service ______
9. Discourteous Service ______
10. Customer Loyalty ______
Total number of yes answers ______

Organizations that provide world-class courtesy generally score at least 35 on this survey; a perfect score is 43.

Based on initial results from organizations that volunteered to pilot this self-assessment, a typical score is 24 or less. If you score substantially lower than 24, do not be discouraged. Each world-class organization went through the phase you are now in. They were committed to world-class courtesy, and never stopped identifying opportunities and implementing improvements.

You can do the same: Use the exercise to identify those areas in which you have opportunities for improvement. Plan, experiment, and implement in order to create an organizational culture that will be identified by the exceptional courtesy provided to your employees and customers.

Navigation Bar For NPR site Back To The NPR Main Page Search the NPR Site NPR Initiatives Links to Other Reinvention Web Sites Reinvention Tools Frequently Asked Questions NPR Speeches NPR News Releases