EXCELLENT service generally results from the actions of groups of interdependent employees who work cooperatively to achieve service outcomes. Although it is the frontline staff who ultimately deliver the service to the customer, they need the full support of those in the backroom for the service encounter to run smoothly.

Team support may be defined as the extent to which the service employees believe their co-workers are willing to provide them with work-related assistance to help them execute their service-based duties.

The customer often sees only a small part of the service delivery process. Although not every member of the firm actually deals directly with the end customer, each job is important in ensuring quality service being delivered to the customer.

Internal marketing theorists have argued that it is impossible for businesses to provide better service to external customers than they provide to their employees or internal customers. They believe team members in support functions must provide quality service to frontline employees so they can better serve the external customers.

Only after effective internal exchanges between team members in the service chain can successful external exchanges between employees and customers take place. Indeed, a front-line service employee often depends on backroom support to meet customers’ requests. 

Service model
Christopher H. Lovelock, Jochen Wirtz and Patricia Chew, the authors of Essentials Of Services Marketing, have provided a structural representation of the service production system that enhances our understanding of the importance of teamwork for service excellence. The service production framework suggests that a service is delivered in real time to customers through their interactions with the organisation’s personnel from the intra and inter-departments, the service environment and other customers.

In this system approach, the factors that influence service experience can be visible (the service delivery system) or invisible (organisational systems) to customers. Organisational activities that are not visible to customers are often termed back-stage activities. These typically include support functions. All other aspects of service production, which are visible to the customer, are termed front-stage activities. A customer’s overall experience is affected by interactions with service personnel, other customers, the servicescape and service processes. It is clear that the team support from co-workers in the back-stage is crucial to enable service employees at the front-stage to meet customers’ expectations. 

Team support vital
A review of the teams’ literature shows that teamwork has a beneficial impact on performance outcomes, for example, employee turnover and service quality. Because service jobs are frequently frustrating and demanding, team support will help to alleviate some of the stresses and strains.

Service employees who feel supported by a team backing them up will be better able to maintain their enthusiasm and provide quality service. For example, high levels of helping-behaviour enable service employees to obtain required product knowledge faster.

Potential problems with service delivery processes can be identified early by boundary spanning employees. High levels of courtesy and sportsmanship build an esprit de corps among work colleagues.

A productive team environment binds the group together and motivates the members to perform for the good of the team and their common purpose. It is supportive, encourages members to learn from each other and values the efforts of each individual in the attainment of service goals.

In an effective team environment, vicarious learning can occur when employees adopt approaches taken by other team members and learn from one other. The implication is that, if service employees experience positive peer-based learning and co-workers’ service-driven attitudes, they will be motivated to carry this attitude to their customer encounters. Excellent service is often the result of teamwork, rather than the result of one outstanding individual. 

Article by Seow Bee Leng, the principal trainer of Continuum Learning. She has wide service training experience with corporations, academic institutions and non-profit organisations. She is also the author of To Serve With Love. For more information, e-mail beeleng@continuumlearning.com or visit www.continuumlearning.com