Editor’s Note: This article sets out a simple, elegant, and ultimately tough-minded way to build profitability in a service business. Originally published in 1994, it offers as much today as it did then and is a perennial best seller.

Top-level executives of outstanding service organizations spend little time setting profit goals or focusing on market share, the management mantra of the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, they understand that in the new economics of service, frontline workers and customers need to be the center of management concern. Successful service managers pay attention to the factors that drive profitability in this new service paradigm: investment in people, technology that supports frontline workers, revamped recruiting and training practices, and compensation linked to performance for employees at every level. And they express a vision of leadership in terms rarely heard in corporate America: an organization’s “patina of spirituality,” the “importance of the mundane.”

A growing number of companies that includes Banc One, Intuit, Southwest Airlines, ServiceMaster, USAA, Taco Bell, and MCI know that when they make employees and customers paramount, a radical shift occurs in the way they manage and measure success. The new economics of service requires innovative measurement techniques. These techniques calibrate the impact of employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity on the value of products and services delivered so that managers can build customer satisfaction and loyalty and assess the corresponding impact on profitability and growth. In fact, the lifetime value of a loyal customer can be astronomical, especially when referrals are added to the economics of customer retention and repeat purchases of related products. For example, the lifetime revenue stream from a loyal pizza eater can be $8,000, a Cadillac owner $332,000, and a corporate purchaser of commercial aircraft literally billions of dollars.

The service-profit chain, developed from analyses of successful service organizations, puts “hard” values on “soft” measures. It helps managers target new investments to develop service and satisfaction levels for maximum competitive impact, widening the gap between service leaders and their merely good competitors.

The Service-Profit Chain

The service-profit chain establishes relationships between profitability, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity. The links in the chain (which should be regarded as propositions) are as follows: Profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is largely influenced by the value of services provided to customers. Value is created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees. Employee satisfaction, in turn, results primarily from high-quality support services and policies that enable employees to deliver results to customers. (See the exhibit “The Links in the Service-Profit Chain.”)

Service Profit Chain

The service-profit chain is also defined by a special kind of leadership. CEOs of exemplary service companies emphasize the importance of each employee and customer. For these CEOs, the focus on customers and employees is no empty slogan tailored to an annual management meeting. For example, Herbert Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, can be found aboard airplanes, on tarmacs, and in terminals, interacting with employees and customers. Kelleher believes that hiring employees who have the right attitude is so important that the hiring process takes on a “patina of spirituality.” In addition, he believes that “anyone who looks at things solely in terms of factors that can easily be quantified is missing the heart of business, which is people.” William Pollard, the chairman of ServiceMaster, continually underscores the importance of “teacher-learner” managers, who have what he calls “a servant’s heart.” And John McCoy, CEO of Banc One, stresses the “uncommon partnership,” a system of support that provides maximum latitude to individual bank presidents while supplying information systems and common measurements of customer satisfaction and financial measures.

James L. Heskett is a Baker Foundation Professor, Emeritus, of Harvard Business School, in Boston, and a coauthor, with W. Earl Sasser, Jr., and Joe Wheeler, of The Ownership Quotient: Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work for Unbeatable Competitive Advantage, forthcoming from Harvard Business Press.
Thomas O. Jones is the president of eLanes, in Andover, Massachusetts.
Gary W. Loveman is the CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, in Las Vegas.
W. Earl Sasser, Jr., is a Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School.
Leonard A. Schlesinger has been named the 12th president of Babson College, in Babson Park, Massachusetts.

Complete article: http://hbr.org/2008/07/putting-the-service-profit-chain-to-work