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The International Customer Service Standard (ICSS)

ICSS has been developed as both an acknowledgement of progress made to date by some organisations in relation to standards of service excellence, and as a benchmark for others to pursue.

In developing this standard, the the International Council of Customer Service Organisations established benchmarks for service excellence within globally that stand up to the rigors of international competition and scrutiny.

Much has been written about the importance of the customer in business: this standard provides both a recognisable benchmark and ‘how-to’ implementation approach.

ICSS applies equally to for-profit businesses, to government and to not-for-profit businesses.  Its aim is to help shift the business focus from Product or Service OUT to Customer IN.  This means creating an environment where customer input is largely responsible for determining the product or service output, rather than where the supplier or service provider attempts to force their product or service on the customer in the hope that it will meet customer needs and generate loyalty.

Background to the Standard

Customer service is both an outcome and a profit strategy.

Organisations with a balanced approach to customer service reap the rewards while poor service delivery results in loss of profit and market share or in the case of not-for-profit organisations, in escalating costs, diminished productivity and lack of effectiveness.

Many organisations have already begun to address improvements in customer service delivery and usually adopt one of the following approaches:

PASSION – these are organisations that embark on smile campaigns and look to addressing all of the softer issues relating to service.  They believe that the customer is always right and that in every business transaction or ‘moment of truth’, the customer must come first.

The downside to this approach is that many organisations that have adopted this philosophy have taken their eye off the key issues.  They have lost sight of the business imperatives and indeed, there are many examples of outstanding customer service providers who have gone bankrupt.

PROCESS – these are the organisations that have developed and implemented strict processes and systems to enhance customer service.  Often they are represented by strict policy guidelines, queues, customer numbers for service, voice-mail and recorded telephone messages and inflexibility in relation to delivery.

The downside to this approach is that while it guarantees consistency of delivery, it fails to recognise that each customer is an individual, with different needs and expectations.

Eventually the customer may decide that these organisations are too difficult to deal with.

ICSS recognises that to maintain service excellence, an organisation requires an alignment between Passion and Process.  This balance will not always be 50/50.

Some organisations, because of the nature of their operation, will need to lean more towards Passion and some will lean towards Process.  The important feature however, is the recognition that a focus on both is required for sustained success.

Outstanding customer service cannot be a stand-alone approach: it must be reflected in the overall business goals in order to maintain the balanced approach.

ICSS identifies the 4 key components necessary to maintain the alignment through a cause and effect relationship and balance between Passion and Process:

  • A Service perspective in relation to customers
  • A Financial perspective in relation to customers
  • An Operational perspective in relation to customers
  • A Learning and Growth perspective in relation to customers

ICSS is a recognition that service excellence is an outcome and one that relies heavily on people.  For this reason, the 4 key customer perspectives focus not just on the customer, but on the internal workings and infrastructure of the organisation; those things that are essential in order to deliver outstanding service.

Within each customer perspective there are 3 elements and each element has a number of service attributes.

Conformance to all the attributes is required in order to achieve certification to ICSS.

ICSS requires an organisation to address all 4 key customer perspectives, all elements within those perspectives and all mandatory service attributes.  It does, however, permit differing approaches depending on the nature of the organisation.

To measure progress against each of the service attributes ICSS adopts the 3 ‘I‘ approach:

  • Intention
  • Implementation
  • Integration

Intention – evidence exists to show that the service attribute is to be addressed in the current or next business-planning phase (Score: 0-2).

Implementation – evidence exists to show that the service attribute has been addressed within the organisation and success measures identified (Score: 3-5).

Integration – evidence exists to show that the service attribute is part of the culture of the organisation and measurement data is being used to enhance service delivery (Score: 6-10).

The scoring range acknowledges that there will be varying rates of progress in Intention, Implementation and Integration.  In order to achieve certification of to ICSS, it is not necessary to achieve a ‘perfect 10’ for each service attribute.

However, under normal circumstances, certification to ICSS will not be granted to organisations where mandatory service attributes fall only under the ‘Intention’ category.  The certifying body will be seeking evidence of Implementation and Integration.

Progress towards a score of ‘10’ will be expected over time as the organisation continues to learn and grow in service excellence.