Why service with a smile will never die

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Picture this: You go into a salon to get a haircut. The hairdresser greets you right away and guides you to a comfortable chair. Before he/she starts talking about your hair he/she makes sure you get a beverage. You tell him/her that you need shorter hair and need another hair color treatment. The hairdresser tells you that longer hair suits you more and too much hair color can damage your hair. So what if the salon can make more money on these treatments? After treating you like royalty, and giving you a simple trim and some free samples, the hairdresser sees you off at the door. Sure…the hair cut is average, but you’re sure to go back to the same salon over and over again. Just cause they had the best service ever.

And that’s what happens in any industry today, be it IT/ ITES, BFSI, Travel & Tourism, or any other industry where service is an integral part of customer needs.

It’s no longer a fight over product features or pricing. Great service is what defines competitive advantage. Sadly, all organizations forget that they are not selling products and product features alone. They are selling dreams, desires and must cater to basic human needs. Product specs don’t cater to emotional needs…good service does.

The best of products can lose out to an average product with exceptional service. Because a great product and its features can be duplicated, and delivery systems can be bettered with technology. It’s exceptional service that emerges as the perpetual differentiation factor for a business – regardless of whether or not the product or delivery system is good. Great customer service experiences are effective enough to trump any slight inadequacies of product features and delivery systems.

Making “Good” Service Work for You

Service has a unique value in that the company. Most people believe that good service delivers zero ROI. Well, they are wrong! Companies that invest in services open themselves to many rewards pathways including customer loyalty and referrals, upselling opportunities, crowdsourcing solutions, and more. Imbibing a great service culture across the board helps companies actively reposition themselves, maintain customer loyalty, and capture more market share.

Why Customers Value “Good” Service

For the average customer, service is free. And so there is an expected level of quality. That said, organizations often structure their services to first conform to their internal policies and SLAs. Customers come in second. Shocking isn’t it? To define a great service standard, companies needs to understand five levels involved in defining a customer’s perception of service standards:

Basic: The fundamental or functional consumer experience that is core to the functioning of the product

Expected: The service experience that is associated with all similar products and something
that’s taken for granted from a consumer

Desired: The experience that is good to have and that provides more importance to the
customer. Although it is usually not expected from a consumer

Surprising: An experience that was never desired or expected from a consumer

Unbelievable: An experience that is so overwhelming that it was neither expected, desired or
even thought of by the consumer

Organizations should benchmark their service delivery against the customer’s expectations standards rather than rely on global industry or internal policies. This can be achieved only if the organizations look outward – towards the customer – and create a service culture that is constantly evolving according to the customer’s needs. The result is fulfilling; overall expectation levels associated with product and the brand raise to a new high.

So What is “Good” Service?

Simple-it’s difficult to duplicate. And if a competitor does copy you, innovate and offer something new. And make sure everyone knows you were the first to think of it.

So what do customer services have that cannot be duplicated easily? To start, there is a “human” behind the service, and with that comes a heart and an attitude. The key to creating a winning culture in service is embracing the mindset that service requires ‘giving’ – something humans best replicate among one another. In order to be a customer-centric organization, companies need to invest in customers in addition to the processes surrounding their products.

To strike the right balance between customer delight and profit, companies must demonstrate the following 6 traits that help in building a great service culture:

  • Customer life cycle view: Customer-centric organizations need to take a wide-angle view. Move beyond transactional event-based marketing and try to understand the evolving needs of the customer. Companies like Amazon use technology efficiently to understand a customer’s stage in life, browsing behavior, past preferences, etc. to create tailored offers and to occasionally delight and surprise customers by sending out “just for you” flowers and e–cards on birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Solutions mindset: The mindset of ‘giving’ or ‘serving’ somebody else is rare, especially if there are no strings attached. Companies have capitalized on investing in people who have big hearts and come naturally with a mindset of giving. Companies that work with such an approach shift from being a product company to a solutions company. They even open up to work with their competitors, as long as the customer benefits in the end.
  • Advice bundling: Customers always value advice – especially from an expert. To develop customer intuition and to offer relevant advice, customer-centric companies not only depend on technology, but also continuously engage with the customer and keep them educated about the latest trends and developments. For example, Citibank’s Citi Pro, a no obligation financial planning tool, invited customers to develop a financial plan along with the assistance of a branch financial analyst. This approach helped Citibank improve its product penetration by over 30% across the branches.
  • Can-do customer interface: In a regular organization, customer management is driven from the top, but in the case of Ritz Carlton, it’s the other way around. Frontline employees have great latitude in addressing guest requirements and have the authority within their guidelines to upgrade guests to suites or provide compensation for any inconveniences. From this example, it’s evident that organizations have to trust and invest in their employees who have the self-empowered ability to deliver a great customer experience.
  • Leading from the front: The main reason companies fail in their efforts to deliver exceptional service is because service is judged as a cost function and not as an opportunity. CEOs and top managers of great customer experience companies involve themselves in every way possible to enhance the customer experience. For example, at Disney theme parks, all top managers are scheduled to provide service as a normal customer service executive at least twice a year.
  • Collective cross-functional effort: Many product deliveries and solutions need to be tailored on the spot. This means moving the customer’s needs across the silos of product development, marketing, sales, and delivery, resulting in miscommunications and, ultimately, delivery of an unsatisfactory product. In a customer-centric organization, the front-end service
    always has cross-functional expertise and is picked up from the best of multiple departments – those who are able to provide a solution to the customer at that instant.

Customer-centric service is an asset that requires long-term investment but yields disproportionately larger returns in the form of loyal customers, new customers, and brand preference. Until now, customer service was treated as just a sales accessory that was lacking value in improving the relationship between business and customer. The steps described here are anything but superficial; they are the building blocks for a full-scale transformation of a company’s operating model.

 

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