Celebrating Service

"I shall not attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description (‘hard-core pornography’). But I know it when I see it.” --          Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

It is National Customer Service Week.  Service is a great metaphor for every business, so it’s worth celebrating and definitely worth remembering the basics.  They should be a part of every organization's growth strategy.

I’ve worked for companies whose businesses were difficult to describe. [Uniqueness is a special trait that is essential to being competitive – see a recent blog.]  Sometimes, especially on social occasions, it's just easier to say that the company does something that they had heard of before.

So how do you describe your business when friends ask?  I find it more relevant to think of most knowledge economy organizations as being in the service business. A colleague once stated that "every business is a service business".  At one point, IBM had 400,000 employees, but only 6% of them built computers.  The rest did knowledge work… service.  Most products can be thought of as services if, as Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kantor suggests, you look at what it does, not just what it is.

Services can only be judged after they have been purchased and delivered.  Here are a few elements to consider when designing and delivering services to customers:

  • Understand -- and meet, or ideally exceed -- the customers' expectations.
  • Let your commitment, cooperation, responsiveness, expertise, and courtesy show.
  • Be especially determined in problem situations, those ‘moments of truth’.

That's easily enough said, but what do we know of how customers judge service?  The customer's assessment of service is a subjective one.  How do they know it when they see it?  Ten specific attributes were identified by the Marketing Science Institute as being the important elements on which customers judge service.

  • Reliability - dependability in meeting commitments and expectations
  • Responsiveness - willingness to help, promptness in doing so
  • Credibility of the service providers
  • Communication - candor, articulation
  • Competence - skill, knowledge, expertise
  • Ease of Access to service providers (reaching them when they are wanted)
  • Courtesy -- so easy yet so forgotten
  • Understanding/knowing the customer's business
  • Security - freedom from danger, risk (including corporate political risk), doubt
  • Tangibles - physical attributes of the product or service (appearance of people, facilities, products, etc.)

Reliability and responsiveness comprise almost 70% of what customers call service. Customer satisfaction is a key measure of organizational performance.  You can’t get better at these things unless you dimension just where you stand in the minds of your customers.  And you want your customers to use a consistent yardstick, one you understand very well, to measure just how valuable or un-valuable your services are.

Always remember that in its purest form, you are not just in the [fill in the blank with the way you define your organization] business -- we're all in the service business.