We all like good service – but it is often hard for an organisation to get to grips with the requirements for defining a service as “good”.
Anyone can sell an idea once but the key to recurring business is the customer relationship. Keeping on your phone, answering calls and helping although there may not be immediate profit in it, and sticking to promises – are some of the basics that we all know make the difference. Constant communication and realistic forecasts of what will happen is another.
But how can we design organisations to deliver better services? Some ideas are presented below.
The customer mind-set
The first key to building a service organisation is to create a customer service mind-set. Many businesses tend to either focus on the product or the pricing, and few get totally stuck in only looking at their people. While people, product and processes are all part of the service mix – these are only a limited set of the elements of a service that is offered. The combination of perception, features, advantages, benefits, emotions as well as tangible and intangible benefits all form part of the total service package.
The service user
To really design a service properly starts with defining the service user. It may be as simple as understanding what we call the people that purchase from our business. Clients are classically defined as people that tend to buy from you regularly (more by convention than by definition) and a customer is someone that exchanges money for goods or services. The idea is to convert customers into clients through good service. The key to a service model is to define how a customer will move from being a once off to a long-term buyer. This is also called moving form a transactional to a relationship based partnership model. Every service has a customer – but good services have lifelong clients.
The service standard
The next step in the service definition is setting a service standard, and ensuring that this is executed to perfection, every time. Even poor service has its standards. If a shop is noisy and messy – you will be surprised the day it is not, and this will shift your expectation higher. Next time you will compare against the previous time and if the standard is maintained – you will expect this to be the same every-time. By setting a quality service standards it sets the parameters for delivery it starts enabling us to predict how many of what we need. To have a clean shop you may have to pay someone to clean it – however if it works well, you will have more customers than when you were a dirty shop. This cost then becomes part of the cost of the business and needs to be recovered from the margin that is charged. Once a standard is set it needs to be maintained and executed perfectly every time.
Size to deliver on the standard
When a standard has been set – it implies matching resources with the standard that needs to be delivered.
If you want to answer people’s calls within one ring and also want to be able to handle ten calls at the same time it may be tempting to appoint 10 customer service agents. But if the service level requires you to respond on the 1st ring this may require as many as 15 or 100 customer services representatives that will need to handle the calls, depending on the volume, or through innovative structuring you may have a first and second line of call handling that allocates some to answering the call and others to “handling” the call. The service parameters determine the structure of the service solution.
It is important to realise that the same people that set up a service, is not necessarily the people that will run the service in the long term and good service designers split these two functions. The setup team brings everything in operation and trains up the run team, who remains in place for the long term and perpetuates the service standard by brining new people into it over time.
To look carefully at service design it is important to consider four dimensions.
The procedural dimension focuses on what needs to happen and specifically address how each of the sections in a service triggers the next.
The personal dimension looks at customer intimacy and how the service moves from being an impersonal transaction to a personal experience that delights the end user.
The business dimension needs to look at costs vs benefits.
Increasingly it is recognised that while the service may be efficient, it is also important to consider the emotional aspects of service delivery. A flawless delivery may fail on failing to recognise the emotional state of the customer and a great delivery may be designed to trigger emotions within the customer.
Each of these dimensions defines service features and each of these features has a system or process that produces them. These dimensions also have costs and resources associated with them. So to introduce a new feature to a service dimension requires careful planning to ensure that it is reproducible and consistent. It is also important to consider the interaction effects with other services in the business and the impacts of change of all of these dimensions.
Consistent service delivery is arguably more important that specific features in service management. By introducing a new feature – it is important to look at the longevity of such a feature to ensure that:
- the resources that are employed to deliver the service is correctly matched with delivery standards
- there is sufficient time to set customer expectations on this aspect of the service in order to assure return on investment
- the service feature must mature – i.e. if people like it, it should remain for a sufficient time to create a service impression
- training and other requirements for the service needs to be considered
It may be devastating to clients if a service description is changed without proper change management and transitional arrangements. Removing or substantively changing features may have the consequence of causing major brand damage in the short term – while people adjust to changes in the long term. Long-term services need to remain stable to have an impact. Incremental improvements are often a lot more effective than radical shifts, although incremental improvements may require radical internal changes to accomplish.
Define service measures
It is important to define how the service will be measured for quality and effectiveness.
There are several service rating scales and some of the most often used service feature definitions include some of the dimensions below:
- Appearance of physical facilities, equipment, personnel, and communication materials
- Ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately
- Willingness to help customers and provide prompt service
- Knowledge and courtesy of employees and their ability to convey trust and confidence
- Caring, individualized attention provided to customers
Build a winning team
Service is ultimately delivered from one individual to another. The personality of people that are in service industries and service oriented jobs is very important. While it may be possible to build technical skills, it is much harder to teach empathy and genuine care for others. In building your service organisation, look for people that care for others and that connect with providing service to others.
Delivering service requires individuals and teams to look carefully at all aspects of service design. A good service design takes into consideration the integrated picture of what the customer will experience and optimises the delivery of the organisation to create that experience. The key to great service is to deliver it consistently so that it creates value for the customer and the shareholder.