The U.S. service industry employs roughly 90 percent of the country’s workforce. Not only is service one of our primary economic functions, but according to psychologists, it’s also a core human ambition – we are all born with an innate desire to help other people.
Yet, when you zoom in on our day-to-day interactions, the majority of our service experiences are negative or unremarkable. Why is exceptional customer service such a rare find?
In UNCOMMON SERVICE: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business (Harvard Business Review Press), experts Frances Frei and Anne Morriss offer up a system for customer service success based on four universal truths and one major multiplier that allow companies across all industries to deliver consistently great service:
The 4 Universal Truths of Uncommon Service:
Truth # 1: You can’t be good at everything.
Achieving service excellence requires underperforming on the things your customers value least, so you can focus and over-deliver on the attributes customers value most. Organizations should map service attributes from those that their target market values least to those that matter most.
This attribute mapping has worked for companies like Southwest Airlines which focuses on low prices and friendly service over an extensive network and onboard amenities, the two service factors which matter least to its target customers. Walmart does the same, choosing to be the top deliverer of low prices and selection across categories over sales help and ambiance.
Truth # 2: Someone has to pay for great service.
Organizations should find a palatable way to charge customers for superior service, reduce costs while improving the customer experience, or get customers to do part of the work for you. Zappos offers an enviable example of the latter. Its customer service has made such as impression, that Zappos has dramatically reduced its marketing budget because customers are spreading the word on their own.
Truth #3: With the right service model, average employees can consistently deliver service excellence.
Many organizations have designed service models based on the phantom, superstar employee which isn’t the norm and is expensive to recruit and retain. A successful service model anchored by employee selection, useful training, intuitive job design, motivation and appreciation sets up the majority of real-world service staff to succeed, and also sets up an organization’s customer service success to go from spotty to consistently good.
Truth #4: Organizations must manage their customers.
Customers don’t just consume or purchase service; they help create it. Each customer is unique when it comes to needs, preferences, expectations, etc. Organizations can either accommodate all unique customer variables or proactively manage/reduce variables through strategies such as self-service, niche offerings or customer training. A good example of the latter is Starbucks’ fun but informative guide to ordering a beverage. Customers are “trained” on how to make decisions and order their drink in less time, which improves their service experience and that of all customers because the line moves faster.
The Other Half of the Service Equation: Company Culture
Company culture is the invisible foundation that supports a company’s overall success. Companies must not only talk the talk; they must walk the walk – and that walk starts from the top down. Companies must define their culture, relentlessly communicate the organization’s core values and key service attributes, and consistently reinforce the company culture at every turn.
“A great service organization needs to get both right, the service design and the culture that animates it,” write the authors of Uncommon Service. “Both must be pointing in the same direction, toward the outputs you’ve identified as critical to your organization’s success.
UNCOMMON SERVICE: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business offers case studies and examples from the best in the business including Amazon.com, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Progressive Insurance, Threadless and more. For additional information and tips from the book, visit www.uncommonservice.com.
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