Look beyond mere lip-service and serve customers truly
Mar 31 2014
Yesterday, I went to withdraw some money from the current account at an MNC bank. “Next please,” said a voice from a down-turned head. “I want to make a...” Before I could complete my sentence, the lady at the counter interrupted and said, “Sorry, could you wait a moment? I have a call.” I sighed, waited, and was served. I left. With the cash in hand, I visited the supermarket next door. “Where can I find washing machine soap powder,” I asked. “Excuse me.” The shop floor assistant was talking to her colleague. They seemed engrossed in a happy private conversation.
“Excuse me.” “Yes?” “Could you tell me where the soap powder for washing machine is, please?” “Next aisle to the left. Over there.” She pointed quickly and returned to her amusing conversation. “Sorry, where did you say?” “Over there,” she pointed vaguely again in an even more hurried and agitated manner. I quietly turned and left the store. The conversation continued, with me perhaps as a subject of a negative comment or two.
Everybody quotes anecdotes of poor service encounters. There seem to be endless examples. Why do service providers treat me and other customers in this way? Who do they think they are? I am paying for this service, yet they make me feel as if they are doing me a favour. My service encounters seem to be composed mainly of moments of insult and not truth. Why? We all want service quality. It pays. It is competitive. It is marketable. It is profitable. It is efficient. What is service and how to serve often can be identified, systematised, and programmed easily into the actions of most service employees. That is the service system, the process. Efficient? Yes. Effective? No.
Service quality is more than the pursuit of standardisation; it is a state of mind. If each individual service provider is not convinced of the need to provide quality, both personally and in the wider organisational context, the service can never be classified as true quality service. All the service quality and customer care courses and all the service quality surveys in the world won’t make effective quality service happen if the service provider does not believe sincerely in the concept.
And when it doesn’t happen, it is obvious to the customers. They talk about it, they make judgements, and they use the ultimate weapon: word-of-mouth. In addition to answering the “what” and “how” questions, service marketeers also need to address the questions “Why should I serve well?”, “Why is service quality good for the organisation?” and “Why is it good for the service provider?”
When such questions are answered, service providers are far more likely to buy into the “what” and “how” questions. It is possible to get service providers to say “Have a nice day,” and “Please visit again,” without actually meaning any of it, but the customer knows they don’t mean it. Why do they bother saying it?
Only because they were told to say it. They were told what to say and how to say it, but not why they need to say it. Marketeers faced with the challenge of formulating and implementing integrated services marketing strategies must consider the motivationally central “why” questions before they tackle the more easily answered “what” and “how” questions. Answering “why” is not easy, and it is not cheap. It involves extensive customer and employee research. “What do customers want in a service?” is a basic question. “What motivates service providers to provide that quality of service?” is another equally important and related question. Service providers are on the other side of the two-headed coin of service exchange. This area is ripe for investigation by market researchers.
High quality service providers are faced with the challenge of delivering service quality to the real customers, the ones that come back. These customers don’t want meaningless rhetoric; they want the real thing that is service. Truly effective services marketing strategies can be achieved only with a serious commitment to and investment in changing the mind set of employees. This means investment in a sincere implementation in changing the state of mind.
(The writer is CEO and MD of CustomerLab)