SERVICING THE EXPERIENCE: Extending the life of the relationship

J. N. Halm

Anyone who has spent a few years on this planet knows that there are certain undesirable but necessary things one has to do once in a while. Some have defined these things as necessary evils. I personally think evil is too strong a word. But the truth is that these things can really be painful but we have no choice but to endure them.

A popular example people give is paying of taxes. Another one people give is removing an aching tooth. For me one of those things is sending my car for servicing. Yes, those visits to the auto shop for the routine maintenance or repair work is not something I particularly look forward to. It takes time. It is quite boring. And to top all of that, it takes money away from my pocket. But what choice do I have? If I intend to have my vehicle in top shape for a long time, then I have to send it for regular servicing. It is as simple as that.

To appreciate the importance of servicing, it is important to understand what happens during servicing. Qualified auto mechanics will run diagnostics on the vehicle using a vehicle diagnostic machine. When the machine is plugged in, the mechanic is able to decipher the information and unearth any sources of potential problems. These potential trouble areas can then be tackled before they blossom into full-blown crisis, like your car stopping in the middle of the Tema Motorway on a Monday morning. Much like a medical check-up, these servicing routines have the potential to avert serious issues.

SERVICING THE EXPERIENCE: Extending the life of the relationship

Servicing has been on my mind for a while now. This is not just because it is time for me to send my vehicle for servicing. That is true but I have been thinking about servicing because I really believe there is something in the whole process can be very beneficial to the push for better customer service.  Sometimes, the best secrets are hidden in plain sight.

Think of it. It is true that the servicing we are used to is all about tangible products. However, who said intangible offering cannot be serviced? Why can a service, or rather, the customer’s experience, not be serviced?

The idea of servicing the customer’s experience is a new way of looking at an old problem. Ever since people starting exchanging goods, there has always been an issue regarding the quality of the interaction between businesses and their customers. On one hand, customers keep complaining about the poor quality of service they receive. On the other hand, businesses believe they are doing their very best—offering customers the best service possible.

Evidently, there is a gap—a disconnect—between the two perceptions.

Is it a case of customers being too demanding or of businesses not doing enough to satisfy their customers? Is it that businesses are actually doing their best but might be doing the wrong things well? Do businesses really know what their customers want? These are just a few of the questions that need answering if customers are to be served with the best of experiences.

As discussed at the beginning of this piece, owners of tangible products such as vehicles, heavy duty equipment and other such machinery are keen to ensure that they regularly get these products serviced. They do so because they know that with good servicing, a product can function optimally for a long time.

But how do businesses go about servicing the experiences of their customers? Can they place an experience under a lens or plug that experience into a diagnostic machine to see if there are any potential problem areas? I believe they can and these are the ways they can go about doing just that.

  1. Find out what customers actually go through

It first starts with a good idea of the Service Blueprint—that diagram or map showing how the 3Ps (people, props and processes) interact to give a customer an experience. The Service Blueprint provides an organisation with a map detailing the entire process of service delivery, by listing all the activities that happen at each stage, performed by the different actors involved.

In my decades of working in the service space in this country, I can say on authority that many people have no idea what the Service Blueprint is all about. This, I must say, is one of the main reasons for the poor state of service experience in this country. The thing is that if you have no idea what touch-points you have and how customers are interacting with those touch-points, how do you offer customers that excellent experience? It is akin to a building without a plan or exploring without a map. Not only will you be running around in circles, you will be running around in circles in the dark.

A clearly-laid out Service Blueprint is the service equivalent of schematic diagram of a machine showing all the electrical circuits. It provides the one servicing the experience with a bird’s eye view of what to touch and what not to touch.

The Service Blueprint needs not be a complicated diagram. Every business that serves customers, regardless of size or annual income, can draw up a simple Service Blueprint without any stress. A simple A4 sheet should do the job. On the left side of the sheet, start by listing all those within the organisation who engage with customers directly. Then provide a list of those whose jobs are behind the scenes—those who do not directly interface with customers.

For each individual on the left side, list the one’s actions with regards to serving customers. By linking an individual’s actions to another with arrows, you get a matrix which is your most rudimentary Service Blueprint.

What drawing up a Service Blueprint does is that it forces you to see things from the customer’s point of view—which is exactly where you should have been seeing things from in the first place. Too many times, businesses concentrate too much on the services they provide without a corresponding care about the experiences customers are getting from those service encounters. For the business, it is all about the service but for the customer, it is all about the experience—how the one felt in that encounter. And it is a no-brainer whose point of view should be taken more seriously—the one with the money in the pocket or the one trying to get the money.

  1. Find out what customers want to go through

With an idea of what customers go through, the next step is to find out what customers expect from each encounter. Even if you are convinced you know what customers want, it is important to always ask customers what they want.

Co-creation, the phenomenon where organisations invite stakeholders to become a part of creating the desired outcome, has been found to be very effective in giving customers an excellent experience. When customers are part of the process, it is difficult for them not to appreciate the outcome. The IKEA Effect, whereby people show unusually high appreciation for what they invest their time in, kicks in with co-creation.

Finding out from customers what they want to experience is also a way of showing respect to customers. Customers appreciate it when they are treated as human beings with minds of their own. They resent being treated like people with no opinions of their own. The business that treats customers with respect receives more than respect back from those customers. That business gets repeat business from customers, in addition.

  1. Provide more of what customers want

When you find out what customers want, the smart thing to do is to do more of that. It pays to be constantly tweaking the service to ensure that it provides customers with the right experience. To maintain a competitive advantage, it is important to always keep one’s customers anticipating a better experience each and every time. A sense of anticipation has been found to be one of the strongest mental triggers that makes people want to do certain things. For customers, it makes them want to keep coming back for more.

  1. Go through what customers go through

In servicing the experience, it is important to “test” the experience. Every mechanic or wayside repairman will tell you of the importance of taking the machine on a test run. The same attitude should be adopted by every service leader. This is what will prompt businesses to organise mystery shopping exercises to get a feel of what customers go through. To walk a few paces in a customer’s shoes can teach a business so many things. It is the best way to measure if things are going well.

The world of business grows increasingly competitive and so every small advantage counts. The biggest advantage a business can ever get is the one a customer gives to that business. However, customers will only confer that competitive advantage when they keep getting what they want, and much more.  For that to happen, it is important that the business regularly examines the experience of its customers. That is what will keep the business-customer relationship fresh and working well always. Regularly servicing the experience of your customers will extend the life of the relationship. Anything less and the relationship will not only suffer but will not last long, just like that vehicle that is not serviced often.

In summary,

  • Find out what customers actually go through
  • Find out what customers want to go through
  • Provide more of what customers want
  • Go through what customers go through

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