How to deliver better service

How to deliver better service
Published: 24 June 2014
Delivering service

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 your phone on; answering calls; 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 are others.

But how can we design organisations to deliver better service? 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, and 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 from 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. Setting a quality service standard sets the parameters for delivery and 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 had 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 first ring, this may require as many as 15 or 100 customer services representatives that will need to handle the call (depending on the volume) or through innovative structuring you may have a first and second line of call handling that allocates some to answering calls and others to 'handling' the calls. The service parameters determine the structure of the service solution.

It is important to realise that the same people that set up a service, are 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 into operation and trains up the run team, that remains in place for the long term and perpetuates the service standard by bringing new people into it over time.

Service dimensions
To look carefully at service design it is important to consider four dimensions.

    Procedural dimension
    The procedural dimension focuses on what needs to happen and specifically addresses how each of the sections in a service triggers the next.

    Personal dimension
    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.

    Business dimension
    The business dimension needs to look at costs vs benefits.
    Emotional dimension
    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, by 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 associated costs and resources. 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 on all of these dimensions.

Consistent service delivery is arguably more important than 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 are 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 sufficient time to create a service impression; and
    training and other requirements for the service need 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 be accomplished.

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 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 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. 
- Regenesys
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