The Tipping Point
We all recognise great customer service when we receive it but the interesting thing is it is subliminally accepted. The better it is the less we notice it and yet there comes a tipping point when we recognise it as being truly exceptional. I am using the words tipping point on two levels here; there is when the balance between poor, mediocre and outstanding is tipped and we notice it and there is the moment our subjective evaluation is prompted when we receive the bill and we evaluate the service part of it when we are prompted to ‘tip’.
If you go to a good restaurant the service is seamless from the moment you walk in and are shown to your table. They way you are greeted and seated. The manner and timeliness of menus arriving and receiving attention. Interestingly it is possible to be ‘over served’ this is where the waiter or waitress keeps coming back to ask questions when in fact the best service is unobtrusive polite and efficient.
When we are served we also expect the waiter or waitress to be courteous, smart and knowledgable about the menu or the sommelier about the wines and their combination with the menu but there is a fine art to this. As customers we need just the right amount of attention, not to much and certainly not too little and as everyone is different the best waiting staff have to have the ability to ‘type’ their customers quickly and determine the right level of service for them.
Although I have used the example of a restaurant much of our life is spent procuring services for example:
- Flying from an airport, from parking your car through check-in, security, boarding, flying, landing and baggage collection, the more seamless it is the better our experience and the more likely we are to use or recommend an airport, an airline the next time
- Buying a car, the experience of purchase, driving, reliability, service and aftercare, again the more seamless it is the better and the more likely we are to stay with or recommend a brand.
- Taking a utility service, satellite TV, broadband, gas, electricity, mobile phone network, our experience is multifaceted, since it is a utility service we are buying price is important, all things being equal, but poor customer service will make us swap suppliers perhaps even paying a little more if we get a better service elsewhere.
When we use the word ‘seamless’, we are acknowledging there will be joins, interfaces between different department, subcontracts and suppliers but it is the job of the service provider to make sure that any gaps or overlaps are smoothed over so that we have the best customer experience. There is an overriding reason why this should be their most important consideration.
CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE DRIVES REPUTATION, WHICH DRIVES REPEAT BUSINESS AND MARKET SHARE
Front of House – Back Office Confusion
Over the years I have visited many airports on business and pleasure, for a great experience in travelling we look for smart polite and helpful staff in what can be a fairly stressful time for the traveller either with a business deadline or children to wrangle. For the service to be seamless as we have already said we should not be aware of the interfaces within the service provider.
I visited one airport where as a traveller the interfaces are most visible, when sat in a coffee shop there were staff having meetings in public spaces, with laptops and security badges on display. Regardless of the sensitivity of the meetings this back-office, front of house confusion is poor and shows a complete lack of consideration for true customer service. For one thing these meetings take up space in public areas and they expose the workings of the service, warts and all to the customer, it’s simply inappropriate.
Think about how Disney Parks work, all of their customer facing staff are ‘Cast Members’ they wear a badge to remind them that this is absolutely the case. One thing is for sure you will never see an engineering team fixing a ride or employees having a staff meeting in front of the customer.
I was an a high profile bar in London recently where there was a high compliment of bar and waiting staff but there seemed to be a total lack of service management control with shift handover meetings being conducted in the corner of the bar, two staff members working at a table with a lap-top and the back office, kitchen staff wandering through the public areas presumably to get from the entrance to the kitchen. At one point I wondered how long it would be before they dragged a side of beef through! On top of that some customers were served quickly and others were simply left hanging and this was despite a surfeit of waitress staff who seemed to be wandering around superficially looking busy, talking to each other and frankly being no more effective than characters in ‘The Sims’.
5 Tips for Seamless Service
- Teach your staff why seamless customer service is important for the success of the business and therefore their success
- Train your customer facing staff to dynamically assess the service needs of individual customers, over-serving is a detrimental as under-serving.
- Concentrate on the seams between suppliers departments and contractors, by definition these will be the weak points in the fabric of your service
- Train your back-office staff to stay out of the customer facing domain otherwise they will destroy the impression of seamless service by exposing the stitching
- Iron out the gaps and overlaps that will be present in any service, get all of your departments and subcontractors acting coherently, in unison as ‘one’.