Every business is a service business.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

My Pizzeria takes on My Bank

On the way home this evening, I stopped at my local pizza parlor and local bank branch. Just for fun, I pitted the attributes of the two service experiences against one another.

Guess who won?

The pizza parlor is open when I want pizza. The bank is open when I’m at work, and mostly closed I have time to go to a bank.

When I’m ordering take-out or delivery, the pizza place answers the phone, even if they have to put me on hold. The bank periodically routes calls to a “hang-up-on-me” option I’ve never selected.

In the pizza parlor, I wait amongst the aroma of baking pies. Other customers are happy to be there. At the bank I wait, either in person while listening to other customers mostly complain about heir bank service, or on the phone with an IVR response that begins, “due to unusual call volumes…” (BTW, is it unusual if it happens constantly?)

Pizza parlor has a signature dish. They make an Italian pie with a spicy jardiniere. The place down the street’s signature dish is a cheeseburger pizza, complete with onions, pickles & mustard. The point is that they intentionally differentiate along at least one line. Every bank seems to “me-too” their offerings, to the point where I wonder whether it matters where I keep my money? (Should banks be worried that we see them as as undifferentiated as “The Detroit 3”?)

I bet your bank has a www.banknameheresucks.com website devoted to disgruntled customers’ commentary. And I bet your local pizza parlor doesn’t.

The pizza place is willing to bring their offering to me, and even guarantees that they won’t waste my time. The bank?

Service recovery at the pizza place usually means a free meal. At the bank, it might not even mean an apology.

The service employees at the pizzeria are not as highly compensated as their bank counterparts, but are almost universally more service oriented.

I’m not saying that every bank should recraft their service to act like a pizza parlor. I know that what you expect from a bank is orders of magnitude more than what you expect from a pizza place.

But I do think that your average bank could learn a thing or two from how the local pizzeria approaches service. Extending outward, what would Southwest look like if they were a bank instead of an airline?

When a pizza place doesn’t deliver on their promise, we’re merciless consumers. We drive places out of business almost overnight. Yet somehow, when a bank doesn’t deliver on a promise much more important, most of us let it slide. If ever there was an industry that was ripe for a new service model to take it by storm, retail banking is it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Forget it. I'll just have a coffee.

Standing in line at Starbuck’s this morning, I realized this morning that I wasn’t finished with the importance of recognizing the customer role in providing a successful service experience, as well as the impact that customers have on each other’s experiences.

Because I’m a regular, I forget that some people have anxiety about the whole ordering process. There’s the “Grande = medium” size translation, followed by the formatted ordering of what type of drink you want: how much caffeine, fat content, whether you want to add a flavor and what kind, whether you want whipped cream, and finally (I think), whether you are hanging around or taking your drink “to go”.

For some, the complex ordering process adds to the experience, as memorizing the order pattern identifies them as a regular.

For others, the ordering process is a complete turn-off – whether it’s the silliness of the pseudo language Starbuck’s has cultivated or the memorization requirement implied by the “regular” customers in line.

Again, consider what you want your customers to feel as they engage your service. Anxious? Confident? Like they’re participating in a game? Like they’re regulars? Like they’ll be ostracized if they don’t get it right? Like you’re expecting them to perform, regardless of whether they want to?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Commit Ireland's Worst Crime.

I stole someone’s potatoes today. Actually, it was worse. I took away someone's option to buy potatoes.

I should probably preface that.

I sometimes eat breakfast in the cafeteria at work. Because most of the morning crowd are regulars, there are established norms that include, “unless you are requesting something made-to-order, you can serve yourself from the line”. Like most norms, it is not written anywhere, just tacitly understood. Customers that don’t want to spend unnecessary time waiting can serve themselves.

Of course, a newcomer wouldn’t have that tacit understanding, which is what I missed when I skipped past him, scooped up the last of the hash browns and made for the register. As I was paying, I heard the following exchange:

“You mean, I can just go ahead?”


“Are there any more potatoes?”


Two aspects unique to any service experience went unaddressed, and it made for a bad start to this guy’s day.

The first is that the customer has to know their role in co-production. If there was so much as a sign that told him to move ahead, he would have had his desire fulfilled completely.

The second is that, largely beyond the company’s control, customers will impact the service that other customers experience. This part was on me. I didn’t look to see if he was a regular. I didn’t ask if he was waiting for an order. I assumed he knew what he was doing, skipped to fulfilling my role in my own experience, and in the process, diminished his.

To “Man Without Adequate Starch”: I’m sorry. My Bad. If I see you tomorrow, I’ll buy your potatoes, hopefully provide a positive customer-to-customer interaction.

To everyone else: Do your customers know their role? Is this answer different from a trial customer to an experienced user? Is it possible that your regulars, because of their experience, diminish the service for new customers? Is it possible that first-timers frustrate regulars because their lack of knowledge gained through regular use? How could you change the experience to be more accommodating to each? How could you change the physical environment to do the same thing?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“Tin Men” or Scarecrows?

Is fear still a viable sell?

We’re in the market for long term home exterior solution. (It’s not just siding anymore) Though wrapped (literally) in a product wrapper, siding qualifies as a service because just as much value as the product is the notion that someone else will install it and maintain it over its lifespan.

I’m looking for a service company that can give me peace of mind that my family will be safe, my dwelling has the best chance at maintaining or appreciating in value, that my project won’t dramatically contribute wear & tear on the environment, and that I have made the best fiscal decision possible.

I’m theoretically at a disadvantage as a service evaluator. I’m not remotely handy, and my understanding of what impacts a structure over time is novice at best.

That said, the availability of information has increased dramatically over the years. No longer stuck with “just” traditional media such as consumer advocate magazines, in-store experts and word-of-mouth, we now have online product reviews from companies, consumers and media, price / product comparisons, and blogs and other social media where consumers detail their experiences directly with other consumers.

So why in 2009 does every salesperson / company that I’ve talked to try to use high-pressure tactics and fear to get me to buying from them on the spot in a 1st meeting? Surely they know that I’m not going to make a $10-50K purchase decision on the basis of how I felt in a 45 minute introduction. The part where you tell me you can save me 20%, but only if I commit / sign today? Laughable.

Siding is a product that, if you believe the collateral, most people will only have the opportunity to purchase once in their lives. The company-customer relationship will consist of a visible product installed in a large service project, and maintained through years of service experiences. An entrenched product focus is behind the Paleozoic-era high-pressure, fear-based approach. Today, information is too readily available for that sales tactic to work.

How would / could the business model change, if these companies were to approach the interaction as the start of a decades-long relationship with home & homeowner, rather than a $25,000 product sale to be made in the next 60 minutes and never considered again?

How to avoid a YouTube video.

Do you actively seek out your organization’s “customer terrorists” – those subversive consumers that actively try to destroy your brand image by showing the instances of your service performance in its worst instances?

What do you see when you read / hear their comments? A crackpot with too much time and an axe to grind? An otherwise loyal customer with a legitimate beef? A threat that to de-legitimize your entire service promise?

What do you do in response? Assume personal accountability to address their problem and follow it until resolved? Pass them on to your customer service / service recovery team in hopes that either their concerns are answered by your best service professionals? Rationalize that you can’t get every interaction 100% right? Ignore it altogether? Use it as bulletin board material in your office?

It used to be difficult for a customer terrorist to get their issue visible. They had to take out an ad, or even devote time to picketing a location. It was too easy to lose customer terrorists in customer service bureaucracy, easy to wait them out until they tired of their complaint.

Now, it is all too easy for these passionate consumers to have their opinion heard. The internet in general, and social media in particular, have tipped the balance in favor of the people most dissatisfied (pissed off?) at their last experience with you. The subversive’s holy trinity of Blogs, YouTube, and Twitter have given their feelings and comments, correct or otherwise, far-reaching public domain. What’s worse, because they’re by nature guerilla anti-marketers, there’s a good chance that their communications are more edgy/funny/earnest/believable than what your corporate communications department is capable of putting out.

If you haven’t revisited your plan on how to deal with a customer terrorist from top to bottom, the time to do so is now. (Actually, it was 12 months ago) A hint: don’t start with communications strategy. By the time your marketing & PR people are involved, its already too far gone. Start with your service operations, customer service and service recovery process. Start by identifying who might become a customer terrorist, (Hint #2: They usually let you know at some point in the service process) and then putting in special procedures to defuse the negativity of the experience.

You’re going to see more dissatisfied customers targeting your products and services with grassroots negative marketing of your brand. Planning ahead and being a little more nimble in response will help you prevent these instances from occurring altogether. It’s a much better alternative than improving at dealing with the aftermath of a 4.3M hit viral sensation so popular it’s available on iTunes.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Service Rant: Another Reason to Skip the Gym

As a way to deal with the economic downturn and an ubercompetitive local market, my gym has reduced staff. Fewer trainers, smaller cleaning crew, fewer caregivers in the nursery. Not a surprise. Staff reductions are the easy fix to aligning costs with a reduced amount of revenue.

Here’s the problem:

To cope with a reduced nursery staff, my gym implemented a policy requiring parents with infants to make an advance reservation for nursery care.

When I discovered that Saturday mornings were booked solid until my 4-month-old is a university sophomore, I expressed my displeasure with the new policy.

A little irritated, I adjusted, switching from a prime weekend morning workout to a less-crowded weekend afternoon slot.

Next, I was turned away from the gym altogether when there was inadequate staff to deliver on the promise of the care for the time slot I had pre-arranged.

Now, I’m looking for a new gym.

I’m generally tolerant. I understand that service operations are tough in the current environment, where companies have downsized and are faced with demand for their services that has both diminished and gotten much more variable.

The first strike was diminishing the service value by implementing a reservation system that made it more difficult to use their services, regimenting when I would be able to access use the facility and made me pre-arrange my weekend schedule.

The second was not realizing that Saturday & Sunday morning are prime workout times for working parents and staffing to an adequate level for that 4-hour block to accommodate everyone.

The third was not having adequate capacity to deliver on the promise of care when I needed it.

They’re not out yet, but they soon will be. Then they can try to cover their costs with even less revenue.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I hope I’m wrong about this one.

One exceptional service organization purchased another yesterday, and I’m fearful for the final result. I’m not a believer in big-merger-as-corporate-strategy, and think most tend to destroy more shareholder value than they create.

I think it’s particularly dangerous when the organizations merging are differentiated on the basis of their service culture.

Amazon.com is a leader in creating technology that enables the service experience. From the algorithms that make ever intelligent point-of-purchase suggestions based on my product preferences, to the self-service technology that creates a credible, user-friendly experience that I have absolute confidence in, Amazon.com uses technology as well as anyone to add delight to the retail experience. They account for the bulk of my online shopping.

My Zappos knowledge is limited. One flawless service experience, little interaction with their famous world-class service. It is an environment where, like Amazon, the service promise is fully enabled to be kept, but in Zappos case, it is people that do it. Zappos relies on a corporate culture that is not the same as other online retailers. They work to hire great people that are service-oriented first and foremost. They rely on the employees to provide exceptional service and form close relationships with the customer.

What is clear about the models is that they are both excel at making service promises and keeping them, but where Amazon uses technology, Zappos uses a workforce that is widely regarded as exceptional amongst its peers and across industries.

As it stands, Amazon is reporting that service operations will not be integrated, that they will operate as standalone businesses, and that the deal is not about synergies. In my opinion, the cost savings associated with a shift from the people-driven service model to the technology-enabled service are too easy to identify. As a result, Zappos operations will eventually be integrated into Amazon. If so, it will ruin the element of the experience that differentiated Zappos from every other online retailer, including Amazon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So was Free Pastry Day a Success?

Starbuck’s business has always been about an exceptional service experience revolving around a high-quality product. Recently, it has engaged in refocusing on that core experience to create differentiation between its offering and the down-market competition.

Years of focus on efficiency of the operation resulted in a quality / productivity conflict that Starbuck’s is still working through – most famously when they closed retail locations across the country to deliver a service operations message that was, essentially, “slow down”.

An element of their experience that also deteriorated as they grew was the quality of their baked goods. When I first started going to Starbuck’s, they had the flexibility to source baked goods locally. Luckily, I was treated to Starbuck’s coffee and bagels courtesy of Victoria, BC’s amazing Mount Royal Bagel Factory. As they grew, the inefficiencies of this sourcing method and the inconsistency of the experience caused them to shift to a national menu. Of course, baked goods are less transportable and less consistent to local tastes than coffee, so the pastry section has became an weak spot in an otherwise high-quality experience.

As another indicator of their continued service improvement, they focused on the baked goods, one of the aspects of the experience that would show tangible proof of their efforts.

The launch for the improved pastry line was a national “Free Pastry Day” promotion, where any customer ordering a coffee product would receive a free pastry until 10:30 AM, to incite trial and spread the word as quickly as possible about the new pastry line while continuing to sell higher margin coffee.

I asked Baristas at three locations how “Free Pastry Day” went. An indicator of how seriously the retail operations are at Starbuck’s, each location had very definite answers. One store gave away 143 pastries, the next 312, and the 3rd 186. All said they stocked out that day. In two instances from today, the respondent said that pastry sales were still up noticeably from pre-launch. In one societally affirming comment, my usual Barista said, “it’s the second busiest day I’ve ever been here for, right behind ‘Free Coffee for Voters’ day”.

Quantitatively, the jury is still out on the new line. The Starbucks "Ideas in Action" Blog is roughly 65 / 35 with appreciative customers compared to those that went to stores with operational difficulties. The fact remains that Starbuck’s knows what they’re doing at improving the experience. Their “slow down” initiative struck at the core of the service experience (the starting place in any improvement initiative), while the pastry relaunch targets a significant tangible element of the service, making it most likely for customers to perceive a noticeable improvement. If you’re a Starbuck’s patron, what do you think they should target next?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hello, I'm the customer. How can I help YOU?

One of the most overlooked aspects of successful services is how well the customer knows their role in the experience and executes it. Sometimes it is an actual element of co-production of the experience – ordering your morning latte in that metered patois that baristas know as their second language. Sometimes it is just the attitude and energy you bring to the encounter. Either way, service providers usually fail grandly at taking this aspect of the experience into account.

You’d be amazed at the effect a little outward courtesy & friendliness has when you are the customer in a typical service experience. Try this exercise:

Next time you're a customer at a drive thru window and the voice of the front-line service provider behind the microphone chirps out a "hello" and asks for your order, ask them how they are doing before you rattle off your order like a West Point Cadet calling cadence.

Here’s my experience: The voice on the other end of the microphone perks up immediately. They often mention that no one has asked how they are yet today. Orders are quick and complete. At my favorite purveyor of coffee drinks, this simple question results in a free drink about 20% of the time. (It is unbelievably sad commentary that courtesy from a customer is so rare as to be roughly equvalent in value to the front line employee as a service recovery to a customer for a bad experience.)

It's easy to forget that even in routine service experiences, the customer has a role to play in making the experience a success. No one would dispute that a client that doesn't tell his lawyer the truth won't get very good representation in the courtroom, yet courtesy in initiating a service encounter at a drive thru is seen as unnecessary.

Before you complain about not getting “service with a smile”, ask yourself what you brought to the equation.

Today is Free Pastry Day at Starbucks. My requests are that you be legitimately courteous to the person serving you, and that you ask exactly why Starbucks needs to have a Free Pastry Day. (hint: There is a reason)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

They do what to you at the Drive Thru?

Stopped at a Starbucks drive-thru today – one I have never visited before (Yes, there is at least one in the lower 48).

Taped to the window was a long and passionate letter from the manager to customers, that started, “The results from our latest customer satisfaction survey are in, and they are NOT complimentary…”

“Aaahhh yes,” I thought, “An underperforming retail outlet coercing customers to help them “game” their customer satisfaction metric.” I’ve seen the tactic before, but usually from auto dealerships that ask you to rate their service and either suggest that so long as they didn't kill a family pet, you should give all “5’s” or (so much worse), they pre-complete the survey with "5's" and make you change them. (And we’re supposed to trust that the auto industry will adopt a customer focus as the nexus of their turnaround.)

This letter was actually a plea, from management, to customers, to make their complaints vocal, and give them an opportunity to recover the satisfaction of the experience.

Great idea, I thought. You’ve now done the absolute minimum you can to overcome the service issues at your business. A barely-visible 12-pt. type letter taped to the outside of the drive-thru window, beginning in a terse tone (to who?) and asking customers (if they read far enough) to sample their coffee, evaluate and complain, all while they’re collecting change and trying to distribute beverages through a car?

How about a 64 pt. type reminder, plastered across the bottom of the ordering menu, (two steps back in the service process) stating “If you’re order isn’t ABSOLUTELY to your tastes, please give us a chance to correct the mistake FOR FREE!”?

Or because the drive thru problem still exists, set up an account that customers can text from their mobile if their drink isn’t perfect. Provide a slip of paper with the instructions with each order. Have someone administer the account, replying with, “Please come back for a FREE DRINK to make it right”. If the customer can show the text at the window or counter, the drink is gratis.

Isn’t this still “gaming” the customer satisfaction survey?

Absolutely, but by providing better service.

How else could they get customers to tell them about their mistakes and give them a chance at service recovery?

My Flip Flop on Services & Social Media

This week I posted on the connections service companies have with their customer bases as relates to social media, suggesting that Ritz-Carlton, desiring a perception of exclusivity of their services, may not even need social media, or at least not in the way that Southwest Airlines, Starbucks, Whole Foods and others use it.

When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I read was a cnn.com article on the politically motivated bombing of a Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriot in Jakarta.

Here I go back on my earlier opinion.

Brand holds a critical place in service encounters. It reflects the expectations a consumer will hold about a service, even if they have never experienced it first hand. This is truer yet with global service brands. In Fort Myers, Florida, the search costs for safe accommodations is low enough that a customer can select from any number of brands. In Jakarta, this cost is higher, bringing Ritz into the consideration set even for those that would never pick them domestically. Simply, in Jakarta, the Ritz-Carlton brand represents a safe choice of accommodations – both physically and because it represents a set of service expectations that are familiar.

Because of this, the incident in Jakarta poses an even greater significance.

Ritz now finds itself faced with the immediate specter of a disaster response scenario, likely followed by a very public global initiative on ensuring the security of the entire global network of hotels, as well as other communications executions all aimed at restoring the confidence in the Ritz-Carlton brand as a safe destination for high-end global travelers.

Ritz started by issuing press releases, becoming more visible in media. They also used Twitter in the hours and days following the bombing, to the 200+ that follow the company socially. If the time investment in their social network was stronger, they could have done much more, more quickly, to create a dialogue with scared & concerned guests on why they can feel every bit as assured of the safety / security of the brand.

No longer do I hold the opinion that social media is relevant for some service brands and not others. Simply put, it is a critical company-customer dialogue tool for all service businesses. If you don’t see the use for it yet, hope that it won’t require a week like this week at the Ritz to make it clear.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

My Dive Bombs

My favorite local restaurant is a place where every day, they write the evening's menu on a chalkboard. They hold one or two standards, but everything else changes depending on seasonality / what is fresh. The tables are close together, so you can hear every word of the conversations going on around you.

Services are by nature heterogeneous experiences, but this place intensifies that effect with the changing menu and the proximity of the other patrons.

The result is an experience is sometimes otherworldly-good, sometimes a little more like average.

Last night, I went with expectations of spectacular, but had the average night. The ingredients weren’t as “in-season” as they intended, and the meal was overseasoned to compensate. The patron next to me spent 2 hours talking about his new car (who listens to that for an entire evening? I blame his company as much as I do him).

I score it a disappointment, due to the product quality at the center of the experience and the customer-on-customer interaction.

There's a national chain down the street, where the atmosphere is consistent and the menu is universally good. I've eaten there often, along with it’s likeness in other cities. The booths are encased in a restaurant-scale Great Wall of China, so I usually feel like the only party in the place, even when we’re not. They’ve crafted as homogeneous a dining experience as could exist.

I'm never disappointed, but I'm never amazed either.

Given the choice, I'll take 75% mediocre with a 25% chance of out-of-this world-spectacular over the experience that is universally good, but never exceptional. I imagine I am in the minority on this. As service designers, we need to know what experience we’re capable of, how often we can get there, and which customer we’re looking to entice.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Does a cement maker need social media?

What companies is social networking important to?

It seems more important in a B2C environment than a B2B environment, though I have a feeling that is about to change. Think about how your friendly neighborhood Project Manager could be using a value-chain “social” network to manage workflow, and you can see where this could be headed.

I would argue that social marketing is more important in a services environment than in a products environment.

This owes to the intangible nature of services. Because the end result of a service is the feeling you have after experiencing it, our standards on service quality are difficult to compare across experiences and companies. Customers getting together to describe the service processes they experienced and how they made them feel start to overcome those challenges.

Most service companies that until now have enjoyed the veil of vaguely defined quality are in for a rude awakening.

It also owes to the fact that in the service environment, the customer plays a role in successful service delivery. Effective dialogue between company and customer can improve the customer’s understanding of what role they are supposed to perform, which would ultimately lead to more service success and a greater rate of overall satisfaction.

Beyond these elements, a company’s customer base also matters.

Whole Foods and Ritz-Carlton are world-class service organizations / experience crafters. In the twitter environment, Whole Foods has over one million followers, while Ritz-Carlton, as of last night, had 214.

That seems about right.

Whole Foods has a collective movement aspect to their experience. The company is open to suggestions from the customer base about how to better serve the market. They’re also hopeful that customers will interact with each other to help and educate each other on everything from new recipes to sustainable consumption.

Ritz-Carlton doesn’t have the collective support element to their experience. In fact, theirs is built on a perception of individual attention, care and privilege as a guest of their hotels. It’s an experience that infers some exclusivity – a club like feel amongst those can afford it. (I was going to say that you wouldn’t see the Skull and Bones Society with a public website, but my factchecker proved me wrong)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Three reservations in one day.

Friday night dinner with my wife, mid-week professional dinner, and a haircut to look a little less shaggy at both.

In each case, the person taking the appointment was courteous and helpful and gave me the exact time slot I wanted – everything I could ask for.

It is well established that the reservation is my initial customer role in the successful delivery of a dinner or haircut service. I expect the requirement and comply. I would be taken off guard if, for example, I had to make reservations to spend an hour at the gym, but not at a reasonable restaurant.

But I hate making reservations. It’s time consuming, a hassle to remember the appropriate period ahead of time, and I would prefer that part of the experience go away completely. Open Table is a dramatic improvement, but I'm not a fan of model overall.

My Question: Are reservation systems still necessary, or could restaurants, salons and other reservation-taking experiences (doctor’s offices?) manage their demand the way other industries do and eliminate them? Airlines have long managed their supply & demand by changing prices on certain lanes in certain directions, putting off-peak seats on sale, and generally using price to balance these expensive networks. Energy companies do the same thing, charging less for off-peak power use to bring balance to their networks.

Could a restaurant manage demand by changing price (increasing for peak slots on weekend nights, decreasing for Tuesday’s & Wednesday’s), adding service value on off-peak nights (for example, most restaurants are provisioned early in the week. Could a special entrée or a “restaurant regulars program” be structured around evenings early in the week?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Get to know me: Southwest Airlines

A Service experience arrived in the mail today.

I recently flew my 16th southwest leg, granting me a Rapid Rewards ticket for a free flight, and initiating an entire set of service encounters. Two things make the reward experience better than their competitors:

The first is the beautiful simplicity of the Rapid Rewards program. Sixteen legs is easier to remember (and aim for) than accruing 25,000 miles (is it 30,000?) in any other airline’s reward system. I always know when I need two more legs for a ticket on Southwest, but I never know when I only need 1,200 more miles for a competitor ticket. So, Southwest gets the business whenever I’m close.

Second, they tell me when I have receive reward. Twice. It’s like they actually want me to use it, rather than have it sit unnoticed and unused until the term expires.

The first communication was an immediate email, congratulating me on my ticket, while the second was a letter. Now of course both were filled with cross-promotions I didn’t look at, but the letters are filled with congratulations, genuine auto-generated gratitude, and a prize (drink tickets) to “hold me over”.

Most special, the letter contained a small customized element, suggesting that I use a drink ticket to treat myself to a “Lo-Carb Monster energy drink” the next time I flew. Not coincidentally, a lo-carb Monster was the only drink I actually paid for during the 16 flights that resulted in my ticket.

Now, I could see how this tactic could backfire if it wasn’t carefully considered, (“Treat your self to four Bloody Mary’s next time you’re on the late flight from Chicago to St. Louis!”) but as it was, the suggestion was benign and demonstrated that they were at least watching how I act in their environment in the hopes of serving me better, so that I buy more of their travel experience.

Exceptional service companies use information and technology as an enabler of the service promise and using customer information to provide a more customized experience is an often attempted / seldom successful form of doing so. Southwest excels at it. Who else do you know that "gets it"? How have you seen them use technology / information to better deliver on their brand / service promise?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Service Mashup: Quicken Online & The Electric Company

My energy company (sorry, some time ago, we stopped calling them electric companies / power companies) wants me to be environmentally friendly.

I know this, because every month, they send me a brochure on energy-saving tips using the kind of glossy paper for which the printing process alone would brownout a small town.

Of course, most of their “tips” involve consumption, of everything from a programmable thermostat to “investment” in a energy-saving refrigerator.

As a great value-added service, they could help me measure and manage my energy saving efforts. Couldn’t they team up with someone like Quicken for this? Something online, where not only could I view the month-to-month and year-over-year usage reports (reports that come to me today on printed cardstock), but track efficiency improvements based on decisions I make.
After all, if I am going to “invest” in that tankless water heater to save myself thousands in energy costs, I would like to know that I’m truly realizing the cost and environmental ROI.

Question: If network uptime is table stakes when it comes to home utilities, what additional services would you like to see the companies that provide you power / natural gas, water, garbage & recycling services, telecommunications services offer to add value to how you use them?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More on "My Project"

So...Why am I doing this? What makes this subject matter worthwhile? What will make this space worth following?

Because I’m a practitioner of services marketing and management, I want to use this as a venue to expand my own ability to evaluate and develop services, and build the case for a tighter linkage in service-based businesses between marketing and operations management functions.

Because work on services marketing and management are underdeveloped (with apologies to Sasser, Heskett, Bendapudi, Bitner, Brown, Barry and several others making quantum leaps in the field), I want to develop a shared understanding of the areas of greatest need for development of a “better way to do things” across service businesses.

Because every one of us experiences dozens of services on a day-to-day basis, there is a high level of latent consumer expertise. I want to tap into that, where I can, to gain the service perspectives of educated experts, applied experts and complete non-experts on what makes service businesses successful. That is, everyone reading this will (or should) have a perspective on the subject matter, from what delights them to what pisses them off.

If any of this seems compelling to you, follow along. Contribute, make suggestions, and criticize. I'm an expert, but not THE expert. That would be the collective YOU.

If it doesn’t, I appreciate your time here, but the long tail of the web is infinite. Go find something that interests you.