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Monday, August 31, 2009

All day tweet log - 20 encounters later.

The tweet log of every service encounter from a single Monday. 20 nonrepeated, distinct service encounters provided by 21 companies. The day ended up under the 25 I thought I’d hit. I will do this on an upcoming weekend day. Five encounters were provided by two or more companies working together. The day definitely could have had more entries, but a single interaction type was only counted once. Thus, every time I accessed the internet, used my cell phone, used electricity, etc. were included as a single entry. To not do so would have created an order-of-magnitude increase in the number of interactions. Here is the full list in reverse order of their occurence:

20. Picking up the mail. Service encounters definitely winding down. This, followed by the blog post, will be the last of the evening.

19. Cable used for the first time today. What is the percentage of people that watch tv while surfing? Why isn't content developed for that?

18. Service Interaction with hockeymonkey.com. Autogenerated (emailed) order status update, provided on their behalf by UPS.

17. Target for groceries. The variety of merchandise is exceeded by the variety of the clientele today.

16. Why hasn't the doctor's office waiting room evolved sincew Norman Rockwell was painting them? Magazines? Seriously?

15. It is a fun day when you can cram legal services and medical services into the same 12 hours.

14. Dean & Deluca for lunch. Decided I needed coffee more. It is good to have options.

13. Through 6h of work, the most used service has to be AT&T conference call services. Mondays.

12. Called health care prvdr. Uneasy making appointment through an IVR, as the other party doesn't confirm / 'officially' agree.

11. USPS: When you have absolutely, positively no free alternatives for the correspondence you’re sending.

10. Radio, in the car. With the number of self-funded service ads radio is putting out, is that industry is better / worse off than print media?

9. Using the wireless service provider to send the tweet counts as #9. That over / under of 25 may be in jeopardy early.

8. Starbucks. Not daily, but frequent enough they know me. I'll do a week on the service (ppl, process, phys. evidence) in local coffee chains.

7. Roads & highways. My taxes pay for it - I’m counting it, representative of all the gov't services we pay for. (& daily take for granted)

6. Why don’t banks provide more self-directed (online) money management tools? Its like they left a cost accountant in charge of new services.

5. End of the month doesn’t come & go without at least a little online banking.

4. 25 minutes into my day, I’ve used 5 distinct services, including twitter to provide these updates and the home ISP to access twitter.

3. Ever consider it takes 2 service providers to bring you a hot shower – 1 to bring the water, and 1 to heat it (gas co. or electric co.)?

2. My day doesn’t start without coffee. Coffeemaker requires electricity. By transitive, my day doesn’t start without electricity.

1. The services we use most frequently are public utilities. Could energy companies raise their profile, or will we just take them for granted?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

All-Day Service Tweet Log!

Tomorrow, I’m tweeting every service experience I have throughout the day.

Partially to prove a point on just how may services we interact with every day that we pay for, partially because while I try not to take the interactions for granted, I’ve never actually accounted for every one of them in the span of a day.

It’s a work day, so it is only a partial answer on the number of distinct services we interact with on a day-to-day basis. As such, I may have a weekend version as well, depending on the results of this one.

Stay tuned.

I didn't get what I came for, so why am I so happy?

Can a service provide satisfaction if you don’t get what you were looking for when you engaged it?

Obviously, if you get something better or more than you expected, but what about if you get less?

Example: Can it be a successful trip to an urgent care clinic if you leave without fixing the health issue you came in with?

Mine from yesterday was. No wait, processing time was a very reasonable 5 minutes (waiting room time was why I put off the visit until my wife threatened guest-room banishment), I got to explain my symptoms to a very compassionate doctor who took in all information and asked a battery of follow-on questions that made me feel as though the discovery process was indeed working its magic.

But at the end of the visit, we still didn’t have a full diagnosis, hadn’t prescribed anything to make the condition better.

Still, I felt 1,000% better leaving than what I did arriving. Why? Because I understand (and it was explained to me) the process of taking tests, awaiting results, analyzing and using for treatment. The issue I had wasn’t fixed, but I understood what the service providers’ next steps were to be, what mine would be, and the process for successfully bringing, through multiple engagements, this service interaction to a successful close.

A single service encounter doesn’t always result in the satisfaction of the need that a person has when they engage it. Those that are more complex, (legal advice, and architect’s services, as examples) will often require multiple iterations before closing in on ultimate success.

Nevertheless, it makes sense as service process owners to understand the nature of the service we’re providing. When it is impossible to provide final resolution in a single encounter, reinforce the progress that was made in the current encounter, the process that leads to a successful result and everyone’s role (customer included) in creating eventual success.

Swedish for Magical Kingdom

I’ve been a longtime fan of IKEA – partially because I like the design aesthetic, but mostly because I love how they marry their retail experience with their intended target customer.

I’ve had non-fans describe IKEA customers as “people cheap enough to assemble their own furniture”, but that misses it. I would characterize IKEA customers more as “proud design DIY’ers”. I’d wager there is a fairly high correlation between IKEA customers and people that use TaxCut or Turbo Tax to prepare & file their own income taxes.

IKEA owns the entire experience, from product design & production through the retail & online environment. Consequently, the retail experience and the products themselves fit together very cohesively.

There is one intended path through the store. It is marked with arrows and limited “outs” once you begin. They want you to see their product environments in the progression they intend, rather than just allowing you to search out what you’re looking for, and leaving without seeing the rest of the catalog. This leads to project ideas, design ideas and much more impulse buying than goes on elsewhere.

Stores are configured in three separate sections, so people can follow the experience from well-articulated design concepts through to execution.

Products arranged by application – this is everyone’s favorite. Seemingly miles of display bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens commodes, offices, etc., all configured as fully designed spaces. Tags adorn everything so that customers can identify the items and where they are kept. IKEA provides measuring tape, pencils and paper as tools to let that spontaneous project take over and start redesigning your living spaces on the fly.

Products arranged by function – where the ideas that took shape in the design area get fulfilled. Sections dedicated to furniture, appliances, textiles, art and the like.

Wharehouse – where the famous unassembled furniture lives. Odds are that anything you wrote down in the design section that had a grid reference like “G7”, which points you to an aisle & section of the warehouse where you pick up the boxes that will, with your own effort, become that armoire you couldn’t resist.

Everything not related to the main retail experience keeps the IKEA look & feel, but is provided as an absolute loss leader. They know that their experience is a commitment and takes substantial time. If the cafeteria was expensive, customers would leave for lunch, intending to come back, but never really doing so. As a result, my pasta was $1.59, and my mushroom bisque $0.79, and BOTH were of better quality than what I would have received at a fast casual restaurant down the street. Their onsite child care is configured similarly.

Comedy acts have poked reasonable fun at the difficulty of IKEA furniture assembly. The 5 hours I spent in 2002 putting a china cabinet with an allen key bears witness that it is at least somewhat merited. But even in this, IKEA customers wear those experiences like a badge. In the end, they’re proud design do-it-yourselfers, and IKEA creates an environment that is exceptional at serving that segment.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I learn to carry cash again.

I slowed down on posts last week, mostly because I was vacationing at a cottage in Northern Ontario.

No cell coverage, no internet, no data feed to my Blackberry – in other words, it was great.

Not surprisingly, local businesses operate with the same level of information connectivity, which is to say, not much. After the second time I arrived at a restaurant to see a “No Visa / MasterCard / Debit. Cash Only.” sign, I caught on and started carrying money for the first time in years.

Now, I’m the first person to say that a key component of a successful business is to make it easy for customers to pay you for the services they consume. At the same time, it was interesting to see how transacting in cash changed the service experience. It took longer to take money, do the math, make change, and return it than the “swipe & sign” we’ve become accustomed to. (I don’t care what Tim Horton’s says on this matter) In that time, dialogue inevitably occurred, and the result was richer touches than the mechanical credit payment process. The extended interactions were welcome and I enjoyed talking to hardworking people about their days.

Of course, I could be wrong on the cause of the positive interactions in this case.

It is entirely possible that the conversations surrounding the service interactions were deeper because I was in a small community where life is a little slower and people more attuned to consideration of others.

It could be the halo effect of me being on vacation and free from all of the other electronic connectivity shackles we have imposed upon ourselves. I did have a lot of time on my hands.

Regardless of the cause, however, the lesson applies:

When designing service processes, take into account the frame of mind the customer has and the feeling you want to leave them with at every stage.

If your experience is built on quality and depth of interaction, then a little thing like how a customer pays for and completes the service is not a little thing at all. You may want to personalize the interaction, or even extend it beyond what it operationally possible in terms of efficiency.

If the experience is built around customer efficiency of completing the interaction and moving on, such as at a drive thru, configure your processes to aid in that.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

...so bring your thirst, but leave your Visa card.

At a Tim Horton’s stop yesterday, I tried to pay by Visa. No dice. MasterCard, debit or cash, were the options I was given.

Of course, I had no cash on me. I’m not a MasterCard customer, and my U.S. bank cards don’t work for direct debits. I didn’t get my large double-double. (The same way Starbuck’s has its own language, so does Tim’s. “double-double” refers to servings of cream and sugar, respectively.)

I asked my server why Tim Horton’s doesn’t honor Visa, and didn’t get any real answer.

I had thought that it might be because of the service fees Visa charges retailers for purchases. That would be understandable. Retailers have created a reasonable amount of public outcry against the charges Visa levies, seemingly only because they are the credit market leader.

Yet in researching it, a few unverifiable internet sources stated that the reason is because the Visa verification process is too slow, and that the already-long lines at Tim’s would be made longer with a Visa option. (MasterCard verification is apparently much faster) If operational efficiency were the reason for not accepting Visa, it would make a little more sense than outrage over service charges. The desires of the few (would-be Visa customers) sacrificed for the better service experience for the many.

Regardless of motivation, very few retailers taken the action that Tim Horton’s has, and for a good reason. While denying Visa access to the Canadian coffee market leader is a definite statement, Tim’s breaks a major service (really a business) rule: unless payment experience is a differentiator, (and it SELDOM is) make it as easy as possible for customers to pay you. In turning me away without apology, they may have intended “We’re opposed to the fees Visa charges for transactions” or, “We’re trying to keep this line moving so that no-one has to wait too long”, but the message I received was, “Your business isn’t valuable to me”.

What is happening onstage? Does it need to?

Had the chance to experience a unique dining experience on the weekend. The Richtree Market Restaurant is configured as thirteen food stations where meal components are prepared in front of guests as they meander through a vast restaurant, picking entrées, sides and deserts in their own preferred combination.

To complete the experience, guests are given a card as they arrive, which they give to “market stall keepers” upon ordering, who swipe the card for a running tally of what you’ve ordered, to be paid for in a bundle at the end of the meal.

I was there for breakfast, where the individual making my omelet struggled mightily with the turn, eventually breaking it into thirds just to complete the task. Of course, because I was watching, she then had to serve the broken omelet. It tasted great, but I felt for the server – cooking a perfect omelet is tough enough without a crowd of strangers surrounding you, evaluating your prowess with a spatula.

The experience served as a good reminder: service businesses uniquely have the ability to determine where to draw the line of what activities are performed onstage vs. offstage. The general rule of thumb is that if the process requires direct customer input or adds to the experience by being performed in front of the customer, it should be considered as an onstage interaction.

In the case of a Japanese steakhouse, the food preparation is a large part of the experience, so much so that to remove it would diminish the overall experience. At Richtree? More difficult to determine. Certainly the food preparation adds to the “open market” feel of the restaurant, but perhaps there are other ways to achieve the effect without putting a team of non-performer cooks directly onstage.

Its worth considering as you look at your service design: Are there elements being performed in front of customers that don’t need to be? Are there activities that occur offstage today that would increase customers’ affinity for your service if they could see you performing them? Is my best (or the right) talent aligned with those activities that happen as direct consumer interactions?

Monday, August 17, 2009

You’re not worthy! You’re not worthy!

The Fairmont chain of hotels has a reciprocal agreement with various airlines to provide air mile recognition for hotel stays.

I didn’t know about this, because my airline never told me, even though they have enough data from the airline miles credit card to know that I stay in a variety of hotels reasonably frequently, including the Fairmont chain.

Nevertheless, upon seeing my airline’s logo prominently displayed on their rotating advertisement board with the claim that they would provide air miles for Fairmont service experiences, I inquired at the front desk if I could have air miles for my current stay.

“No” was the kind reply. (a reply I’m getting used to at the Fairmont) “Your stay is covered by a conference rate, and as such, the exchange of miles for stay nights does not apply. But I see you travel often, and if you like, we could set you up so that future stays would be credited.”

Don’t bother. Yes, I travel reasonably often, but most often in association with a conference, so by your definition, my business will never be good enough to qualify for the mileage credit.

Most loyalty programs are awful, and this one is no different.

What constitutes “loyalty” is defined from the company perspective, rather than the customers. I don’t care that I’m on a conference rate. The conference gave me 8 hotels with rates to choose from, and I chose yours. At the end of the day, I am selecting Fairmont because of (a clearly misplaced) affinity for the brand.

Most rewards programs are not tangible enough for users to understand when they are applicable, when they are not, how to claim a reward-eligible service encounter and how to redeem it. Whether this is by design (service companies wanting the benefit of loyalty program activity without associated cost of redemption) or by a benign-but-poor communications strategy, the result is the same customer confusion.

Loyalty and rewards programs have been so “me-too’ed” that there is little differentiation, and so little point to selecting one vs. the other. Their benefit is quickly approaching negligible.

With the exception of Southwest Airlines.

Fly 16 times, get a free trip. Clear, tangible, egalitarian. Kansas City-to-St. Louis is the rewards equivalent of Miami-to-Seattle. They show legitimate excitement when I get a reward ticket, and when I redeem it. In terms the Fairmont probably wouldn’t understand, a stay is a stay is a stay. Thank you for your business. Please give us more, and under any circumstances.

Unless your intent is to design a loyalty program that identifies true customer loyalty activity and rewards it accordingly (and with the appropriate level of excitement for a customer that is choosing your brand time-after-time in a sea of options), save yourself the effort. Go to your largest competitor’s website, copy the text of their program, execute a find / replace to insert your name where theirs currently is, and call it a day. I get the sense that most companies engage in this anyway.

Who exactly is listening to the customer?

When you construct your customer listening posts, are you planning how the information will be used, and by whom? Does it factor into what posts are developed, and how the communications flow through your organization to its intended audiences?

I forgot my cell phone charger in the car while checking into a Sheraton for a recent stay.

No big deal, I asked the valet desk to help me retrieve it. The staff was more than happy to assist, though rather than bring my car up to have me search the floor boards of the car in the busy valet drop area, he brought me down into the underground parking garage, which we had to reach via the service passages of the hotel.

Through the hallways that only service employees typically use, it was easy to see the importance Sheraton places on making the voice of the customer visible to service staff. Information from various customer listening posts literally lined the halls – bulletin boards with guest comments, identification of top performers in every service category as ranked by customer comment and survey, service operations benchmarks from other hotels in the Sheraton network, and boards with a periodic recording of metrics from customer satisfaction surveys. Everywhere you looked there was evidence of what the customer was thinking about their experience. Other than the customer satisfaction board, all were qualitative in nature, with customer or manager narrative doing the talking. All had a positive reinforcement intent.

As I returned back through the halls with my charger in hand, I noticed the mirror that represents the last thing a service employee sees before they step back onstage with live customers – a wall-length mirror that simply said, “You are Sheraton”. I’m sure this is replicated in many other hotels, but in addition to the positive reinforcement I saw lining their halls with customer feedback, I can’t help but correlate the use of customer information I saw with the spectacular service I received while a guest.

Listening posts are more important in service organizations than they are in product environments. Of course they serve as an early indicator of quality issues, but they also can be a source of process improvement or even innovation.

Unfortunately, most service organizations don’t have enough or the right listening posts to begin with, and even fewer use that information effectively. I often hear the response that listening post information, particularly satisfaction scores, should be kept far away from the line, lest the information fall into the hands of competitors. This kind of thinking doesn’t truly have either the customer or improvement of service at its heart.

Listening post information is used in a wide variety of strategic and managerial decisions. The best managerial decision, however, is to let your line employees responsible for the experience have the information and use it to improve service, processes, and the experience overall.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Service Rant: Ticketmaster

The music industry has seen an unbelievable amount of change in the last decade, mostly brought about by the advent of file sharing. First, music was tied into expensive bundles on hard media distributed through tightly held channels. Then it was free and distributed by anyone with a T1 line. Now it costs money again, may be as expensive as before, but since the bundled offerings (CD’s / LP’s) have been pulled apart to allow consumers greater choice over what they purchase, overall value has risen dramatically.

Personally, I love it.

It moves an experience (what else is music but an experience) from a product-based environment to a service-based environment.

But it has also changed other elements of the business model. The profit comes less from record sales and much more from live entertainment. Today’s most successful acts are those with the largest live audiences / followings. Because the new success formula requires a heavy touring schedule, audiences are treated to more of their favorite artists on a regular basis. More touring bands increases the available supply of live music options, keeping ticket prices very reasonable through a period of growth.

The problem that exists in the new model is similar to what it was in the previous one – the distribution channel using its relative power to extract margin from a consumer base with few short-run alternatives. It’s an extremely shortsighted strategy, given that it recently led to the downfall of the media product-based business model of the recording industry.

A recent example: Floor tickets to a recent arena show cost $45.25 apiece, which I would say is fair for the experience. Add to that a convenience charge of $10.05 each and an order processing charge of $2.60. That’s 28% in add-on fees!

Surely something as well-named as a “convenience charge” has tangible value tied to it, right? Actually, the convenience charge covers Ticketmaster’s costs of providing tickets at local ticket outlet locations, staffing call centers and ongoing maintenance of its website. So I’m essentially being charged for Ticketmaster’s costs to hang their shingle in public.

The processing fee? Covers Ticketmaster’s costs for taking the order, arranging for shipping or coordinating with the box office will call – essentially the cost elements of fulfillment, less the cost of shipping, which will cost extra, even if your tickets are emailed to you – the marginal cost of which has to be approaching $0. (In all fairness, standard mail is free, so at least Ticketmaster is willing to front you a 1st class stamp, if you’re not in a hurry)

Cost-plus pricing models seldom work in manufacturing industries, and far less in service industries. That Ticketmaster hasn’t found another way to extract margin or consumer surplus shows them as unimaginative.

Their defense is that they have the right to seek fair return on their investment and efforts, which to me sounds a lot like the point-of-view that the RIAA members had before their business model was made obsolete and they started suing their customers for leaving rather than improving their service / product mix.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Service Rant: Amazon.com

I’m disappointed in Amazon.com.

In their 1st twitter foray, they’ve abandoned the thing that I appreciate most about their retail experience – their ability to take my page view and purchase history, construct a startlingly close customer profile and use that for timely product purchase suggestions.

Instead, their twitter presence (amazondeals) behaves like a social media Kmart blue-light special, marketing products to me without regard for appropriate interest. It takes the unbelievably solid permission-based model they’ve developed over years to become the most trusted name in online retailing and moved the brand experience closer to spam.

I understand that social media is very rapidly becoming table stakes for all global brands, and that Amazon may have felt that they needed to "claim their territory", and could settle for getting a viable model into operation and then come back later to improve the experience to look, feel, and interact with customers like the retail site.

They should have taken more time to construct a twitter experience consistent with their flagship online retail experience. It likely wouldn’t have taken much to add a few fields / questions to the Amazon customer profile, request that customers update profiles with their social media personae, and then use the existing retail customer preference profiles to deliver timely, personalized, relevant and permission-based marketing to Amazon users via their facebook / myspace / twitter accounts.

Even if this task would have taken awhile, I have to think it would have been worth it. Their first try is brand deteriorating rather than brand-building.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Twitter = Ma Bell?

Everyone is talking about twitter.

Probably because everyone is using it, for personal and business purposes. As a way to keep in touch. As a marketing vehicle. As the entire service operation.

Even though twitter has been around since 2006, it is the odds-on favorite to be “the big idea” of 2009.

It is still in its infancy as a business model, but how will twitter do as a public utility?

Utilities have a unique service model. As network-based businesses, they have to manage capacity surges. twitter has already experienced this, and has the outage history to prove it.

They require layers of redundancy built into their operations to resist failure, as twitter found out this week when a DDOS attack brought the site down for several hours.

They need service operability in times of crisis, to the point where they can be considered critical services. twitter has already seen this with the Iranian election, which kept them operating by Presidential decree to help Iranians deprived of any other media outlet beyond planned system outages.

Twitter is developing very strong social bonds with users, primarily through the network value of its other users.

Utilities, though, are often taken for granted once they mature. Will this happen as companies and individuals view twitter as an indispensable part of their lives / business models / marketing plans?

Will customers start to define value in more economic terms, with service features such as “up-time” seen more and more as table stakes than differentiator? Will expectations increase and tolerance for inadequate service levels, quite high today, decrease with ever more demanding customers. Will we complain about twitter the way we do today about the power company, the cable company, the gas company and the water utility?

Twitter will have to survive a lot of challenges to get to face these problems, but I have to wonder if we will someday look at this novel service for interpersonal and business connectivity as an indispensable utility, with the same service expectations we have come to expect from our mobile service provider.

A seat can’t be sold on a plane in flight.

Starbuck’s has a fairly well-known promotion running nationwide, selling any iced grande beverage for $2 after 2 p.m. to customers who present a receipt from earlier in the day. The driving factor behind this promotion is a need to balance coffee sales with the costs of their service operation.

It’s not an unusual problem.

One of the largest issues service companies face is balancing customer demand and service capacity. Unlike products companies, where inventory can be built up during periods of slow demand, inventory in service companies is extremely perishable.

Service companies use techniques to predict and / or smooth demand, so they can manage service capacity.

Airlines, (and all network-based business models) use multiple methods – a defined reservation system aimed at managing the flow of bookings, dynamic pricing models aimed at capturing consumer surplus as seats on a given flight get more scarce, lower prices on lanes with less volume, and even (to a limited extent) intentionally overselling flights.

Energy companies give a price break to heavy power users in off-peak times.

Some restaurants and movie theatres don’t accept coupons at peak times.

Starbuck’s also has a demand / capacity problem during their morning peak, when their service operation is unbalanced in the opposite way. They’ve tested a few fixes, the most prominently a separate line for drip coffee customers that are typically quicker to serve.

Rather than speed something based on an ease-of-service aspect of the operation, why not focus capacity management customer benefit? Starbuck’s has (at least) two identifiable sources regular customers: Holders of the Starbucks coffee card and the Duetto Visa card. How about a separate line for card holders, i.e. loyal customers? It solves some of the operations issue and rewards brand loyalty. If that alone doesn’t drive sufficiently consistent volume through the “fast” line, expand it to include anyone filling a Starbuck’s-branded travel mug, helping increase merchandise sales.

I know people who would purchase a coffee card and / or a mug for a chance to skip the line.

Predicting and addressing or smoothing demand is critical in service operations, but if managed, inconsistent demand can also be a source of customer loyalty or satisfaction.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If a service fails in the forest…

My power was out in my neighborhood from about 1:30 to 2:15 AM today. (I have a 4 month-old, so I’m up at odd hours every now and then. There may be a forthcoming post about what happens on your cable channels between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00 AM)

I made my call to the power company and settled back in to sleep.

Nothing was damaged as a result of the outage.

No one was adversely impacted, no morning alarms missed.

I’m willing to bet that I’m one of the few people that even noticed until they saw the microwave flashing 12:00 AM this morning.

So why was I upset?

My call to the power company. Like most service organizations, they have implemented an intelligent front-end interactive voice response (IVR). It took in some critical details (essentially, “Is your power out? If so, who are you & where do you live?”), let me know that the call had been registered and automatically ended the interaction. At first, I thought that it made sense. There really isn’t much they can do to respond to an individual customer when there is a neighborhood-level outage. Still, I felt unsatisfied with the whole experience.

The format of the IVR technically did everything it could to take in the information needed to address the problem. From a clinical standpoint, technology enabled the service compliant to be recorded and addressed.

What the IVR didn’t effectively do was acknowledge that there was an issue and explain what they were doing to fix the problem. Given the one-sided nature of the exchange, it made me feel like the power company was as asleep as its customers at a time when their service was failing.

It wouldn’t have required an empathetic human to give me comfort that the problem was being worked on to restore full service. Even a quick comment generically stating how “crews work around the clock to ensure continuity of service in the event of an interruption” would have given the comfort I needed.

Technology is used to enable service performance and make interactions more efficient, often concurrently. When considering where to implement it, empathetically consider the state of the customer, and provide that extra assurance that you’re addressing their root concern.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I look a gift horse directly in the mouth.

Should you complain when receiving a service free-of-charge?

I expressed some dissatisfaction this weekend when taking glass products to my local community recycling depot.

The source of my displeasure was that this was my 2nd attempt at doing my green duty to all the glass we’ve consumed over the past few months.

The previous Sunday morning, I rolled up, ready to do some recycling, only to find the recycling depot closed. A sign on the locked gate clearly informs all that recycling hours are Tuesday-Friday, 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, and Saturdays, 8 AM to 4 PM. Which means that in my week, I have exactly 8 hours available to engage in this form of environmental stewardship.

So, when an absolutely friendly volunteer asked me how I was, I replied honestly that I wished I could take care of this tomorrow, and that their hours of operation were inconvenient. The response from the attendant expressed, “Hey, we’re here doing a public service. The least you can do is show up when it’s convenient for us.”

I think I was in the right to complain, but it sure didn’t feel welcome.

My take is that a service is free, likely because of what the provider gets out of it.

Their benefit is usually monetary, either from what they receive in return for a by product of the service or from third party who acts as payer for the service (though if funded by tax dollars, you could argue that the service is not truly free). It turns out both are involved in the case of the recycler. If this is the case, the relationship looks very much like a traditional service transaction, and even if you aren’t paying anything at the time you use it, the party performing the service still gains enough benefit to hear your criticism.

Even if the benefit is truly altruistic, the provider has the objective of maximizing how much altruism they can produce, which still requires the fundamentals of good service management. Alerting them to delivery issues helps them correct for the shortcomings and provide a service capable of doing ever more good.

Of course, I’ve seen cases where my opinion is not appreciated nearly as much as I think it would be.

So I ask again: Should you ever complain for service that is being rendered for free? When and in what circumstances? When (if ever) shouldn’t you?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why not survey your customers on how THEY did today?

I receive a couple of customer satisfaction surveys every week where the company asks me to evaluate the performance of the company and the overall experience along several lines of measurement.

But since service experiences require input from the customer to execute a successful experience, why don’t service companies survey the customer on their own performance?

This may sound silly, but it could lead service development in the direction of getting the customer to take on a larger part in production, recrafting of external communications around customer role, and ultimately, improvement of satisfaction from the direction of customer input.

Think of what your service business could do with quantitative responses to questions like:

• I clearly explained what I wanted the person serving me to do.
• I gave the server (company) proper information.
• I understand the process associated with this service.
• I understand my role in providing this service.
• I was friendly to the employee.
• The service was a pleasant experience overall.

If you knew the answers to those questions, what are the chances that you would spend additional time & effort on educating the customer on their role, or how to effectively interact with your service employees? What are the chances you might redesign parts of the service to be more user friendly, or have more personal contact at places in the delivery process where your customers are getting lost?