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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A 'free skate' on customer roles.

This weekend, I watched my 5 year-old cruise easily through skills test his first formal skating class.

I wasn’t surprised, but not because I see in my son a budding Gretzky. He enjoys skating and puts effort into the activity – in formal practices, when we skate together recreationally and on his own. (An aside, I highly recommend Talent Is Overrated for terrific reading on where "innate ability" actually comes from.)

I mention all this because skating lessons, like any form of education, represents an experience where the customer role is generally greater than the role of the service provider. It’s the extreme example that proves that while different services have varying levels of commitment, all have a role the customer must know, accept, and be willing & able to perform. Without these, the ability to create successful outcomes is substantially diminished.

Proper attention to customer role is one of the more neglected aspects of service businesses. Companies invest in employee training, employee process and employee-enabling technology, but too seldom make the same investments in customer training, productivity & quality.

The result: companies know their role exceedingly well. They execute their role in the encounter, and feel that their outcomes are generally successful. From this vantage point, when failures occur, it is usually because the customer hasn’t performed in their role correctly.

To begin understanding the gap between customer role and performance, start by asking (and getting customers to help answer) questions like:

What is the customer role in delivering a successful service experience?

How well do customers know the impact their role has to a successful outcome?

Are customers willing to perform their role?

Do they have the knowledge, tools and abilities to perform their role reliably?

Answers to these questions help guide us to decisions that make customers higher performers on the part of the encounter that they fulfill, whether it be educating customers on their role, giving them tools to fulfill it, redesigning processes to make their role simpler / smaller; or making the outcome more appealing.

My son’s skating lessons are a successful service experience because he knows his role (mainly practice) and has the tools to perform it (mostly ice time). He values the outcome highly and performs his role accordingly. Understanding customers' varying knowledge, willingness and ability to perform their service roles helps make improvements that lead to more successful encounters.

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