Every business is a service business.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is Service?

As the service community active in social media rushes to define terminology that supports still emerging business models, (where SCRM begins and ends, how to make CX & CEM meaningful for everyone, and “now that we’ve got one, what the heck is a Chief Customer Officer supposed to do?”) I’m spending some time on a simpler question.

It’s not new, but one I see peers, academics, industry experts, even the Twitter #custserv group struggle with from time-to-time. The confusion is partially born out of our deep bank of experiences as consumers, which gives definitions for "service" a Potter Stewart, I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of fuzziness.

Adding to the problem is that service has three accurate and potentially concurrently applicable meanings. We use any and all of them, based on our own experience and perspectives from within the organizations we work.

It can be a business model that relies on a performance or process to satisfy customers. In this sense, service can be the rough equivalent to a “product line” of intangible goods, or even an revenue model for an entire company.

It can be the process or performance act itself – either the entire operation that delivers an experience to customers, or a part of it.

It can be the support provided to customers that interact with a company’s products or services – what we tend to consider when we’re talking about “customer service”.

The distinctions between them are important, but only to an en extent.

Whether you’re speaking about an enterprise or a customer encounter, whether you use it for internal or external audiences, the core idea is simple, and it is the same: Service is the process of making and fulfilling promises to customers.

You can put the act of making and fulfilling a promise into each one of the definitions of “service” that are typically used, and they not only work, but are made even more distinct from each other.

I’ve said here that service is important because every business is a service business. What I mean is that every organization is in business to make and fulfill promises.

If you want to get better at service, one way is to take a long look at how your organization deals with promises. How you make them to customers, how you make it possible for them to be fulfilled, and ultimately how - or how well - you keep them.


Jim Joseph said...

So true. As a brand, you have to decide upfront what the approach to customer service will be. What you will "promise" as you say. And it should be consistent with the other elements of the brand as well. Deciding upfront is the key to good execution later. Jim Joseph

Chris Reaburn said...


Thanks for the comment & for stopping by!

There are a lot of ways to describe this business fundamental - many more complex, though few that can be as complete.

The promise construct works because it is so easily understood by people charged with creating and fulfilling them.

While service performance is often described in somewhat fuzzy terms by professional managers, we all know the feeling of having had promises broken.

We've all known the anxiety of being on the other end as well, having made a promise and not upheld it.

It's a simple & useful construct for loyalty as well - if you keep your promises to me, I tend to think more of you and want to associate with you further. If you tend to break those promises - whether through your fault or not - I tend to see you as less than reliable and invest less in you.