Every business is a service business.

We apply the tools that make service businesses stronger through better strategy, innovation, marketing and day-to-day management.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Compete Through Service Symposium: Guest Post by Sybil Stershic

Today's guest post comes from Sybil Stershic, author of the Quality Service Marketing blog and the tremendous book "Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most".  Sybil's business focus is on using internal marketing and communications to engage employees and positively impact employee satisfaction and customer retention.  I'd been following Sybil's work for awhile without knowing that we covered some of the same ground at Compete Through Service Symposium, and we were able to finally connect in person at last year's event. Unfortunately, Sybil is not attending this year, but she gave Service Encounters her thoughts on what she's missing.

With my entire career in services marketing, I consider The Center for Service Leadership’s Annual Compete Through Service Symposium to be THE best gathering of professionals who come together to share ideas, best practices, leading-edge research, and current and future issues in services marketing and management.

My professional passion is engaging employees and customers with internal marketing, and the Symposium is a meaningful source of insight on employee and customer focus, workplace culture, the customer experience and services leadership. In addition to services marketers and managers, the Symposium also attracts executives from product-oriented companies interested in becoming more service-oriented.

Although I haven’t been able to attend each Symposium, I’ve been following the program since its early days. Back then several staff members from the Center for Services Leadership and AVNET, a program sponsor, published follow-up summaries of conference ideas and takeaway questions for application. I’ve got several editions ranging from 1997 to 2005 in my office library … and still refer to them.

The good news is Symposium summaries from 2002 to 2006 can be downloaded online for free!

If you’re unable to get to this year’s program, I highly recommend you include it in your          professional development budget for next year.

I'll be blogging and live tweeting the 2011 Compete Through Service Sympsosium Wednesday through Friday of next week.  Follow me on Twitter to see more from this tremendous event.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The restaurant that never brings me what I order.

My wife & I frequent a sushi restaurant we’d both describe as our favorite. Having lives and travelled the Pacific Rim, it’s not the best sushi we’ve ever had – but for Kansas, it’s very good.

What makes us to choose their experience over competing experiences: since we’ve been going there, they have never brought us what we’ve ordered.

Sure, they take our order and bring us the appetizers, rolls, entrees and desserts we’ve asked for.

But as long as we’ve been going there, we have yet to have a meal that didn’t include an extra added in. Always free of charge, and usually something that isn’t on the menu that they bring over and ask us to try.

Some are terrific, while others are misses. (Japanese-Mexican fusion inspired tempura-battered green beans are a product innovation that should not have “left the garage”.)

Stan Phelps and the Purple Goldfish project call this lagniappe, associating the Cajun expression for giving a little extra to a great service business practice that delights customers. It is that – they give us more than we’ve asked for, exceeding both our expected and requested service experience – but it’s also more.

A few of the items that we’ve tried have ended up on the menu. We’ve had prolonged engagements with staff, talking about a dish and what might make it better. That they include us in new product development makes us feel like partners, invested in the success of their menu and their restaurant.

It took time – months, years – to develop a bond this deep. But consider the sushi joint down the street that instead of investing time & effort, offers up a frequent diners card to tie their customers to them. Their main business line has its margin voluntarily eroded by a program that doesn’t make a customer choose them any more or less than the other purchase frequency programs they use.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jimmy Johns: "Freaky Consistent" Brand Delivery.

Today's features a guest post from Sean Roark, a working marketing professional and graduate student in the Integrated Marketing Communications program at the University of Kansas.  This semester, students in Max Utsler’s “Innovations in Marketing Communications” class and Barrett Sydnor’s “Integrated Marketing Communications and Sales Strategy” class are writing blog posts on branding, marketing, social media, experience marketing, and innovation.

Sean's post on Jimmy John's consistent brand delivery through the service experience fits well with a Service Encounters theme of using marketing to consistently make the promise you deliver through the experience.  I also thank Sean for writing a post that gives me an excuse to post a picture of Krist Novoselic.  

"Freaky" Brand Delivery

My lunch hour had arrived and this blog had to be ready for you fine people in five hours. I needed something quick – not quick, fast. The usual suspects ran through my head. Wendy’s? No, too slow. Sonic? No, I don’t want to tip. McDonald’s? No, gross. I know! Jimmy John’s – “freaky fast.”

Frequenters of Jimmy John’s know “freaky fast.” It’s what makes Jimmy John’s what it is. Sure the “mama approved” sandwiches are delicious. The over-staffed and surprisingly friendly workforce is refreshing. The wall hangings are always good for a chuckle, that is, if you have enough time to read them. But it’s the “freaky fast” preparation and delivery of my sandwich that keeps me coming back every week. Today I walked in the door, placed my order, handed the clerk my credit card and received my receipt and freshly prepared sandwich at the same time. It was freaky --at least that’s what I used to think.
The Jimmy John’s brand should be a benchmark for all marketers. JJ’s understands their relevant difference -- Jimmy John’s is “freaky fast”, equal parts “freaky” and “fast”. However, the critical component to JJ’s benchability is that Jimmy John’s reinforces its brand promise throughout every customer touch point. There’s Ed, Jimmy’s “freaky fast” delivery guy. Don’t forget the JJ Freaker blog at, you guessed it, freakyfast.com. Even the napkins are freaky.
But all pale in comparison to the freakiest of them all -- Jimmy John himself. Jimmy John’s is now America’s second fastest growing restaurant chain, averaging one restaurant opening each day. Jimmy John Liautaud’s recipe for success is simple. Listen to your customers and outwork your competition. Simple but rarely duplicated.
Most companies say they listen. Some companies do. Few companies do anything worthwhile with what they hear. Jimmy John’s has delicious subs, but delicious subs alone don’t open a store a day. JJ’s customers told them they want more than just another delicious sandwich. They want a delicious sandwich with minimal line time. Jimmy’s delivered and pointed it out.
Jimmy’s has its shortcomings but so does every company. Jimmy John’s doesn’t try to be all things to all people. Jimmy John’s simply provides “freaky fast” quality sandwiches and entertains its customers for the short time they’re in the store.

I guess it’s working. Freaky huh?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mastering the Science of Service: A CTS Symposium Primer

November starts with the 22nd annual Compete Through Service Symposium, produced by the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University. I’m a multiple event attendee. Because I’m also an alum, they let me hang around and produce some social media tied to the event.

This year may feature the best roster of service business speakers yet. If you’re going, here’s a peak at the who’s who of service businesses you’ll see on the main stage. If you’re not, it’s who you’re missing, but can catch snippets of if you’re following me on Twitter or following the CTS blog.

To get warmed up, I’m including a few articles from some of the speakers, showcasing their service models:

Services at Procter and Gamble - A Paradigm Shift: Nathan Estruth, General Manager, The Procter & Gamble Company

Related content:

The Grameen Method of Action in Business Services: Vidar Jorgensen, President, Grameen America and Grameen Research Advisor, Grameen Trust and Grameen Health Trust Chairman

Related content:

Luck & Perspective: Bob Parsons, Chief Executive Officer, Go Daddy Group.

Related Content

A Relentless Focus on Member Service: Wayne Peacock, Executive Vice President, Member Experience, USAA

Related Content

A Nice House in a Tough Neighborhood: John Beuerlein, General Partner, Client Service Excellence, Edward Jones

Related Content
I'll feature more Compete Through Service content in the days & weeks leading up to November 2nd.  From Symposium, I'll be giving live updates by Twitter, and updating the blog with updates of what is certain to be some spectacular content.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guessing isn’t anticipating.

I was witness to a train wreck of a service encounter yesterday. A well meaning service provider was trying to go “above and beyond” in anticipating an unstated need of the customer in front of me. The customer was definitely not looking for the “perk” she was offered, and based on the interaction, was understandably taken aback. At best, she left annoyed and maybe slightly offended. At worst, the provider lost a customer.

What struck me is that the encounter would have been a success if the provider would have simply not tried so hard to guess what the customer wasn’t saying about herself.

Her efforts were met with a sour response because instead of anticipating her customer’s need based on knowledge, she guessed at what the customer wanted based on an incorrect assumption about her.

I’ve seen the popular literature that companies should just focus on the basics of the service customers expect and stop trying to “delight” them. Both notions are right and both are wrong.

A company is better off designing a customer experience that aligns with business strategy – their industry / market / customer expectations, their own business model, and who they are trying to be in their market. If you’re McDonalds or the local drycleaner, consistent execution on basics represents your market. If you’re Ritz-Carlton, a flexible service model that allows individuals to go beyond the minimum fits with service strategy.

But alignment of business strategy and service strategy wasn’t the problem in this case.

The issue was that while the provider, likely told by a supervisor to look for opportunities go above & beyond, tried to delight a customer based on a guess about that customer’s characteristics, based on appearance. Instead, she should have used certain knowledge about the customer to take a logical next step in providing what the customer needed. If that knowledge didn’t exist, then concluding the encounter providing only the basics would have been an acceptable outcome, and in fact much better than what happened.

Lawyers subscribe to the notion of never asking a question to which they don’t know the answer. Similarly, when trying to delight a customer, do so in anticipation of a need based on certain knowledge. Not one based on a potentially faulty assumption.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The (service) revolution will not be televised.

What makes service businesses so exciting is that when it comes to services, inefficient systems abound. Opportunities are everywhere you look.
An example:
Product recall systems are about as inefficient as it gets, still relying on news releases, direct mail and mass media – that is, when a recall is dangerous enough to consumer health be picked up by the five o’clock news. If your product is simply defective, you’re out of luck here.
I asked Hen House Market, an absolutely terrific local food & grocery chain, how they distribute recalls.
Spreading the message through informed teammates and social media updates were the top answers. Those likely inform a lot of people, but far from everyone.
I then asked whether they measured the effectiveness of the communications. Sadly, the answer was “no”. (As an aside, if you’re faced with a choice between measuring the effectiveness of your latest direct marketing initiative and the effectiveness of your product recall communications, choose the latter. It isn’t tied to revenue, but it’s better business.)

But interestingly, they also mentioned that to improve the effectiveness of recall messages, they were working on a text message alert system for loyalty program participants. You know – those annoying key chain tags that provide savings on select products, where when you’re filling them out, you wonder, “what are they ever going to do with my cell phone number – call to tell me they’re having a sale on cantaloupe?” Once launched, loyalty program participants would receive text message alerts if they’ve purchased a product on a recall list using their rewards card. Discounting products AND helping prevent me from accidentally killing my dinner party guests? Talk about a loyalty program worth signing up for.
It's a small fix to a long-standing problem.  These kinds of service inefficiency problems are so prevalent, most of us don't even think of them.  Yet people are addressing them in increasing numbers, using technology in dramatically new ways, whether the local grocery store’s use of text messaging for recall information, or the IBM Watson project, a program devised as an initial salvo in the fight to create better service outcomes through technology.
My own personal request for technology to improve my service encounters: In a world with nearly universal wi-fi, Google maps and Twitter, why do I ever have to wait in a line?

How about you:  What services would you like to see made more save time & effort or produce better results?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Credibility. Critical to all, but more so to some.

How credible does a service have to be in the eyes of its customers?

It depends on what the service means to the people that use it.

Imagine you visit the ecommerce portal for one of your most-used service experiences.

The site is down.

Inconvenient. You wanted to use them today. You feel a little dissatisfied at the (lack of) an expected interaction, but not too put out by it.

Now imagine that the service business is a bank. Maybe they look after a lot of your money, maybe just a little. But your money nonetheless.

The angst grows just a little. “It’s my money. I demand access whenever / however I want it.” (Of course, forgetting weekends in college where you had to hand a withdrawal slip to a teller on Friday to get you through a weekend’s worth of social activities.)

Somewhere in the back of your mind, it occurs to you that this bank is one of the “too big to fail” banks. That for the last couple of years, it has been mentioned in the same conversations as AIG, Fanny & Freddy, and more recently, Greece.

Surely nothing is happening – of course not, it’s all insured (Note to self: review the FDIC site one of these days to see just what is insured) – but still, the thought creeps into your head, doesn’t it?

I don’t care if the company that made my toaster goes out of business. Oh sure, in the macro sense perhaps, but not in the way where I get concerned about a direct personal impact.

But service experiences with ongoing relationships carry an expectation of stability & credibility. It’s part of how customers evaluate reliability. The deeper the personal investment in the relationship, the more critical the evaluation. Because a person’s money is involved, banks are about as deep as a personal investment in a service gets.

Consumers’ brand decisions are a reflection of themselves, and particularly their ability to make good decisions. If what people see & hear about a brand strikes at its credibility, they judge it more harshly. The negative press may put them onto the attrition ledge, but it can be a small thing that sends them over.

Like a site outage. That still isn’t resolved overnight.