How to Simplify Customer Loyalty in Field Service
One of the following three sentences is false:
A. Customers who experience bad service are likely to “punish” the company by switching to a different service provider.
B. Customers who experience bad service are likely to tell others about it, reducing not just their own loyalty but other customers’ loyalty as well.
C. To win customer loyalty, service organizations should deliver “customer satsifaction” by exceeding customer expectations.
The answer is below, but first, let me tell you two stories.
A long time ago, I knew someone who owned a small café. He had his own way of welcoming people walking into his place: Instead of having each table set up with salt, pepper, ashtrays (yes, it was back in the public smoking era), he would let them sit at an empty table and then he would rush over, placing these items on the table. He thought customers enjoyed the feeling of being personally attended to, and that when people see you arrange the table for them they are made aware that you care about hosting them, compared to those who sit down at a table that’s already set (even though you did the same work in both cases). What do you think?
Skipping to a much more recent experience: my home printer failed yesterday. The call center agent who answered the phone found that it was still under warranty, logged the information and read out a ten-digit number for me to write down – a “ticket ID.” She then transferred me to a technician and told me to give him that ID.
Somewhere along the way the number was messed up – it might have been my fault, or the agent’s, or the technician’s, but the technician couldn’t find that number. He easily fixed this by asking for my name and using it to find the information. Now, this company obviously strives for outstanding service: I waited only a minute or so for the agent and then for the technician, and the call with the technician ended with him sending a courier to pick up the printer for fixing at their lab. I can confidently expect the rest of the service to be handled quickly and satisfactorily.
Still, I have to wonder: Since it took the technician less time to search by my name then by the ticket ID, why bother with ticket ID to begin with? Even better, when the company’s CRM transfers the call to the technician, why doesn’t it automatically pull up the information on his computer so that we don’t even have to go through the identification stage?
Back to the three sentences I opened with: There is considerable research that shows that (A) and (B) are correct. This is really important for service organizations: Customer loyalty is worth a lot of money in at least two ways. First, loyal customers are willing to buy more, and are willing to pay more for the same service. Second, loyal customers are, well, loyal – they don’t switch to the competition, so there are lower costs associated with customer churn. One of the most recent proofs of how meaningful this is to financial performance is reported in “Satisfy, Retain and Succeed: The Plan for Success in 2012.”
So how about sentence (C)? After all, it has long been a goal of service to provide extraordinary service, exceed expectations, create customer delight, “knock their socks off” and other such lofty ambitions. And yet, do you really like it when someone tries to get you to be aware of the service quality? When you’re browsing through goods at a store, how many times would you want the attendants to ask if you need any help? Would you appreciate the kind of service that the café owner provided in my story?
Quite a bit of research says otherwise. For example, if you read “Stop trying to delight your customers” you will see good evidence that sentence (C) is wrong. This article, written by Matthew Dixon, Karen Freeman and Nicholas Toman and published in Harvard Business Review, is based on surveys of more than 75,000 call center interactions. Its main recommendation is quite simple:
“To really win their loyalty, forget the bells and whistles and just solve their problems.”
This research looked at the call-center side of service, but I am sure it applies even more strongly to the field service side. The message is loud and clear:
- Simplify the service process
- Minimize the customer’s effort throughout the service process
- Anticipate common issues and take care of them before the customer even senses them
In other words, effortless service beats flashy service. However, “effortless” is from the customer’s point of view. The service organization must put in a lot of effort in order to make the service seem effortless. How can you get the time and budget required for such an initiative? Start by reducing the effort you allocate to the flashy, “knock their socks off” kind of service. It simply does not buy you as much loyalty as just simply getting things done.
Setting the goal of “make it effortless for the customer” is just the start. Next, you need to figure out what to do. I’ll discuss this in future blog posts, but here’s one analogy that could help: Think of the traditional English butler, who works so hard behind the scenes but is almost invisible: The best evidence that he’s been doing his job (I use “he” – there aren’t many female butlers in the traditional stereotype) is that everything just works, without needing to tell him anything or to instruct him what to do next. Could the field service experience reach that level of simplicity and invisibility? That won’t be easy, but I guarantee that if it does it will win almost fanatical loyalty.