You don’t improve service with mistakes.

The customer wanted to return a tire. Never mind that the Nordstrom department-store chain sells upscale clothing, not automotive parts. According to company lore, the clerk accepted the tire because that’s what the customer wanted. Newsweek 1989

I heard the Nordstrom story years ago (it is probably just a legend, there are many variations about it). Consultant have been telling stories of great service recoveries. At some point the consultants made the next conclusion: If you are perfect, customers don’t notice you. If you make basic mistakes and recover well, they can be delighted! Stuart Rance said this in his presentation few days ago and I commented that I disagree with the idea and this blog is an explanation for my comment.

Of course a good recovery is nice and may lead to short term satisfaction but solid, reliable good service is better.  I specifically disagree with the first part of the sentence and the implied idea that a faulty but well recovered service might be better. Reliability or service warranty is really important and I doubt if people stop appreciating it.

I have worked from home for almost ten years. During that time, I don’t remember a single internet service outage which would have prevented me from working. I may have needed to use my phone as a WLAN provider for a short while once or twice during these years but that backup comes from the same telco. Reading about the difficulties other people have helps me to appreciate this reliability and I definitely don’t wish any basic mistakes to happen with the service.

Some people (including me) have argued that it is not possible to delight customers with ordinary, basic services; that delighting belongs to luxury services. I disagree with my earlier opinions. An ordinary service experience can be delightful if it is well done. As always, the customer expectations are important.

We moved recently and we hired a moving company to do most of the work. I went to pick up extra 20 boxes early so that we would have time pack difficult and time consuming items like fragile glassware. The transaction went like this. I reported at their office that I had arrived to pick up the boxes. They checked the order and printed out a document for their warehouse. Then I drove to the loading bay. The guy was there already waiting with my boxes, then he came down and looked at my car and figured out how to fit the boxes. Then he loaded them in the car and I just watched. It was a smooth operation and the service clearly exceeded my expectations. I had expected to need to wait for the delivery and that I would have to pack the boxes myself.

A simple, well operated, efficient, and seamless service operation is beautiful, just like good design in an object. Of course not all customers appreciate beauty and good design as sometimes it is a matter of taste; but most people do appreciate good service even if they do not understand the hard work behind it.

So, what if nobody appreciates your beautiful service. One reason could be that your service is not as perfect as you think. There might be some elements which are not so well planned. Remember that the service provider’s view of the service is different from the customer’s. You need to consider the customer experience. (Here you need to understand that the people who use your service are your real customers, it is not relevant who pays for the service. If the customers don’t like your service and they walk away, the money will follow.) You need to study the customer journey to your service from the beginning to the end. Details are important. The ITIL Practitioner gives good advice on this: Data is not a substitute for direct observation, page 20.

There is one important element in the Nordstrom story and it is the right to make decisions at the customer interface. It was the clerk who decided to refund the tires. Don’t make recovery a management decision, give your 1st line staff to right to choose the right compensation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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