How would you rate the experiences that you have had as a customer from the various service providers whom you have engaged with in the recent past?

You must have experienced excellent service somewhere, sometime. And you must have experienced average and poor service too.

What makes you rate a service as “excellent”, “average” or “poor”?

Universal patterns

I have asked this question to thousands of people across the world, and here is what they say:

Excellent

Service staff go the extra mile, exceed expectations, are very good at what they do, engage in proactive communication, focus on asking for and listening to and working on feedback, very prompt, keep their promises.

Average

Service is not differentiated from others. The provider delivers only the basics and routine transactions, quality is inconsistent and interaction is robot-like. Problems take a long time to resolve.

Poor

Service does not meet expectations, staff members are rude and unprofessional, knowledge levels are very low and the environment is chaotic and disorganised. Service people make promises that are never kept, problems are not resolved and the company is very difficult to access.

These definitions of service quality are probably similar to your own. There seems to be a universal pattern that customers everywhere in the world can relate to.

And whatever your job is, and whoever your customers are (internal or external), they will probably see your services in the same way.

A lot of organisations and employees tend to leave the delivery of service excellence to common sense.

In practical terms, this means people say things like: “Of course I can and do deliver excellent service — if I have the time, if I’m in a good mood, if the customer is a ‘good’ person, if...if....if...”.

Of course, for all the “ifs” to occur at the same time is rare!

Is average service really OK?

Theoretically, average service should be neutral — neither positive nor negative.

In reality, however, when customers describe a service as “average”, their descriptions tend to lean towards the negative, rather than being strictly neutral.

If you ask a customer to tell you how you are doing, and he says “OK, adequate”, is that good news or bad news?

In a sense, customers giving you an average rating are potentially of more concern that people who give you a poor rating — and one reason for this is that they are very easy to miss.

It is very easy to ignore customers who say the service is OK, and focus only on the complainers.

But this is a potentially dangerous thing to do because “OK” is really “not OK”.

Poor service is not intentional

How often do you or your colleagues come to work with the thought, “Today, I want to give really poor service to my customers”?

That sounds like a silly question.

The honest answer is that people very rarely deliver poor service to their customers deliberately.

This applies to organisations also, as most will have some aspect of the message “Customers are important” in their vision or mission statements.

An organisation may segment its customers, identify “priority” customers and define higher standards of service for them or even identify “non-customers”, that is, people whom they do not target their services to.

But none of this is equivalent to delivering poor service intentionally.

The paradox of service

So if excellent service sounds like common sense and poor service is almost never delivered intentionally, it follows that excellent service should be the norm, and poor service the exception.

In real life, however, the opposite seems to be true.

Why is excellent service so rare, when it should be a matter of common sense? And why is poor service so common, when it is rarely intentional?

This is the paradox of service.

To resolve this paradox, organisations and individuals must first acknowledge that the service they provide cannot be left to chance, accident, luck, natural good intentions of people or common sense. It must be consciously managed.

Delivering service excellence

There are three important lessons to take away from here:

1. Service excellence is not common sense

It may sound obvious and simple, but it requires conscious and continuous attention from management and individual employees.

Here are some things you can do:

* Put service excellence into your goals and individual key result areas (KRAs); build metrics around service excellence and then constantly review, monitor and track it (Hint: “Customer satisfaction” should be a regular item on your Ops Review agenda).

* Review processes and engineer them to deliver service excellence.

* Recognise and retain employees who demonstrate service excellence.

2. Focus on the neutrals

Strive to convert customers who give you an average rating. Find out:

* Who are they?

* Why do they rate you as “average” and not “excellent”?

* What can you do to change that situation or rating?

3. Dig deeper into poor service issues

* Find the root cause(s) — don’t just stop with the obvious superficial reason(s).

* Ask the frontline employees — they usually know the reasons behind poor service.