Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Standard in Service.

Heard an unbelievable customer service story the other day that would not only amaze most people but also spark thought on the services & experiences we pay for on a daily basis – and whether those services meet or exceed our expectations.

First the story.

I recently checked out of the Ritz-Carlton Toronto hotel and depart as normal. I have a car picking me up in the round a bout outside the front doors. I jump in, and we drive to Niagara Falls - this is 1hr45 outside of Toronto.

When I arrive at the hotel in Niagara Falls, I go to check-in and my wallet is missing. Knowing I had checked out 2hours ago, I knew it could only be at the Ritz. So, I immediately call the front desk and ask if they have found my wallet. They said they hadn't & assured that they would call if anything showed up.

15 minutes later.

The front desk at the Ritz calls me to let me know they have found my wallet. They inform me that they looked throughout the lobby and outside…and that they found it in the driveway. This impressed me! They specifically took the time to look (rather than just saying they will) and actually followed up.

At this time, they asked me where I was. I told them that I was in Niagara Falls. They said they would call me back in 10min to figure some sort of arrangements.

Here's ‘The Kicker’ - they called back within 10min and said:

"Mr. Green, we have coordinated one of the staff to drive your wallet down and deliver it to you. He will be leaving in 10mins, so you should have your wallet no longer than 2hours. What hotel are you staying at?"

I was BLOWN away! I thought they would call back to overnight it via UPS or another courier service. It blew my socks off. My response was, "Are you serious? You're actually going to drive it down here for me?"

The gentlemen replied, "Yes, Mr. Green. WE ARE The Ritz-Carlton - this is what we do"

What a story. For pretty much any consumer, that would exceed all of their expectations. However, that exact example is the expectation that the Ritz Carlton sets for their service. And anything below it would not be acceptable & reaching the standard they are known for. 

Which begs some of the following questions...

Should a service provider try to meet customer expectations or always try to exceed them?

If we are consistently trying to exceed them, how do we do it? 

Let's dive further into this. 

Many management consultants would urge service companies to ‘delight’ or ‘go above & beyond’ with customers to gain a competitive edge. The delight that they refer to is a profoundly positive emotional state that results from having one’s expectations exceeded to a surprising degree.

Picture it like a series of rings. The innermost bull’s-eye refers to the basic function of the product or service, called musts. Their provision is not particularly noticeable, but their absence would be. Around the musts is a ring called satisfiers: features that have the potential to further satisfaction beyond the basic function of the product. At the next and final outer level are delights, or product features that are unexpected and surprisingly enjoyable. These features are things that consumers would not expect to find and they are therefore highly surprised and sometimes excited when they receive them.

Delighting customers may seem like a good idea, but this level of service provision comes with extra effort and cost to the organization. Therefore, the benefits of providing delight must be weighed. Among the considerations are the staying power and competitive implications of delight.

Staying power involves the question of how long a company can expect an experience of delight to maintain the consumer’s attention. If it is fleeting and the customer forgets it immediately, it may not be worth the cost. Alternatively, if the customer remembers the delight and adjusts his or her level of expectation upward accordingly, it will cost the company more just to satisfy, effectively raising the bar for the future. Recent research indicates that delighting customers does in fact raise expectations and make it more difficult for a company to satisfy customers in the future.

Many companies today talk about exceeding customer expectations by giving more than they expect. First, it is essential to recognize that exceeding customer expectations of the basics is virtually impossible - delivering the core service is what the company is supposed to do. Companies are supposed to be accurate and dependable and provide the service they promised to provide. At the end of the day, it is very difficult to surprise or delight customers consistently by delivering reliable service.

How, then, does a company delight its customers and exceed their expectations?

In any service, developing a customer relationship is one approach for exceeding service expectations. The Ritz-Carlton Hotels provide highly personalized attention to its customers. In each hotel within the chain, a special organization exists called guest recognition. This special function uses a database to remember over 800,000 guests and generate information for all appropriate staff. It stores: likes/dislikes; previous difficulties; family interests; personal interests; preferred credit card; frequency of use of the hotel; lifetime usage/amount of purchase. In this way staff are able to understand what is ‘new or different’ about an individual customer.

Another way to exceed expectations is to deliberately under-promise the service to increase the likelihood of exceeding customer expectations. The strategy is to under-promise and over-deliver. If every service promise is less than what will eventually happen, customers can be delighted frequently. As an example, promising a specific delivery time and consistently exceeding the expectation by delivering the product or service earlier – same goes with quoting jobs. And although this reasoning sounds logical, we should weigh two potential problems before using this strategy:
  • Customers with whom a company interacts regularly are likely to notice the under-promising and adjust their expectations accordingly, negating the desired benefit of delight.
  • Under-promising in a sales situation potentially reduces the competitive appeal of an offering and must be tempered by what competition is offering.

A third way to exceed expectations is to position unusual service as unique rather than the standard. Whether it be planned spontaneity or suggested that the increase in level of service or delivery of product was for a specific & valuable reason – like a ‘special or feature’.

And lastly, the final way to exceed expectations is to create a higher service delivery standard in the first place. If the bar of expectation within the organization is raised to a higher level (that exceeds the standard of the service delivery amongst the competitors), then it automatically will differentiate themselves in their marketplace.

At the end of the day, to develop a true customer franchise, we must not only consistently exceed the adequate service level but also reach the desired service level – which can be hard to find these days!

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