Do You Know Your Service Delivery Cracks?

Service delivery cracks are those areas in a business where customer expectations fall between the cracks.

Every business has them.  It’s important to know what yours are so steps can be taken to fill in the crack or at the very least, reduce the size of the service delivery crack.

For example, some hotels have only one person working at the front desk.  After regular hours, that means the front desk agent is also the housekeeping and maintenance departments.  At some point, during an eight hour shift, the front desk will be unattended.

When a guest arrives at a hotel, the expectation is that there will be someone at the front desk to greet them and check them in.  When a guest arrives to an empty lobby, their expectation is now unmet.  That is a service delivery crack.

Let’s look at two very different ways this service delivery crack can play out.

Scenario 1:

A guest walks into a hotel after a long day of travel.  There is nobody around.  The guest looks for a bell to ring on the front desk.  Nothing.  The guest looks into the breakfast area, walks down the hall, looking for any sign of life.  Nothing. Because it’s late and the guest has a confirmed reservation, she waits. Someone has to come back eventually, right? After a very long six minutes, she notices someone coming down the hall.  The person is in uniform, notices she is there and walks over to the desk.  She goes behind the desk and asks “Name?” The guest provides her name; the agent checks her in, gives her the key and says “You are on the second floor.”  The guest takes her key, drags half her luggage up the stairs and then comes back for the last of it.  The lobby is again unattended; that means the last of her luggage was also unattended.

Scenario 2:

A guest walks into a hotel after a long day of travel. There is nobody around.  The guest notices a sign on the front desk that says “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to welcome you personally.  I’ve stepped away from the desk to assist another guest and will be back shortly.  Please have a seat in the lobby and help yourself to a complimentary cookie.”  The guest sits down and in about six minutes, she notices someone coming down the hall.  The person in uniform notices she is there, and with a friendly smile, says “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.  I imagine you are ready to get into your room.”  She goes behind the desk, asks for the guest’s name, confirms the details of her stay, gives her the keys and says “Your room is on the second floor.  I see you have quite a bit of luggage.  Let me help you get it to your room.”

In both cases, the lobby was empty when the guest arrived.  Both hotels have the same service delivery crack, but the hotel in the second scenario took steps to reduce the customer’s disappointment.

Take a look at your business from the customer’s point of view and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What are your customer’s expectations? How long do they expect to wait to be seated, to be greeted or for their food to be served? What type of information do they expect to be available for them?
  2. Where could those expectations be unmet?  If someone calls in sick, how will that impact the customer? Will it take longer for the food to be served or the room to be cleaned?  Will the line up at the till or the information booth be longer?
  3. What can you do to minimize or turn-around that negative moment? Do you let your customers know up front, before they sit down and get comfortable that a favourite item is not available or that the service time may be a little longer than usual today? Do you know what items, if any, you can offer as an alternative?  If you are not able to provide the product or service, do you know who can?

Service delivery cracks, service breakdowns happen.  Spend some time upfront identifying where a customer breakdown could occur and then develop a plan on how to minimize the negative impact.

Your customers don’t care why the service breakdown happened. They don’t want excuses; they want alternatives.  They want you recognize their disappointment and take steps to reduce that disappointment where possible.

Your thoughts?

How Customer Service is Like a Crime Show

I confess … I love crime shows.  Criminal Minds, Elementary and CSI.  Something about the search to put the bad guys away and make the world a little safer, one criminal at a time, intrigues me.

So what does that have to do with customer service, you ask?

Customer service professionals have the opportunity to make the world of the people they interact just a little bit better, one customer at a time.  How cool is that?!

Don’t you just love when you walk into a business and are greeted by someone who seems to truly love what they do? They exude positive energy, they have a bounce in their step, they smile, and they see you instead of just another customer.

Knowing how how to meet or exceed a customer’s expectations can be a bit of a mystery sometimes.  These dedicated customer service professionals ask questions, watch for clues and do everything in their power to figure it out.

Every day they come to work seemingly determined to make their customer’s day brighter and their co-worker’s day brighter.   Yup .. that is pretty amazing.

Have you ever met one of these amazing people?  Please give him or her a shout out here or on my Facebook page.

How to Create a Customer Service Strategy

What is your company’s service promise? Do you have one?  If you do, has that promise been communicated to your internal customers and your external customers?

Do you have clearly defined service standards in place? Do you train your employees on those standards and then measure performance based on those standards?

A customer service strategy is just as important as a sales and marketing strategy.  The customer service strategy supports your overall business goals.  A successful sales and marketing strategy gets customers in the door; a successful customer service strategy keeps the customers coming back.

A customer service strategy needs to include the following:

  1. A service promise. The service promise supports your company’s overall mission and goals.
  2. The service expectations of your customers, based on the product or service that you offer. Remember, you can’t be all things to all people. Who are your customers, who is your target market and what do they want?  If you offer thick, juicy made to order burgers, you will not be able to provide a two minute burger. That’s what fast food restaurants are for.
  3. Customer feedback.  Your customer service strategy needs to include a process to generate and review customer comments and feedback, both internal and external customers. Don’t assume you know what your customers/ employees want.  Ask them!  You may find out that there are some significant gaps that you can address and still stay true to your business model.
  4. Clearly defined service standards. Telling your employees to be friendly isn’t enough.  What does friendly look like?  How do you want “friendly” conveyed on the telephone?  Some examples of customer service standards are: a)  All incoming phone calls will be answered with the greeting “Thank you for calling Servicedge Consulting & Training. This is Laurie speaking.  How may I help you?”; b) Customers will receive a response to a voice mail messages within 4 hours.  While you’re at it, create internal customer service standards as well.  The service that is provided to internal customers tends to flow to external customers.  Be sure that everyone in your company clearly understands the importance of internal customer service.
  5. A training plan.  Your employees need to know what you expect from them if you want them to provide consistent service.  What training do new hires need? What about training for long-time employees?  Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that employees who have been with us for awhile are trained and we forget about them.  Don’t make that mistake.   It can be easy to fall into a rut after doing the same job for a long time.  On-going training helps to keep those expectations front and centre.
  6. Performance management:  In order for the service standards to be adopted by your team, they need to know that you take it seriously enough to evaluate whether or not the standards are being followed.  Take the time to recognize and reward employees who are providing the service levels that you ask for.  Provide additional coaching and mentoring when the service standards are not being followed.
  7. Plan for mistakes: The reality is that there will be mistakes made, either due to errors by your employees or by your suppliers.  Take the time to identify potential errors and come up with service recovery options.  Share those options with your employees so that when errors happen, they know what they can do to try and resolve the situation immediately.

If your company doesn’t have a clearly defined service strategy in place, I encourage you to take the time to create one. While you probably won’t envision every situation or customer touch point, a well thought out plan will reduce the number of customer complaints and service issues that you need to handle.  Besides, just like your sales and marketing strategy, your customer service strategy needs to be reviewed and revised on a regular basis.

(Note: This is a slightly revised update of a blog originally posted in late 2011.)