It does not really take much of an extra effort to provide “good” service. Think about it! Most of the services providers that are in business today probably already do. However, the ability to provide “great” service is a different story altogether – although it is probably only a “thin line” that ultimately separates one from the other.
Conceptually, the main difference between providing “good” service and delivering “great” service is that, in the former, you are probably only barely keeping your customers satisfied; while in the latter, you are not only keeping them satisfied – you are also keeping them loyal! This is a very important distinction – and one that many services providers do not always “get”.
For example, let’s say that, historically, your company – and you, as one of its personal “ambassadors” – have been working very hard to keep your customers happy. You have strived to respond to all of their calls in a timely basis; you have arrived at their site within the contracted time in nearly all cases; you have carried the right parts with you to the service call (or have been able to obtain them as quickly as possible once the need has been identified); and you have followed up with a courtesy call whenever there has been time (and even when there has not).
While you may think that the sum of these activities, in and of itself, represents “superior” service on behalf of you and the company, some of your customers may think otherwise. They are more likely to feel that all of these services are to be expected from their services providers – all of the time! In fact, you probably have more customers than not who think these activities constitute nothing more than “average” service and support, and not “great” support – and guess what? They might be right!
The companies that are generally acknowledged to be providers of “great”, rather than merely “good”, service are those that typically go the “extra mile” in the way they treat their customers. This may include doing simple things like calling with an Estimated Time of Arrival (i.e., ETA) when they are approaching the limits of their normal on-site response times, or following-up after a service call to explain why an equipment failure may have occurred in the first place, and how to possibly avoid it from happening again in the future. It may be that the only perceived difference between “good” and “great” service on the customer’s part is in the way in which their service providers regularly communicate with them. The following is an example of what we mean.
Many services organizations provide their customers with some form of contracted, or “promised”, service coverage based on four-hour or next-business-day on-site support. Taking the four-hour on-site support option as an example, the secret to success between merely providing “good” service (i.e., keeping the customer satisfied) and providing “great” service (i.e., keeping the customer loyal), may be as simple as making an advance telephone call to provide them with an ETA before you actually arrive on-site.
Suppose you have a customer that has contracted with your company for four-hour on-site support and, for whatever reasons, you know that your primary contact at the customer site typically gets “antsy” if you do not arrive on-site within about two hours or so. Simply by calling him or her from your cell phone with an estimated time of arrival (hopefully, within the contracted time period) will go far to provide them with a much-needed “comfort zone”. You have probably run into several cases where you know that your contact’s supervisor is continually asking, “Didn’t the service tech get here yet?”, What’s holding them up?”, or “You better call them again to make sure they’re still coming out!”. A simple call from you providing an ETA will be particularly welcomed on a stormy or snowy day, or following a previous call when you might have arrived late, or at the last minute.
Simply by making this one extra call, you have placed yourself in a position of strength in terms of providing your customer with the information they need to let their supervisor know they are in control of the repair situation, instead of leaving them to fend for themselves when asked repeatedly, “When are they going to get here to fix the machine?”.
This is only one situation where communications helps to differentiate between merely “good” service and “great” service and support. However, communications between you and your customers can also serve to strengthen the customer relationship in many other ways as well.
It is important to keep the customer “in the loop” at all times. If they are expecting you to arrive on-site to perform a repair, they also expect to know approximately when you will actually get there. If there is a problem with your arriving as scheduled, they’ll want to know as soon as possible when you will get there – they will not want any surprises!
Customers also like to be proactive with their service providers; that is, they like to be able to obtain information, ask questions, and get answers – and they like to do it on their own time and schedule. However, you will probably not always be available to respond to their inquiries on a real-time basis; so it will generally be to your advantage to communicate with them before they feel they need to get in touch with you.
It all becomes a matter of “ownership”; if the customer has to call you to find out where you are, when you’re going to be arriving on-site, or how long you think the machine will be down, the customer “owns” the service call. However, if you can call the customer in advance with an ETA and, at the same time, provide him or her with some accompanying information, you “own” the call. And if you “own” the call, you also “own” the power to keep the customer informed, in line, and, ultimately, satisfied.
Service providers that merely offer “good” service are probably doing virtually all of the same things that those providing “great” service are doing. However, the single most important thing that distinguishes the “great” providers from the “good” providers, is that they also communicate better with their customers.
When everything else is going well, these extra communications can serve as a strong public relations (i.e., PR) tool. But, whenever there is a problem – especially a serious, or repeat problem – communications plays an even more important role as both a problem-solver, as well as a means for maintaining damage control.
Think about every time you have arrived at a customer site late, when the customer has said, “If you had only told me it would take this long for you to get here, we could have shifted some of our deadlines around.” Wouldn’t it be better to hear them say, instead, “Thanks for letting us know in advance that you wouldn’t get here for a couple of hours. We were able to get some other deadlines met while we were waiting.”
When the customer is happy because of you, they are more likely to stay happy with you.