| by Wiley

The brave, the blind
or the squeaky clean?

Service-Ability by Kevin RobsonService-Ability by Kevin Robson

In a 2010 “Marketing Trends” survey, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Marketing of the United Kingdom, more than half of respondent firms expressed themselves afraid of venturing into social media. Only the brave, the blind, or the squeaky clean are engaging with it.

The control of brand reputation and image has largely been taken from its owners. These precious assets, often taking decades to build are being destroyed: broken by people interacting with each other online. In this Brave New World, customer service quality in particular is becoming mediated in cyberspace, and organisations need to beware.

In a sense Web 2.0 has given birth to “Communications 2.0” where the act of communication has taken on a new dimension, and that oldest form of human connection, word-of-mouth, has become massively leveraged. People’s opinions, shared hitherto at most with only a narrow social circle, are now one-to-many – and permanent.

The perishable verbal social tittle-tattle of pre-web days is a thing of the past. Now we have written-word and even visual communication, undiluted by verbal “Chinese whispers” and capable of being read asynchronously across time zones.

Comments on company performance can last. They are no longer “Nine days’ wonders” and they can flash around the world in seconds, destroying corporate value in days, as we saw in 2009 in the celebrated case of Dave Carroll who resorted to YouTube in his battle with United Airlines.

Nowhere is this truer than in the service sector, which is now a staggering 4/5ths of our economy – and yet the leaders of our service organisations seem to be sublimely ignorant of the change of paradigm. They are experiencing high customer churn, antagonism and loss of business sustainability and they don’t seem to get it that this is because they are dangerously ignoring the time-honoured business axiom that, ‘People do business with people.’

The people of the age of interconnectedness are also the people who want service: they want connection with the companies with whom they spend their money. For them, value includes the nutrition of attention, and personalisation of product or service to their particular needs – and yet companies are relentlessly heading in the opposite direction: commoditising service; servicing customers instead of giving service; forcing customers to conform to their ways; sucking them into a funnel of systemised ‘service’ delivery and treating them as though they have power over them, when the reality is the exact opposite.

The paradox is that this rapid emergence of the new technology, in many ways, is the cause of the problem. Businesses have become so conformed to systems thinking that they are depersonalising the employee and the customer. Technology is undoubtedly bringing incalculable efficiency but in the gold-rush fervour to apply computerisation to the most fundamental of business processes, the customer interface, truly customer-satisfying interactions are being lost. In the headlong rush for efficiency without thinking about its implications, our organisations are losing their ability to serve.

As this trend continues, however, a major opportunity for sustainable competitive advantage is opening up. Organisations that challenge the present paradigm and refocus on the need to treat customers in a way that satisfies them, not the technology, nor their systems, will have better customer retention, lower costs of replacement and will build their brand value through better reputations.

Service-Ability is a strategic capability. It is about a depth of relationship, extending from the very core of the organisation to the loyal, satisfied customer through the loyal, satisfied employee, who operates with initiative, professionalism, involvement, and engagement; and that can only come from an organisation that is in its very essence, ‘service-able’.

We had Total Quality in the 1980s that believed product quality was the responsibility of everyone in the organisation if customer expectations were to be not only met but also exceeded.  Business Process Re-Engineering in the 1990s encouraged a re-think about how organisations functioned, so as to reduce costs and re-align to the customer. The Balanced Scorecard at the turn of the Millennium integrated non-financial measures such as customer value, internal processes and people’s learning and growth, into measures of success. These initiatives made massive differences in their respective areas of business progress.

Customer satisfaction is about a depth of relationship that extends from the very centre of the organisation to the loyal satisfied customer, through the loyal satisfied employee, and that can only come from an organisation that is in its very essence, ‘service-able’. Service-Ability is about the skill of the organisation as a whole to acquire strategic customer-satisfying service capability.

Today, organisations of all types need to become less concerned with process and more with corporate personality. They need to turn toward their customers through their people, equipping them and culturing them to be totally customer-centric. Service-Ability is a way to achieve that.

Service-Ability must become a core strategy. It will leverage the most economic benefit from our overwhelmingly service-orientated economy. Those companies that offer meaningful customer interactions will stand out in a wilderness of indifference and conformity. Service-Ability will separate the best from the rest in the early part of the 21st century.

Service-Ability by Kevin Robson is out this month,
published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Kevin Robson

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