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Service: The Dots Are Connected. Are Yours?

If it seems like we are continuously pounding away on the subject of service, well, it’s because we are.

It’s not that it is an overlooked topic, but it’s one that seems to need broadening in a company’s approach to its operations. As we all know, service is not simply the sales interaction as a customer walks into a store, or contacts a support agent or browses a website. It starts with brand, ends with the termination of a service or the disposal of a good (or does it?) and includes every touch point in between.

One area that can be subject to disconnection from a service mindset is the delivery of a service or good or other operational aspects that perhaps management feels falls outside the realm of customer service. The same goes for the quality of a product or service. Beware this thinking and allow an example or two to illustrate the point.

Once a company has captured a customer, having succeeded well enough at projecting a solid brand image, delivering adequate service, marketing or merchandizing its offerings sufficiently and offering perceived value, the customer could be in a for a surprise in the delivery and receipt of the offer, potentially undermining the whole experience. Let us look at something that perhaps seems unimportant to management in the customer experience: the delivery policy, where the rubber meets the road and the wheels can easily fall off, leaving customers frustrated.

One major retailer, Crate & Barrel, has a different policy than competitor Room & Board, as an example. Crate & Barrel’s policy requires customers to cancel a delivery appointment 72 hours before the date to avoid a $35 fee, yet it notifies customers of the delivery window 24-48 hours before the scheduled appointment date, effectively putting the customer in a bind. It has been known to deliver well in advance of the delivery timeframe as well, creating additional burden on the customer and undermining any goodwill that may have accumulated from attentive customer care during the shopping experience. Contacting the customer after a transaction does not equate to offering a reasonable delivery policy to begin with. By contrast, Room & Board has a more flexible appointment cancellation policy, does not exact fees for cancellations and has been known to arrive within the appointed window. Pricing and product quality aside, which company would you rather shop with? Companies tend to create these types of operational policies by department, instead of integrating them and taking a strategic approach. This leaves the customer feeling as though they are not dealing with the same company all the way through.

Even worse than disappointing policies, though, is poor product quality. On the Consumer Affairs website, it turns out that Crate & Barrel has a one-star rating of Consumer Affairs Unaccredited with complaints ranging from wobbling, cracking, sticky-taped products to missing delivery dates and improper credit card charges. Once a customer has experienced poor quality or service, no amount of excellent merchandising or customer service can save the brand image. An excellent delivery process does not suffice. After all, the greatest customer service insult is a product or service that fails to meet expectations

If you are in charge of your company’s brand, operations or service, are you coordinating with other departments? Does your vision of delivering top-notch service consider the full customer experience from brand awareness to comparison shopping to delivery and disposal or termination and beyond (assuming potential repeat business)? Is it truly customer-centric, considering the customer’s needs, aspirations and obstacles? Customer service has to be consistent and inclusive across all interactions with the customer, creating a seamless experience through various touch points. Map out your customer’s journey and find out. If you need help, T. Aloise & Co. have extensive experience designing and conducting research and analysis on service.