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Some businesses will never get it, never.
I couldn’t be more passionate about great service, my adult life has been peppered by the pursuit of the perfect service experience, delivering it or it being delivered. So far I’ve found that it’s massively hard to give, and sadly rare to get.
A key milestone in that pursuit happened two weeks ago when Yabbit.com launched, Yabbit is the new feedback platform in partnership with American Express [Amex have made it available free and exclusive for American Express merchants in Australia]. Each day the Yabbit team are talking with businesses about the chance to hear from their customers, directly and one to one-ly about their service experience, the good and the bad, the great and the sad. Awesome, sounds good, they say. But they don’t always mean it. Like, really mean it.
And it struck me.
It’s not about service, it’s about love.
What’s love got to do with it?
Love is – Doing things you don’t have to do, but want to do, just because. Smiling because you can’t help it. A spring in your step. Caring about everything you do. Keeping things fresh and new. Doing what you say you will do. Surprising and delighting. Being spontaneous, early, eager, attentive, gracious, careful, thoughtful, even thankful. Just like great service.
Service isn’t about being fast or efficient, it’s about love. Giving your customers a little slice of you, showing how much they mean to you, and finding a team that will behave the same way, not because they are following a blueprint but because they also love to love. Did you show your customers any love today?
Some businesses will just never get it. Never.
On a recent trip I discovered that Virgin Atlantic aircrew behave like they’re between parties, parties I’m not on the guest list for. To be fair, old dags like me with four kids in tow are made to feel about as welcome as a recently discovered STI.
After three painful flights and a comedy of errors it struck me though, maybe all that cooler than thou jet-set party people bullshit is actually as God himself intended (Sir Richard that is).
My theory emerged when I spotted a peculiar magazine selection in the rack. Wallpaper and Style Street were propped at a jaunty angle, albeit they remained so for the entire 14 hour flight. Hardly surprising they didn’t find a reader I thought given the Virgin customers around me were less likely to want to read them than the Virgin staff. Yet those magazines were carefully positioned to enhance the Virgin Atlantic lifestyle and most likely described in nauseating marketing speak in some operations manual back at Party Town, aka Virgin HQ. I suspect somewhere in the depths of the Virgin Marketing Strategy is a view that there are enough <insert B-list celebrity here> wannabees to build them an airline that makes them feel like they’ve cracked the code of cool.
But here’s the rub. The party’s exclusive and customers are there to fill out the numbers. Virgin have recruited staff who look like the customers they wish they had, i.e. the low disposable income high spending b-grade party-set, and have missed the unfortunate side effect, those people aren’t interested in much beyond themselves – and it shows. The smallest request is met with a gnash of veneers, and eyebrows are ever so slightly raised (I think) at the suggestion of a problem.
What I don’t get, though, it why Virgin Atlantic ads suggest they are something that they are not? Am I to believe from the TVC below that the airline who suggested you may just get into the Mile High Club on one of their planes is trying to be something different? Because it isn’t obvious yet. And until the service rhetoric has become service reality I’d dial back the messaging slightly.
All in all I’d say the biggest disservice Virgin Atlantic has done, to me and to other Virgin virgins, is to set the expectation too high. They have allowed their marketing message to get ahead of the organisation’s ability to execute which has led to a jarring customer experience. I have no intention of flying Virgin Atlantic again, or any of the Virgin branded airlines for that matter. Qantas just invited me to a BBQ.
It’s rare that a great product would win without the support of great service, so why then are the two so quick to grow apart?
The problem, I think, is success.
Scale and its associated economies support the development of a product but rarely do they support the development of the accompanying services. There are exceptions, of course, but not many; McDonalds is one, Apple another, Sadly I’m at a loss to think of a third.
It’s worth noting of course that Apple and McDonalds are are notable exceptions to the rule, albeit for vastly different reasons. McDonalds is a very, very large franchisor, and the “product” being sold does not come in a bun, the product is the Franchise. The Franchisee buys a proven recipe for fast food and efficient service. If McDonalds didn’t have control of the entire McD’s ecosystem through a tightly wound Franchise Agreement it would be impossible to maintain its brand of high-margin consistency that allows it to continue selling to franchisees at a premium.
Apple, on the other hand, is all about brand, and that brand extends through the product supply chain to the lifestyle, which includes the process of purchasing and ownership. Prior to Apple seizing control of its supply chain the service part was delivered by 3rd parties, now it is a powerful pillar in the house of Apple.
When a typical business grows, investment is poured into improvements in the production process, reducing the cost of goods and improving margins. The same can’t be said for service, great service at scale is costly, and returns to scale are minimal. In addition, training great service to new staff takes time, so the gap between product uptake and service delivery can grow rapidly if the growth was sudden and unforseen.
Improved margins are seductive, investments in service are not, and so the conflict begins.
As a business owner, you can get ahead. At a minimum there should be a record kept of a consistent service KPI such as Net Promoter that can serve as an early indicator of customer sentiment taking a turn for the worst. Where growth is happening at the expense of service the growth should be arrested until the issue is identified and resolved, hard as it may be to do so.
Positioning your entire business as a product is smart, have a McDonalds-like operating manual with detailed descriptions of service procedures and quality standards, or emulate Apple by asserting service as a key part of your brand, then live it with every touch-point!
To favour growth at the expense of service is a short term win, the positive sentiment that propelled growth in the first place is already evaporating, allow that to continue and chances are your brand will never recover.
American Express recently published a report into the impact of Service on Customers, focusing on how the new socially connected consumer behaves versus their less connected counterparts, the findings are startling.
One data point out of the report that should provide cause for concern is that an unhappy Social Media Savvy customer will voice their complaint to 53 of their friends, often through Facebook and other channels.
Amex also report that more than 80% of Online Savvy consumers say they’ve bailed on a purchase because of a poor service experience, compared to 55% overall.
It isn’t all bad news though, customers reported that they would be willing to pay an average of up to 13% more for products and services if the business provided excellent customer service – that’s a healthy return for showing you care.
The report concludes with tips for better service:
1) Great service starts with the people who deliver it – Motivate and enable your employees to go above and beyond for your customers.
2) It’s all about relationships – Good service comes down to forming relationships with customers. Look at customer service as an opportunity to deepen your connection with your customers, not just as a transaction to be completed.
3) Make it easy for customers to do business with you – Listen to your customers and use their feedback to improve your product and service.
4) Exceeding expectations is easier than you think – Customers aren’t unreasonable and don’t except every problem to be solved instantly. They simply want to be treated like individuals, know that you genuinely care about their issue, and are working hard to address it.
5) Listen to your employees – They are closest to your customers and understand the most about what customers want and need. Don’t miss out on their incredibly valuable insight.
6) Seek opportunities to make an impression – Understand and act on the notion that every customer interaction is an opportunity to create a connection and to drive customer loyalty and engagement
What’s clear is that the service expectation is increasing and consumers expect more than ever to be able engage with businesses directly or via social media when they have a gripe – sadly though, the number of businesses that can engage in this way is relatively flat.
The full report including a nice Infographic is here
Things don’t always go well, no matter how passionate you are as a business owner. What’s important, is what you do next.
yabbit will help you to connect with your customers, on premise and off. Providing a platform to gather feedback about your business, and giving you a critical opportunity to respond when things have not gone well – before your highly connected and passionate customers turn to social media and their favourite ratings and reviews site to share their disappointment.
At no cost to you or your business, yabbit will provide an easy to use feedback platform that will encourage your customers to “tell it like it is” – simple, discreet feedback, straight to you, the one who cares the most, the business owner.
yabbit is looking for 100 passionate business-owners to get involved in a pre-launch Beta, to provide us with invaluable feedback that will help us shape this business into a game-changer for your business.
Go to www.yabbit.com to register.