Designing Outstanding Service

Services represent approximately 80% of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, so to say we live in a service and experience economy is no exaggeration. Over the past months, I have written how customer experience is a key driver of loyalty. In the recent past, when product differences were more distinct, customer experience played less of a role in determining loyalty. Today, differences between companies and products are often blurred in the customer’s mind, and they tend to make loyalty decisions according to the Golden Rule. Are they treated the way they want to be? Because loyalty is often determined by customer experience, I keep asking myself and everyone who will listen to me: “Shouldn’t we know more about how we deliver the customer experience, so we can improve it?”

As part of AgKnowlogy’s Customer Experience Monitor we compare a retailer’s perception of what drives customer loyalty, and how they think they perform on these experiences to what customers think. Retailers rightly believe “customer service” is an important factor in driving customer loyalty, but most can’t accurately describe how they actually deliver customer service. More importantly few retailers have made service a process that can be duplicated by each employee with predictable results.

In these next few columns, I will discuss service delivery and describe a technique called Service Blueprinting, a customer-focused approach to service improvement and innovation. Service Blueprinting identifies and helps you improve your service process, the points of contact with customers in your Customer Experience Corridor, and the evidence of service from the customer’s point of view.

Three Challenges

To start this discussion, I want to overview three challenges of creating innovation in the service area.

Services As Processes
One of the most distinctive features of services is their process nature. Unlike products, services are dynamic and typically unfold through a linked sequence of events. The service can be short or long term but it is the process or chain of events that makes services unique. To function effectively for a customer, the entire sequence should be well-coordinated and managed as a whole, with emphasis on the steps that create value for the customer. In the chain of events for each service, there are “behind the stage” capabilities and resources that help “on stage” staff deliver the final customer experience.

Developing a deeper than seat-of-the-pants understanding of how customers experience and evaluate your service processes will help you design and deliver services that create a sustainable competitive advantage. The Service Blueprinting technique I will describe helps you visualize your service delivery from the customer’s perspective. This is a prerequisite for making meaningful adjustments in service delivery that increase customer value. I will show how Service Blueprinting is a flexible approach that can be used by agribusiness managers to look at their service delivery from either a micro or macro level approach. This means Service Blueprinting can be used to refine a single troublesome touch point in your Customer Experience Corridor, or it can be used as part of a strategic visual overview of an entire service chain.

Services As Customer Experiences
Customers cannot help having experiences when they interact with your company. The quality of those experiences is a large factor in determining whether they give you repeat business or go elsewhere. A critical issue for any ag retailer who wants to grow is whether you can systematically manage the customer experiences that drive growth, or do you leave that to chance? It’s really one of the big questions you should be asking yourself. In my observation, many retailers view service quality as a “heroic event” delivered by a motivated employee, acting mostly by themselves. This is not the way customers experience your quality! Delivering customer value through distinctive, memorable service experiences is a cross-functional effort. All parts of the organization need to have a common goal of creating process-linked, memorable customer experiences. Companies that approach the challenge of increasing profits through greater customer loyalty and superior customer experience don’t leave these results to chance. The Service Blueprinting technique I will describe will allow your company to visualize any overall service and all its underlying components from a customer perspective. This will provide the learning framework and common ground required to drive service improvement.

Service Design
Well-designed service is a pleasure for customers and is often a point of competitive differentiation. Can we agree that most services in most ag retailers have evolved over time without much consideration toward optimal design? A key ingredient in designing services that deliver superior customer experiences is the ability to describe and replicate service process elements so employees and even customers know what the service involves and what their roles are in its delivery.

When I was a boy, my mother said the last thing I should do before leaving the house for school is look in the mirror. Over the years, critical self-examination has served me well. It encourages me to look beyond what worked yesterday to what might work tomorrow. Ag retailers have a large opportunity to increase the value they provide to customers, and create a sustainable competitive advantage by focusing on customer experiences. The Service Blueprinting technique I’ll start describing next month is a highly visual description of each service process. I guarantee many “ah-ha” opportunities for improving customer experiences will become apparent as employees work through the service evaluation and redesign process.

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