Customer Service but What does it mean?

The writing on the wall is clear and loud.  Customer service is a frontier which promises opportunities to win customer’s heart. In goods, products are fast becoming ‘look and feel’ alike. And services too are getting commoditized. In such an environment customer service can be a powerful differentiator.

Though this conclusion not new and everybody knows it, but what constitutes a good service remains elusive to many. Consider the following:

  • Buying a personal clothing or perfume is an intimate decision which needs privacy. But the moment you approach the shelf, the sales person stands right on top of your shoulder.
  • Buying for well off classes is not about buying a product rather exploring and seeking stimulation through new products or brands. But the moment you approach an aisle, the sales staff wants a concrete answer to, ‘what are you looking for?’ There is no answer to this question. The buyer himself or herself does not know what he is looking for but definitely he or she is looking for something.
  • What happens when you touch the products displayed? The staff makes sure either you do not touch or if you touch he or she wants to restore it to ‘before touch’ position. This makes you feel guilty of having disturbed the displays.
  • We Indians do not believe in queues. Standing behind somebody is literally taken as lowly and inferior. It signifies loss status and power. Therefore we mushroom around the payment and checkout counters.  This can be very insulting and demeaning to a well meaning customer who get shoved and pushed.
  • Many stores provision for multiple checkout points to ease traffic during the peak hours. Opening a new line requires somebody to intervene and take initiative. But many stores do not have designated staff to monitor traffic buildup.

Many stores adorn their shelves with the best of merchandise and invest a lot of resources on physical infrastructure. But they still fail miserably in providing memorable customer experience. It is becoming difficult for retailers to differentiate on the basis of ‘what they do’ therefore the focus must shift to ‘how they do’.  The competence should be developed on ‘how things are done here’ because things that are done in an industry are no different from one another.

Four categories of marketers can be found based on two service dimensions: the procedural and personal dimensions of service. The process dimension is about the operational aspects of service like assortment, check out time, convenience, displays, and ambience. And the interactional aspects of services are about how person to person relationship is negotiated. This includes aspects such as warmth, courtesy, greeting and interest shown by the staff.

  • When a service firm operates low on both the aspects (low process and low personal) it creates a freezer experience for the customer. In this situation customer has no reason to revisit. A DTC bus experience is like a freezer.
  • High process and low personal orientation is an efficient service operation.  Although customer may be treated like a number but there may still be a segment of customer who may value this kind of service. McDonalds comes very close to this model.
  • Low process and high interpersonal delivery signifies a situation where the fundamental service is missing but staffs are very friendly. This is like a bunch of friendly people trying to help but unfortunately they are unsupported by the system.
  • Finally a firm achieves excellence when it works hard on both the service dimensions. The backroom systems properly created which enable the frontline staffs who deliver efficient service in friendly and efficient manner. This kind of service is a rarity in India. Although Shoppers Stop comes very close to it.

What is your experience? How often do you come across freezer or excellent service experience?

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6 thoughts on “Customer Service but What does it mean?

  1. Thank you for the excellent read.

    Along with the clear opportunity for winning customer hearts by better service, I think there is another angle to it as well which is of “fairness”. Since in most businesses better customer service has cost implications which is the only thing that matters to a lot of Indian customers, a system enforced by the service provider where a sense of fairness prevails\is projected might also allow for winning customer hearts. This can be something as simple as enforcing Q’s to something more complex like fairer booking rules (like for Mahindra XUV 500).

    • Dear Sabri you have raised an important issue of ‘fairness’ in service encounters. Customer always evaluates a service encoutner in terms of how equitable and fair is the relationship between the sacrifice and the return. Consider how unfairly we are treated when airlines dely or cancel flights or when you want redressal of your grievance from a credit card company.

  2. well written.. Ive had a good share of all type services. Like you said initally diving into personal space while shopping is a complete turn off from me ive many times walked out of the store. visited barbeque-nation yesterday which had excellent service and perfect serving with timing.

    • Thanks Sagarika. Exxcellent service is rare partly due to the fact that most businesses fail to recognise a service encounter having a personal and social dimension. People who man the front line often are the most poorly paid and poorly oriented for the jobs they do.

  3. Excellent Read Sir…
    I enjoyed reading the minute Details of observation you captured here.
    After all is said and done,the Last but a very important point i.e the touch Points Plays such an Important role where a customer makes a decision.
    One Question i have in mind is that, As you said that a customer should be given his/her space while choosing a product of his/her choice….isn’t it becomes necessary for a marketter to target the dillema of the customer & convert it into sales….or once the Products are there on the shelf he should become a spectator ?

    • Your observations are correct. But every marketer needs to understand the line that violates the personal space. The new customer is very informed and indulgent. Shopping is not all about problem solving. we play around in shopping malls and departmental stores. Customer buys are often by product of this process.

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