Product, project, and engineering development today are more than just designing features and functions. Customers across the global spectrum expect fantastic service to be fully satisfied with a product purchase. Moreover, in many instances, in product, project, and engineering management, our only product is a service.
Superior service doesn’t happen by accident. Organizations need to consider a service design strategy and train employees on acceptable behaviors to deliver consistent customer service experiences. WE can borrow the ideas from “Woo, Wow, and Win” by Thomas Stewart and Patricia O’Connell to name three important elements of exceptional service design:
- Every customer is not right,
- Customer service should be consistent, and
- You’re never done.
Every Customer is Not Right
We’ve all heard the old adage that “the customer is always right.” Innovation for service must recognize the fallacy of this statement. First, we know that we do not design products and services for all customers. We develop new products and undertake engineering projects for a specific target audience. Not all customers are right for every organization and certainly customers are not always right.
The latter point is especially relevant as a firm scales its product and service offering from niche, early adopters to a majority market. Features and functionalities desired by an early user can be more complex and less refined than those necessary to be successful in a mass market. Firms need to utilize feedback from early adopters to initially develop a new product, yet the design must be streamlined for cost-effective manufacturing as the product transitions to the mainstream. The initial customers might be “right” to want you to add advanced technology to their product, but they may no longer be the “right” customers.
Customer Service Should Be Consistent
Consider the last time you stayed at a really nice, luxury hotel. The lobby shines and the staff are formally dressed, offering polite comments as you check in and transfer your luggage to your suite. The room itself may be quite plush with thick carpet and fluffy pillows. Bath products include aromatherapy scents to relax and calm you after a long day.
Yet, you’d also like to get an ice-cold soda so you consult the (faux?) leather-bound guide book on the desk. Ugh! The ice machine is on another floor, all the way down the hall. The soda and candy machines are on another, different floor and the room is barren, noisy, and dirty. Your shoes stick to the floor where someone has obviously spilled something and the trash can is overflowing. The ambiance is ruined.
Organizations need to provide a reliable, consistent customer service experience. One way to ensure that service delivery is predictable is to use the service yourself. Managers should go shopping at their retail outlets to understand and empathize with an ordinary customer. The service experience should be consistent through all levels of the company.
Employees across the board should be trained to understand the service experience and the overall standards expected in the business. Nothing should be outside of anyone’s job. Front desk clerks should tour the hotel to check for consistent “messaging”. If trash left in the hotel lobby is unacceptable, a dirty snack and ice room or guest laundry room is also unacceptable. Each employee must also be empowered to make decisions (within the bounds of a set of standards and guidelines) that ensure a consistent, reliable, and satisfying customer experience for all.
You’re Never Done
One of my favorite philosophies of quality management is “kaizen,” or the idea that you must continuously strive to improve. This is more than true in customer service design! Especially in a world of social media, customer service matters.
A company that can provide consistent and reliable customer service will excel ahead of its competitors. But the race never ends. Consumers expect more and your competitors will add features and services to try to gain market share.
Companies must continually benchmark against their top industry competitors to maintain exceptional service standards. The best firms will also benchmark and study top firms in other industries to learn what works best. For years, REI (a sporting goods cooperative) has taken returns with no questions asked. Zappos, a relatively new online shoe retailer, learned from this policy and offers shoe returns with no questions asked.
You’re never done and translating a customer experience success from one industry to another can keep your firm ahead of the competition.
Service Design Principles
Product, project, and engineering managers today are faced with satisfying a more selective and differentiating group of customers than ever. Features and technology functions will only get you so far. Service can make the difference to fully satisfy customer expectations and to lead the competition. Exceptional service is built on choosing the right customers, delivering consistent and reliable service, and recognizing that you’re never done.
You can learn more about service design and strategy in an NPDP workshop where we discuss specific marketing tools and techniques for new product development. Contact me at [email protected] or 281-280-8717 to enroll in a free NPDP overview course or any of our newly scheduled PMP, Scrum, or NPDP workshops in Houston as well as our online PDH courses. At Simple-PDH.com where we want to help you gain and maintain your professional certifications. You can study, learn, and earn – it’s simple!
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