Customer experience or service product?

Posted: November 3, 2009 in CRM
Tags: , , ,

There is a difference between a customer experience and a service product and it is worth noting the distinction.  We seem to obsess about the former and almost ignore the latter and that’s too bad because I think there is money to be made in the difference.

The distinction reminds me of the big discussion that went on a few decades ago over quality.  At the time imports from around the world, but principally Japan and Europe, were cleaning our clocks because they were perceived to be of higher quality than domestic brands.

In typical American fashion we mounted a comeback strategy to bring our quality up to world standards and for a while smart business discussions were all about quality.  It reminds me of the last few years and the relentless emphasis we have placed on the customer experience.  Let me say that emphasizing anything as fundamental as this can’t be bad, in moderation, but there’s more to consider.

My interest in the customer experience was provoked by a long series of calls between my wife and our mortgage company, a typical big bank.  The problem was that the bank had failed to pay our property taxes though it was clearly their responsibility because they collect the money each month and hold it in escrow.  The problem got worse as we waded into it.  Not only did the bank not pay our tax bill but also they had inadvertently paid someone else’s with our money.

My wife had a series of calls with bank representatives who work in the call center.  Each bank agent promised to fix the problem, each tried to reassure us and each was pleasant and professional told my wife to have a nice day at the end of the call.  My wife ended each call thinking that the agents were “nice” and that the problem had been solved.  Unfortunately, there was no follow up and here I will let you imagine the rest.  After four “nice” conversations the problem is still there.

Now if this was a manufacturing problem I would say that the product is broken and that the bank has a quality problem.  The typical response when quality became an important value in manufacturing was to improve final inspections and it worked.  Certainly a lot of inferior product was kept from the customer but the manufacturer also ended up with a lot of products that needed fixing.  Clearly something else had to be done and that led to the idea of designing quality in rather than inspecting for it.

I think our focus on customer experience is a lot like focusing on quality.  Just as you can’t separate quality from the whole manufacturing process you can’t separate the customer experience from offering a high quality service product.  My wife is more tolerant than I am and left each encounter (so far) encouraged that the situation would be rectified.

Intense focus on the customer experience has left us with a hollowed out service product, at least in this case but I will extrapolate here.  It appears to me that the bank might be incenting people to be nice but also to pass the ball and not care too much if the ball falls on the ground and dribbles away.

This experience vividly shows me and I hope others that there are two parts to customer service — the customer experience for sure, but also delivering a quality service that goes well beyond being nice or professional or any other qualifier that to attribute to the people involved except one.  You still have to get the job done, and CRM needs to ensure that aspect as much as it addresses the experience.

Comments
  1. cfulbright says:

    Denis,

    I think you hit the nail on the head, and I hadn’t really thought it through this way before. Four years ago I worked for a company that had [unnamed] as its insurance provider. If this company was trying to avoid reimbursing us for medical expenses, it couldn’t do a better job. Every month I’d call them and talk to a wonderful CS rep who would acknowledge the problem and promise to fix it. In multiple cases this went on for six or more months. Sometimes when they finally paid us they included interest because of the long delay. My wife made me promise never to take a job where that company was the insurance provider.

    So you’re right; for a service product, customer service IS the product.

    • Denis Pombriant says:

      Cary,
      You are so right. I really think we’re in denial when we invoke the idea of the customer experience over the essentials of the service product. Vendors sell CE under the assumption that their customers have the service product otherwise nailed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Neither side talks much about the service product and the discussion defaults to the experience, in my view, the superficial.

So, what did you think?

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