Signal-to-noise – Service vs Customer Service

In Accenture’s 2011 Global Consumer Research Study they state that “consumers around the world are giving off mixed signals at a time when keeping consumer relationships strong is more critical than ever to providers. On the one hand, consumers claim they are more satisfied with the companies they do business w2ith. Yet on the other, they feel less loyal to companies, increasingly switch providers and shop for better deals as their expectations rise.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase “mixed signals”. Generally consumers are pretty straightforward and its us organisations that are failing to discern signal-to-noise. I think consumers are signalling something pretty clearly. ‘Customer service is important to me, but it doesn’t drive my loyalty. How you help to meet my need drives my loyalty.’ I find this distinction is regularly confused in the service industry – between ‘customer service’ (what you do for customers who need help) and ‘service’ (how you meet their need). Let’s be clear – business effectiveness comes from the latter and not from the former. If all your customer experience work is focused on providing great customer service, you’ll have an efficient service but it’ll never be effective at achieving truly great loyalty.

Service vs Customer Service venn
The overlapping but distinct fields of Service and Customer Service

In many ways we already know this. Evidence indicates that customers don’t reward good customer service (which they consider hygiene), but they are certainly willing to punish bad service. This does not sound like the basis of a loyal relationship. HBR’s work reinforces that customer service in and of itself is not so important. (I know some surveys indicate that what people value from a service is friendly and informed staff, short queues etc – but they wouldn’t even be in the store without a great service proposition. Mostly I think this is the result of ill thought through survey structures.)

I’m witnessing this challenge at the moment. A Customer Service team that just doesn’t understand the purpose of the Service Design team. They have traditionally done continuous improvement against their own KPIs – though I feel have failed to realise that those KPIs are for a Customer Service team who’s modus operandi is increasingly to deal with failure demand. The Service Design team is there to focus primarily on the service proposition – what is the purpose of the organisation in the customer’s eye? – not whether they had a nice call experience. I don’t want to diminish the latter, as it is important, but the former is critical to long-term success and profitability.

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