Whether it is the ride using the local transportation system, buying a coffee at a store or going to a hairdresser, we have all had our fair share of bad service experiences. This often left me wondering why companies themselves don’t realise what they are doing and made me wish that they would, at least once, live through the customer experience they provide. As easy as this might sound, most companies don’t consider this. However, there is hope.
A recent explorative study at CBI (Center for Business innovation at Chalmers University), found that companies in the service sector equip their front-line-staff (employees who are in contact with customers), with design tools to improve their services. Quite simple in nature, these techniques can be applied by employees on an every day basis during their work routine. Things as simple as “taking a coffee with a customer” or “interviewing colleagues about their experiences”, were only a few things employees were taught.
While there certainly are many sophisticated ways to design better services, it seems that a couple of simple tools can lead to improvements and better service experiences. The practice of improving a service can be structured in a few simple steps that can be referred to as: learn, reflect, do.
First, it’s all about actively listening to the customer or colleagues, observing their habits and learning about their behavior. How they enter the building, where they go first, how do they react or interact with each other, where do they struggle, how do they succeed. As an example, one employee could assist a customer while another observes the interaction. Another possibility is to use small, existing interactions, such as serving food, to ask more engaging questions. Instead of asking:“Did you enjoy your food?” – a question we usually politely answer with yes – one can ask returning customers about their eating habits or their workplace.
As a next step employees should have some time to think and reflect about the interaction, for example in a talk during a coffee break or during a group meeting. This conversation should be positive and focus on considering ways by which customers or employees can be supported. For example, an argument with a customer should not result in a discussion about who was to blame but a conversation about how to react or prevent similar instances in the future. Seeing an opportunity resulting from a failure requires practice, but it ultimately leads to learning from failures. It is most likely that new ideas about how to improve will emerge from these conversations.
While ideas are nothing but thin air if they are not realised, a next step should be to just do it. Small improvements can be implemented in everyday practice and most likely do not require big investments. So instead of introducing a whole new line of coffee in a café, the café might just buy one package and serve it as a “today’s special” to test customer acceptance. While testing it is important to examine the most critical aspect (does the customer like this new coffee brand) in the simplest way possible (today’s special).
At this stage it is important to remember to learn from every test, including the failures, and to see the results as something positive that enables further development. Results are gained by, once again, observing and interviewing the customer. This is crucial because the sold number of cups might just be based on a general curiosity for a new offer.
To conclude, all these simple techniques do not require a lot of time or budget, and focus mostly on small parts that make up the service experience. However, over time they will improve the overall experience leading to happier customers, more engaged employees and a better work environment, ultimately improving business results.
While simple in nature, the biggest challenge remains a shift in the attitude of managers and employees working in the service industry. A shift from “business as usual” towards a mindset that has the customer at its’ center and sees failure as an opportunity to learn and develop.
Center for Business Innovation