What IS customer service really?
I typically like to boil a complex thought down to it’s respective “essence”. However, I am very mindful of Menken’s “for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, elegant…and wrong”. I recently pondered the thought ‘customer service’. What IS customer service anyway? What does it really mean? We say we supply services and have a service portfolio that we manage based on customer feedback. I’ll buy that, but why do you have services for your customer to begin with?
With Menken’s quote firmly in mind, I see customer service as nothing more than moving a customer through a process.
A service can be something I pay for, in which case the provider of the service has added some sort of value to the process. An example is paying for an expedited passport. I pay a service provider to take my application to a passport office and stand in line for me to get my passport expedited. I can do it myself, but the provider adds value to me because it would cost more in time and money for me to travel to the passport office and stand in line. The provider is moving a customer (me) through a process (passport expediting). Clearly, if the value the provider is adding to the process does not outweigh the cost of doing it myself, I won’t need the provider. Another similar example is customs processing, where I pay for a provider with expertise in customs laws, regulations and processes to move me through the customs process. The principle value add being to make the process simpler for me, the customer. An extreme example is shipping, whether through FedEx, UPS, DHL or through USPS. I could put the package in my car and drive it to its destination. Depending on where the package is going, it could be much more costly for me to get the package to its destination than to let a provider do it for me. They provide value by saving me time and money. Therefore, whether through proximity to a passport office, access to expertise, or economies of scale, providers add value while they move a customer through a process, and the value needs to exceed the cost.
What about non-fee services, services provided to customers of a firm? The same basic definition holds; the customer service function is there to move a customer through the firm’s processes. Keep in mind, this could be self-service as the definition still holds. Next, think about value-add. What value is your customer service function adding while moving a customer through your process? Are you making a complex process or set of processes easier for the customer? Are you saving them time or money? You need to be able answer this question, or your customer service is of questionable (or no) value.
Once you are able to answer the question, take the next step. Why do you need to add this value to move a customer through YOUR process? Are your processes too complex? Do you require expertise from your customer to be able to move through your process? What exactly is the value you are adding, and why do you NEED to add it? Do this for all of your services in your ‘service portfolio’. You might be surprised at what you find.