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Much as they might seem like antiques when scattered among children’s electronic toys and games, wooden alphabet blocks have remained a constant in American family living for more than 200 years. While they were overtaken as teaching tools in the digital age, they may never be surpassed in the power of their iconic value as universal symbols of basic learning. This month, we have stacked up six imaginary blocks to convey the simple logic embedded in our thinking as to what constitutes great service.
For starters, every essential operation in the delivery of great service must always be thought of as a three-step process with a beginning, a middle, and an end, as the foundation layer of blocks signifies. For example, consider an outbound customer communications routine: (1) prior to a scheduled service call, either a service electrician or a service dispatcher should personally reach out to the customer to reconfirm an upcoming appointment; (2) in the course of the actual work, the service electrician should take care to explain to the customer what had to be done; and, (3) the next day, following the completion of the work, the service electrician or the service dispatcher—or, better yet, both—should connect with the customer to verify that everything was completed to his or her liking.
Service-oriented companies should strive to impose this foundation on every customer-facing component of their business. Still, our example highlights the importance of communications at all stages of the service process and amounts to only one thin slice of service operations.
The second tier of blocks broadly signifies the individual obligations of everyone in an electrical service organization, not just the electricians. It incorporates everyone who has any direct or indirect involvement with service operations. The letter “C” on the first block stands for “Care.” No one can do an effective and credible job in service work without genuinely caring about what they are doing—and he or she must consistently show it. As contractors recruit individuals for their service organizations, they must be on the lookout for this essential personal attribute, a bona fide sense of caring about what such a position demands.
The letter “E” on the second block stands for “Effort.” Nothing will impress customers more than the relentless effort a service-oriented contractor might put forth to solve a current problem that they are undergoing. Embedded within that notion is the fundamental rationale for why service work is more profitable than project construction: service work is all about solving customers’ problems. By contrast, in project construction, contractors are consumed with solving their own problems. As a result, people will often pay a premium to have their problems solved but are much less inclined to pay others to solve their own problems.
In recent years, the concept of the “service experience” has gained great currency. It exalts the customer as king and relegates the service provider to a supporting role of constantly striving to exceed expectations. We disagree with that business philosophy. We believe that the quality of the service experience must be gauged on similar metrics for each and every one of the participants, not only the customer. Departing from the standard “customer-comes-first” approach, we believe that the customer should be respectfully regarded as first among equals. If that proposition sounds like service-delivery heresy, imagine an extreme example in which a customer was very pleased with the work performed, but an electrician was injured carrying it out. What if the contractor lost money on the job or someone else, perhaps an electrical distributor, endured a loss or setback from it? Over the long haul, the fairest measure of success will come from a wide-angle assessment of the outcomes that everyone has experienced.
If our first-among-equals characterization comes as a surprise, what we have suggested for the third tier may seem even more extreme: the crowning goal of successful service delivery is recurring revenue, hence the dollar sign on the topmost block. Recurring revenue is what differentiates return-service work from one-off projects. It is the true measure of success. Maintaining a healthy service organization that is always ready and able to ensure the ongoing operation of customers’ facilities requires the kind of predictable profitability that flows from recurring revenues. All of the feel-good objectives of service delivery that business pundits so often tout will naturally follow as by-products of profitability that can result from recurring revenues, not vice versa.
Our world does not lack how-to advice on delivering service. For the benefit of companies and individuals committed to doing so, we believe a simple stack of alphabet blocks effectively sums it all up. Who knew that a fundamental childhood learning toy could continue to provide such valuable lessons? As always, we look forward to hearing what our readers think about the subject.
About The Author
MCCOY is Beliveau professor in the Dept. of Building Construction, associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and director of the Virginia Center for Housing Research at Virginia Tech. Contact him at [email protected].