Person walking away

Consider your last rail journey.  Where did actual journey time fall in your list of priorities? (Unless, of course, the train was badly delayed or cancelled.)  Would the saving of 20 minutes to the journey time have come above getting a seat? Or a clean environment?  If you are anything like me I suspect not.

Train overcrowding has become one of the hottest topics of the moment.  A recent report published by the UK Public Accounts Committee has clearly highlighted the problems with unclear responsibility for making the UK’s railway network efficient and effective.  The report puts the spotlight on the fact that there is no legal requirement for the train operating companies to supply extra capacity without additional taxpayer support.  Instead, the PAC said, taxpayers are having to provide funds to Network Rail to carry out upgrade work and Network Rail is more interested in railways than customer service.  We hope that the new £6billion investment in Thameslink, announced today, may make a change to this. However customer service and customer satisfaction appear to be bottom of everybody’s agenda because the pure provision of service takes precedence.

The same is also true in B2B.  Lawyers are interested in law, consultants in consulting, engineers in engineering etc. All will have a view on customer service and most will agree it is important but very few will know much about what constitutes really good and differentiated customer service.

Let’s take a look at the legal profession.

A survey done by The Law Society in 2000 suggested that winning a case was the best way to lose a client! The reason was that lawyers assumed that winning the case was all that was required and that the client would be very grateful. Therefore no further action on the lawyer’s part was required. What lawyers overlooked was that clients expected to win the case.  After all, that was what they were paying huge fees to achieve.  As a consequence clients felt let down and ignored because the lawyer provided no ‘client care’. Comments like, “the lawyers have moved on to chase the next cheque, they don’t care about me or my business” summed up the outcome. Ironically if a case was lost then there was a post-mortem with the client, the lawyer showed genuine remorse, plans about what to do next were formulated. The client felt that the law firm was keen to put things right. As a result the client was more likely to stay.

This gets right to the heart of the matter, what customers value most are not the things they expect, it is the things that they don’t expect that they value most.

Clients expect an architect to design and build on time and on budget; they expect marketing programmes to work and they expect consultants to make things more efficient and more effective. What they don’t expect is architects to build something that genuinely nourishes the soul, that employees will take a pay cut to work in, that is much more than the sum of the parts. Clients don’t expect marketing programmes to become a global phenomenon which propels the product to icon status overnight. Now achieving those kinds of result, whilst being generous in your praise of others and not forgetting the contribution to success that the client made, is what constitutes good and differentiated customer service. In this case you have served the customer in ways she values greatly but did not expect.

Customer service is absolutely not about “being nice”, answering the phone promptly, being good at your job or working collaboratively with your client. That is just doing what is required and expected. Why do I buy my TV from John Lewis? Because for years they have offered a 5 year guarantee and they will deliver and install my TV at no extra cost. Now that is customer service I don’t expect. Try getting that out of Dixons.