The Client Experience
Receiving exceptional service is always a memorable experience. It can make a person feel valued. And news of exceptional service spreads fast. It’s talked about to friends and family and even eulogized to strangers. It can transcend the ordinary and take on an almost mythical form. This is especially true when ordinary things are done in extraordinary ways.
Years ago, I had to fly to Bangkok on a business trip. After a long, trying taxi ride in rush-hour traffic, I finally checked into my hotel, tired and hungry. I dropped my luggage in the room and went down-stairs to get some dinner. An hour later, when I returned, I found my luggage neatly unpacked–shirts folded, pants hung up, ties carefully dispersed along the racks. Almost immediately, I began to relax. I involuntarily breathed a sigh of relief.
Then I looked into the bathroom and saw something I’ll never forget. The items from my overnight kit had been neatly arranged by the sink,?and someone had actually cleaned my hairbrush. All of the hair strands had been removed and the bristles were glistening. But the coup de grace was this: Resting in the center of the bristles was a beautiful white petal.
After more than ten years, תאונת עבודה I can still see this image. This one experience–this unexpected gesture that went beyond exceptional service–left me with a whole new understanding of what it means to put a client first.
When I returned home and people asked about Thailand, I invariably told them about that small white petal on my hairbrush. Today, when I think of great hotels, I think of the Hotel Oriental. It is the standard by which I judge all other hotels.
In the universe of companies, only a few consistently reach extraordinary levels of service. Studies have shown that companies that do reach such levels share certain fundamental values and organizational traits.
Marketing a Service
There is a fundamental distinction between marketing a product and marketing a service. Products are tangible. They either work as represented or they don’t. Products can be returned or exchanged. We can touch and feel a product before we decide to buy it; rarely is this the case with a service.
Services are meant to be experienced, not ordered from catalogs. Serv-ices are profoundly personal in nature and our response to them is often emotionally driven. A service relation-ship, especially a professional service relationship, challenges the provider to be an expert in serving people.
Think about the ways buyers perceive “value” generally. When we buy products, we rely mostly on objective criteria. For products like shampoo and stereos, determining objective value is fairly simple. A large bottle of shampoo delivers more product than a small one, so we are justified in paying more for the large one. A stereo system that has more features is said to contain more value than one that has fewer features. Product features, quality and quantity are all critical factors in the determination of value. Service, however, is far more nebulous–and is therefore much more challenging to define and measure.
Service Is a Process, Not an End
One reason service is so difficult to measure is because it’s so subjective. It is experiential–we can feel it and see it, but defining it is another matter. Perhaps it’s a little like what the Supreme Court wrote about pornography: It may be hard to define, but we know it when we see it.
Truly great firms–those with legendary status–are always striving to reach greater levels of service for their clients. Fundamental to such firms is the understanding that service is a never-ending process driven by a specific mind-set. These firms know that while they must always try to reach higher levels of service, they can never assume they have achieved the highest level. There is always a higher level to strive for, and standing still squelches the pursuit of excellence. Either a firm continues to reach for higher service levels or it has abandoned the pursuit. There is no middle ground.
Most firms revolve around the desires and needs of their partners. For service-driven firms, just the opposite is true–not because these firms have partners who enjoy a higher sense of purpose, but because they have a higher sense of business smarts. For them, everything revolves around the client. And as you might expect, the benefits have a way of coming back to the partners. Consistently delivering increasingly higher levels of service to clients builds the types of returns that keep a firm thriving.
There is no quick and easy recipe for becoming a service-driven firm. There is no secret formula for meeting–and exceeding–your clients’ needs. But one of the best ways to find out how your firm can provide exceptional service for your clients is, strangely enough, one of the most frequently ignored: listening to what your clients need–being client-centric instead of firm-centric.
You may be convinced that your best clients have been attracted by the stature of your firm–by its size or its range of specialties. But the truth is that it’s not what you think you’re offering that counts, but rather what the clients are experiencing that matters most.