While organizations measure the outcomes of service in concrete terms -- the flight arrived on time, the rep answered the call on the first ring -- we use different variables to judge the experience. A good or positive service experience depends on intangibles like the way we felt, which is subjective.
The variables are what Sriram Dasu and Richard B. Chase call ETCs, which stand for emotion, trust, and control. In a recent article on MIT Sloan they write about the results of research around a simple question:
How can service organizations make their encounters with customers more positive?
Service providers need to recognize how emotions, trust and feelings about control shape how customers perceive their service experience.
- Emotions influence what we remember, how we score encounters and the decisions we make.
- Trust is a primitive psychological variable that is essential to any robust and enduring relationship.
- Control over one’s environment and knowledge of how events are going to evolve are fundamental psychological needs.
According to the authors, ETCs need to be managed as design variables. Good CRM system can be a competitive advantage in the soft realm, too. In my view, that system also needs to capture any interactions you've had with customers in social networks to be helpful, in addition to specific stages of the service.
Another part of the research I found fascinating is that although credentials, testimonials and recommendations are frequently important factors in trust -- hence follow ups from hotel stays to get good reviews, for example -- many customers make their judgments based on other cues. Among them, are:
- professional appearance -- it may not trump qualifications in all cases, however we all know that a well-dressed and organized-looking professional gives a better impression. Think of uniforms for example: at hotels, airline counters and on flights, etc.
- clear communication -- so many organizations have a hard time translating their internal speak for the benefit of customers.
- active involvement -- we do like the fact that either we can track something, or the company has the ability to get on it fast. I was impressed by the way Jennifer Kane organized the MIMA Summit a couple of years back. And here's an example from Delta about lack of active involvement.
- smart follow up -- a note about staying in touch over the years. Maybe it's just me, I find birthday cards from mortgage brokers who you talked with once ten years ago creepy. And why were they nosing around your private information anyway? This is a way to say that execution really matters to a follow up being smart
- likability --hence the term like-minded. Jeffrey Gitomer talks about people buying from people they like, and he has the experience to back it up.
- willingness to take the high road -- for example knowing when to cut customers some slack on late fees. A few years back I had a couple of incidents with the local Blockbuster store where the videos I returned to the drop off box had not been checked back in and I was charged a late fee. Thankfully, the store manager figured out that the problem was on their end.
Are there opportunities to cede some of your control over decisions to customers? What cues to trust building could you be exploring? Are you mapping emotional occurrences to your organization's responses?