“Would you like the extended warranty with that?”
That’s what clerk asked me, as I was checking out of a local retail store. Earlier that day I had attempted to pick up a chair I was having reupholstered. “It’s not quite ready,” said the man. “We need to Scotchguard® the fabric, especially since you have grandkids.” L.L. Bean will take back my fly-fishing boots and refund my money if I am not satisfied, even I have worn the boots a very long time.
Customers value the Good Housekeeping feeling they get from the guarantee that comes with some products they purchase. And, the concept of insurance—whether house, car or that new wide screen TV—is today purely blended with the features of the object. But, what about customer service? Can I get a service guarantee? Could that sound like: “If your waitress is not upbeat and helpful, your meal is on the house.”
Let’s take a quick look at how making stuff and making memories are substantively different!
When you buy a product, you receive an object; when you buy a service, you get an outcome plus an experience surrounding that outcome. Unlike products, a service experience cannot be inventoried but is created new each time. The manufacturer controls the quality of product making and the processes that yield efficiency, not the buyer. Customers don’t show up at the factory to help. The reverse is true for service—the buyer judges the quality of memory making.
Since the product-buyer is not a participant in product making, the manufacturer’s focus is largely on the efficiency of internal processes. With service, however, the buyer participates in creating the service experience along with the service provider. Consequently, the focus must be on the quality of the relationship with the co-creator—the customer. And, in the end, the receiver of a service owns nothing tangible—thus the value of the service depends solely on a satisfactory outcome plus a positively memorable experience.
I was in desperate need of a plumber. At the time, I was new to the area so I just randomly picked one out of the Yellow Pages. Minutes later, the candidate for resolving my plumbing glitches arrived. “You called for a plumber,” he said with obvious pride, “And I’m your pro!” I was beginning to realize my plumbing gremlins were in very deep trouble. Five minutes later, he was outlining the problem, the prognosis, and the price. He obviously knew his stuff.
“I can fix it now—it will take me an hour and a half—or I can come back when it’s more convenient. I’ll take care of everything. When I’m done, you’ll have no cleanup and I guarantee my work for the rest of your life. You can pay me when I’m finished or I can e-mail or mail you an invoice.”
Exactly 80 minutes later, I was writing a check and requesting business cards to give to my friends should they have plumbing trials. I had played “Yellow Pages roulette” in search of a plumber and hit the jackpot!
Service assurance—that shot of confidence injected into the experience—can be as rock-solid as L.L. Bean’s product guarantee. Done well, it can surpass the peace of mind of a product warranty that can require a form, copy of the receipt, barcode from the box, and a note from your mother to collect a refund. Like the plumber, it is the pledge of promise laced in obvious knowledge, concrete confidence, and unquestionable honesty that communicates to customers: “I’m your pro!”
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