Consumer service is an opportunity for an organisation, a corporation, or a business firm to connect with customers, solve problems, and show they care.
Well executed after-sale service impresses consumers. Impressed consumers return to be further impressed. They might be impressed by the goods they purchase, but is that enough reason for them to return? Probably not. What probably brings them back is the people they deal with.
Service is a very important marketing principle. Our service learners are strongly grounded in the idea of 5P Makreting, which emphasizes the difference between attraction (“public image”) and promotion (“public relations”).
Service experiences are what stick with consumers. Service inspires confidence, and confident consumers become advocates — they inspire others. This is true generally, but it is especially true of community-based organisations, which this course focuses on.
When we begin to define service we will learn two service concepts. Concept 1 is what service does and Concept 2 is what service is. Module 1’s principal purpose is to consider what service does. Let’s conclude this section with some decisions about Concept 2.
Decision 1. Service is an expectation.
Decision 2. Good news travels at the speed of sound — bad news travels at the speed of light.
The speed of sound is about 1,000 ft per second. Happy members advocating for the community travels at a speed of about 720 mi per hour. That’s pretty fast, but not nearly as fast as the sound of bad news. It’s about 1 million times faster, a number so large that it’s meaningless.
Member service qualification is an opportunity for your organisation to connect with the membership.
In MSQ 1 your learners will...
- Be introduced to consumer service
- Learn the importance of reputation and how it can be quickly lost
- Learn to apply marketing by walking around
- Acquire a strong grasp of basic marketing principles
MSQ 1.01 - An Introduction to Customer (Member) Service
This is the print version of an audio presentation
MSQ 1, Module 1 considers ...
- Defining Service
- Who Are Customers? Who Are Members?
- What Customer Service Means
- Professional Qualities in Customer Service
- Customer Service Qualities
Tier 1 MSQ is an introduction to member service. Tier 1 MSQ initally describes the concept of customer service (CS) and the CS workplace. How member service differs from CS will become apparent in this module, which provides skills important when forming appropriate professional attitudes. Creating strong first impressions, superb communications orally and in writing, and learning service needs and wants are the essence of this module.
OUTCOMES . You will successfully complete Module 1 when you are able to...
- Describe the CS workplace
- Define how the member service workplace differs, if at all
- Illustrate the professional attitudes a MSO is expected to display
- Understand services needs and wants
- Identify oral and written communication tactics and when each is appropriate
What is service? Answering this requires you to master two concepts:
Concept 1 – Service is doing. Doing service occurs when routine maintenance or repair work is performed. This type of service is the act of assisting someone.
Concept 2 – Service is being. Being (of) service occurs when society broadly accepts a social need must be fulfilled by forming an organisation of some type.
Restaurants are a common, private sector example. Public sector examples include police service, a fire service, a health service, and so on. This type of service is the fact of assisting someone.
Neither of these definitions considers the difference between commodities and services. See the Image 1 tab on this page.
Defining service also defines an important difference between two types of consumer...
- A customer purchases service at the same time money is exchanged for goods.
- A member funds an organisation at the same time money is exchanged for services.
The most fundamental way to define marketing is the efficient distribution of goods and services but service is not tangible: it cannot be manufactured, transported, or warehoused. How is it distributed?
The customer (member) should take pleasure from the transaction. A happy customer is a returning customer. Let’s look more closely at customers and see if there is any real difference between customers and members.
Let's define a basic term: consumers are men and women who purchase goods and services.
Consumers want to be looked after. They want someone to take care of them, and they want to feel satisfied: they paid for a service or a product to receive a tangible benefit in return.
Consumers have questions, most especially in a technology-crazed economy. They need someone to explain what they don’t understand, or can’t. Here is the most basic difference between a commodity and a service:
- Service is a process.
- Commodities are a type of output called production.
Let’s also define...
customers are individuals who have the habit of purchasing commodities from particular retail channels
buyers are individuals who have the habit of purchasing commodities from particular wholesale channels
clients are individuals who have the habit of purchasing services from particular professional firms or agencies
members are individuals who have joined a community-based organisation formed to provide some particular service
Service often occurs because flaws are a natural and recurring side-effect of production. Flaws are a type of output. Flaws are common. See the Image 2 tab on this page for a simple systems model diagram.
Such diagrams can be much more complex — and this one will do for our purpose: to show the basic relationships that distribution imposes on consumers and producers.
The service process ideally leads to a type of output: resolution. The resolution is subject to feedback, and additional service may result. Service relies on only one capability: the aptitude for listening. Reality checking and perception checking are the most important tools a service professional has.
- Perception checking occurs when you politely ask questions to fully understand the reason for service.
- Reality checking occurs when someone brings a flaw to your attention: is the complaint credible? Do not confuse credible with ridiculous.
A ridiculous complaint should only ever be treated as credible until you know otherwise.
Service is first defined inside your organisation. How the organisation treats its staff, whether paid or volunteer, is a fair indication of how it treats its consumers. The star performers always have other options: they are the first to leave when an employer treats staff poorly.
And the ones who stay? This guarantees they are employed, not that they are motivated.
An organsation is in trouble when staff can’t (or won’t) go the extra distance to help a customer.
Friendliness and service is promoted within every organisation that provides good service.
Friendly? The customer is always right — which does not mean the customer is always correct. You can only know this when the relationship stresses proper communications. That's why you use reality checks and perception checks.
When the customer is incorrect? Every plea for service is a discovery opportunity. Finding undeclared or unknown consumer needs is the most important principle of Concept 1 Service Doing. A few pertinent questions, asked confidently and while assuring an irate consumer, may find ways a fraught relationship can be calmed. The service professional knows this and knows how to politely ask the questions that resolve the service issue.
The ability to communicate and to relate take time but not effort. Being present for your consumers is by far your most important duty.
Contact management is the first fact of presence. Service occurs when a consumer feels her (his) issue(s) goes from burned (the flaw occurs) to learned (the producer knows a flaw needs resolution) to turned (the flaw is resolved). Customer service requires contact with a consumer.
Contact management assumes producers or professionals want a relationship with their consumers. The relationship these producers or professionals establish means that consumer needs are identified (and, when at all possible, met).
What Customer Service Means
We need four more definitions to define customer service.
producers manufacture commodities for distribution through retail or wholesale channels
professionals are individuals compensated for what they know, e.g., physicians, nurses, engineers, architects, lawyers, accountants, or educators
sale means the distribution of a product or service from the producer to the consumer.
service means the support a producer provides a consumer after a sale is made.
Good service keeps consumers coming back to the producer better than good pricing.
A quality commodity does not foster relationships with consumers even if it satisfies consumer desires. People foster relationships, not products.
Where do you enjoy doing business? What shops, suppliers, or banks do you patronise? Why do you like doing business with them — aside from whatever motivates your appreciation of the product’s features or benefits?
At a guess, you appreciate you feel positive and satisfied when you leave. You rely on them: they meet your needs and wants because of...
- the courteousy they show,
- the time they spend with you,
- their friendliness, and
- other exemplary qualities.
This model assumes a competitive marketplace.
Customer retention is an important service incentive in competitive markets. In a competitive marketplace, the unsatisfied customer shops elsewhere. Poor customer service in a competitive marketplace results in consumer unhappiness. Customer churn (the opposite of customer retention) leads to fewer or no return customers.
Professional Qualities in Customer Service.
Customer service emphasizes what the consumer wants. Consumers constantly assess their service experience: they grade their suppliers during each transaction — which the producer rarely knows. Consumers seek to have six basic service needs met:
- Friendliness – the most basic service tool is merely being courteous and polite during every communication.
- Empathy – the consumer needs to know that the service professional appreciates their wants and circumstances.
- Fairness – the consumer wants to appreciate the adequate attention and reasonable answers they receive.
- Control – the consumer wants to influence on the outcome of every service call by providing appropriate input to the service provider.
- Information – consumers want information pertinent to their needs, which are always time-sensitive.
It is also very important for service staff to have information about their product or service. “I don’t know” is a reasonable answer when it accompanied by a commitment to find out more.
“It's not my department” is never an acceptable answer. It suggests a hostile or poorly resourced service employee. Customers want information, and they need to respect and trust the person who is supposed to have the information.
The Service Equation. Service = Accountability + Delivery
Service staff must be empowered to satisfy customers, and it’s at this point that member service begins to differ from customer service. The resolutions a customer service professional provides are limited in two (or three) ways...
- By corporate policies, or
- By distributors or suppliers, or (sometimes)
- By law
Member service officers are not constrained the same way. Every member service officer is empowered by a collection of standing orders provided by his (her) community.
Service delivery is an expectation by the consumer. Customer service and member service do not differ in this respect. Where they work differs, and this fact means customer service workers will encounter different service issues than member service officers.
The CS Workplace . The typical CS worker today works in a call centre, and so it’s less appreciated that the best CS professionals are also retail marketers. Member service officers probably provide a visible presence in a building, even on a campus. They are quite similar to retail marketers in this respect. Member service is probably a retail experience: it might take place by phone or online in some instances, but the most meaningful member service experiences will likely take place in a building in which a dedicated group (or groups) gathers regularly.
Professional attitudes . Service delivery assumes that certain professional attitudes will develop. Service professionals must first like people — and then they must enjoy helping people. Service is a chaotic process. A service worker never knows what service she (he) is expected to deliver. Resolutions will take time. The people seeking resolutions want the issue resolved immediately. Tension is inevitable.
Understanding . Every service worker must seek to understand before they are understood. The ability to listen is the most important professional skill anyone can cultivate. We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. What a consumer wants, as opposed to what she (he) needs, is never easy to ascertain. People seeking service may thwart the solution they seek through their own unreasonable behaviour or expectations.
Communicating . Call centre experiences are anonymous. I can speak to Judith but I can’t see her. I’m not aware of what she’s doing. It’s hard to build a relationship with a voice. If she’s professional, Judith will listen a lot and then write a lot. If Judith isn’t professional, there’s nothing I can do about it. Retail experiences aren’t ever anonymous: I can speak to Benji and I can see him. I have a problem, he has a solution, we are each aware of the other, and a relationship builds. If he’s professional, Benji will listen a lot and speak a little. He may also take notes.
We have covered a lot of ground here. We have broadly defined service and considered how customers and members differ.
We have considered also what effect presence has as on member service, the professional qualities member service officers bring to their role, and the tremendous importance of both understanding and communicating with members, who are sometimes correct and sometimes not — but never wrong.
This sets us up for Module 2. You will successfully complete Module 2 when you are able to...
- Act professionally even under pressing circumstances
- Describe ways to deal with challenging customers, and
- Identify tactics for dealing with culturally diverse customers
Go to Assignment 1. Assignment 1