Is service continuing to go downhill or am I just getting more picky? You’d think in a problematic economy, service – just about the easiest thing to quickly improve and adapt – would be great almost everywhere one turns. After all, it’s an easy differentiator. I just don’t see it. In fact, even considering that I’m feeling like a kinder, gentler and more understanding kinda’ guy these days (don’t laugh, compared to 10 years ago, I’m downright mellow), I’m routinely astonished with how bad service has gotten from sectors ranging from corporate professional services to the guy who plows my driveway.
There are many, of course, who after getting poor service immediately punt on the provider. I can’t fault this tactic since there often are few excuses for poor service and there are other providers to reward with one’s hard-earned cash. In the past, I was usually in this camp. More people, however, roll their eyes, keep quiet and continue to use the service provider regardless of the quality of their performance. Many of us have just come to expect bad service and assume that it’s bad everywhere. I’m afraid that there are times when I have been in this camp as well. Just too lazy to make a change or educate the provider to help improve the service for me or others.
A couple of months ago, I decided to take a new and more consistent tack. Everyone makes mistakes, so if a service provider I’m using makes one, I give him/her a break – exactly once. I simply inform them of the mistake they made and leave it up to them to do the right thing. What’s the right thing? Well, it varies, but at a minimum, it includes a sincere apology and some additional ass-kissing like having the service rendered for free or at a time/place/price that benefits me in some way. That’s it, you get one shot. If you choose not to deliver or you’re just too ignorant to, I’ll go elsewhere. I think it’s a comfortable and fair model that I can implement without hesitation in all circumstances.
This got me thinking about entrepreneurs with service components in their offerings. Is service seen as a necessary evil or is it part of the differentiating strategy? When you think of yourself as a product company alone, for example, the services you provide – yes, including basic training and support – can be treated as ugly stepchildren. Even great products can be completely derailed in the market with something as small as crappy support forum response times. Services are often the most visible part of the company. Getting them right can mean the difference between corporate success and failure. Are you delivering them well? If you screw them up, are you doing the right thing?