RITE Tools for Unrivaled Services

October 7, 2013

Any service—whether it be handling a standard support request or a common customer complaint—can garner positive or negative press, depending on how it is administered. Two contrasting episodes that happened in 2013 demonstrate how a well-executed service can suddenly catapult a brand to the status of service marvel and how an ill-supported service can relegate a brand to the abyss of notoriety just as fast.

In January 2013, seven-year-old Luka Apps spent his Christmas money on a LEGO Minifigure, only to have it fall out of his pocket without his realizing it during a shopping trip with his parents. Luka wrote to LEGO explaining the situation and asked if they would kindly send him a replacement Minifigure, promising never to take it to a shop again. LEGO wasted no time in sending Luka a soothing letter to comfort him, along with a pair of Minifigures—an exact replica of the one Luka had lost, plus its archnemesis, so he could pit the two Minifigures against each other in a fight. This story of LEGO’s kindness soon got tweeted and then spotlighted on media all over the world.

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In contrast, Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT), an airline serving the Caribbean islands, received a huge blot on its reputation when, in April 2013, passenger Arthur Hicks wrote a sarcastic open letter about his disagreeable flight experience with this airline that also got tweeted, then in July 2013, featured in talks by the flamboyant billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson. Leveraging Branson’s popularity to increase their audience, major news media from leading newspapers to TV channels—including Huffington Post, ABC, Fox8, and CNN—gave this story heavy coverage. By the time LIAT delivered their rebuttal a few days later, the whirlwind initiated by Branson had already seriously damaged their brand.

Follow the ABCD Principles for Unparalleled Services

Many have written about how to deliver great services that impress customers, inundating both online and print business publications with ideas about what to do and what not to do. But the following ABCD principles cover the essentials of delivering great service experiences:

  • Appeasement—When addressing a customer complaint, service staff should sincerely apologize for what has happened and empathize with the customer’s grievances. A defect in a product or service does not usually ruin a customer’s experience immediately. It is encountering a service representative’s apathetic attitude that turns formerly contented customers into bitter antagonists time and time again. In a situation where a customer regularly procures the same service, a customer could become exasperated and transformed into an adversary if the person representing the business does not render the service with care and compassion.
  • Beyond expectations—To placate any resentment, a company should try to make amends for a customer’s loss, going beyond merely replacing the evaporated monetary value. Just refunding the purchase price, fixing or replacing the product, or redoing the service is not usually enough to pacify a customer’s vexation. Therefore, to compensate customers for their loss of time and any inconvenience a problem has engendered, companies should consider giving unhappy customers a discount on their current or a future purchase, in an attempt to win back their customers’ loyalty. Similarly, when customers simply want to acquire a product or service, providing extra care or amenities beyond what they anticipate is a potent way of astonishing satisfied customers and turning them into your brand ambassadors.
  • Communication—Service representatives should also make sure that they clearly communicate to customers what they will do, how they will offer their support, and when they will resolve the customers’ issues. When it is not possible to complete tasks in a timely manner, service personnel should not only provide status information to customers, but also proactively follow up with customers to make sure that they are not blindsided by any unexpected situations. When a service procedure involves customers’ moving through various caretakers, service staff should make sure that customers do not fall through any cracks. Insufficient communication has proven to be a primary irritant that prevents customer gratification and destroys brand loyalty.
  • Devotion—Whenever possible, service staff need to take full ownership of completing support tasks or resolving issues. If ownership of an issue changes as a service experience progresses, service staff must relay the proper information to other staff members at each point when ownership changes to avoid customers’ having different service providers repeatedly ask them the same questions. Nothing is more frustrating for customers than being passed along a series of support specialists and having to explain their problem over and over again.

Employ the RITE Tools to Provide Peerless Services

Insightful principles like those of the ABCD establish necessary precedents for businesses that are attempting to devise a well-conceived approach to consistently rendering high-quality service. However, to achieve this goal, it is also necessary to assemble a sound service apparatus—a set of RITE tools comprising a clear, unambiguous, and customer-first service process; incentives to motivate desired service behaviors; training and reinforcement in processes that enable service staff to produce high-quality outcomes; and regular retrospectives that allow your organization to learn from highly impactful cases—whether positive or negative. The RITE service apparatus comprises the following tools:

  • Retrospectives—Ask all service personnel to regularly brainstorm service cases that have had high impacts—both good and bad—so they can learn from both winning and losing incidents. Looking at hard-hitting service case studies from your own business during retrospectives demands employees’ attention and is thus generally more beneficial than using external case studies that do not resonate with your service force.
  • Incentives—Motivate service staff by making their post-service customer evaluations matter to their personal bottom line—performance ratings, bonuses, employment, or termination. When service feedback has no consequences, it neither inspires desirable service outcomes, nor discourages unpleasant consequences from occurring in the future. As the old saying goes, “The human being is the weakest link.” Throughout time immemorial, rewards and punishments have proven to be powerful stimuli in encouraging desirable actions and good conduct.
  • Training—Practice makes perfect. Service staff should receive training and reinforcing coaching regularly, until a pleasing attitude, fluency in process knowledge, and impressive service execution become second nature to them. Customer experience is a serious matter. No business should put such affairs into ill-prepared hands. Only through well-trained and well-intended employees can businesses expect to deliver superlative customer experiences.
  • Encompassing principles—Top-notch service processes must be built on a foundation of sound customer-service principles and strategies. Before any business formulates a service process for its staff to follow, it should review and carefully consider guidelines like ISO 10001:2007, which focuses on customer-service conduct; ISO 10002:2004/Cor 1:2009, on customer-complaints handling; and ISO 10003:2007, on dispute resolution; as well as the ABCD service principles that I’be described in this article.

In Summary

Perfection in seemingly insignificant service details can engender glowing market euphoria, while it is equally likely that a tarnished service offering might devolve into a destructive public relations blunder. Prudent businesses should not let their brand reputation rely on luck. Instead, they need to forge the RITE tools to greatly enhance their ability to learn to consistently deliver great customer experiences, as well as to vigilantly minimize service hiccups—whether large or small.

Businesses seeking to attain the apex of customer satisfaction must embody the ABCD service principles in their DNA before attempting to build the RITE tools, because only service personnel who have become infused with the ABCD DNA are intentional caretakers who zealously endeavor to execute the RITE measures. Can business owners and managers possibly expect customers to receive stellar service experiences when their service staff is unenthusiastic and untrained? 

Service Segment Manager V at Hewlett-Packard

New York City, New York, USA

Chi-Pong WongChi-Pong is a seasoned service manager, customer relations manager, supply-chain strategist, and program manager. An influencer in several LinkedIn groups, he has published articles in leading online magazines, including Customer Think, Service Director Business Review, Project Times, PM Hut, Supply Chain Brain, and other popular journals. He earned an MA in Economics at SUNY at Stony Brook and an MS in Computer Science at Duke University. He has previously worked at Arrow Electronics, IBM, STMicroelectronics, and NEC Electronics.  Read More

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