Businesses say that employees and customers are important. None of these claims can be disputed except through testing and measurement. Positioned between these two significant groups is the frequently underestimated intangible called service. Service is what connects employees to customers.
It is the wrap around the product or the customer experience. The most well meaning employees can deliver poor service that leads to loss of business. Service is an important element and metaphor of strategy which requires deliberate and detailed attention. There are five factors attached to the metaphor of strategy as service. These considerations are the servant, the beneficiary, the emotion, the memory and the publication.
The servant of service
The servant of service may sound tautological but it is stated that way for emphasis. Service actually means being a servant of whoever is being served and of the organization who has employed the servant. The adage of who pays the piper calls the tune has a two-fold application to service. The first payer of the the piper is the employer and the second is the customer. The employee is a bridge between the first and second. Strategy as service has to take cognizance of the piper’s skills, abilities, preparedness and willingness to serve – to be a servant.
I am writing this article in a hotel room in Enugu, Nigeria. When I got to the hotel, I needed to use the restroom and observed there was no tissue there. When I presented my observation to one of the servants, she opened a mild dispute by saying there was tissue in a concealed holder which I had checked and found empty. This kind of scenario is not reflective of a servant. A true servant should first of all apologize then seek to verify and rectify the gap. It is the duty of organizations to train people to be true servants to customers. Strategy is weakened by incompetent servants.
The beneficiary of service
The obvious beneficiary of service is the customer. The customer is an actual person with reasoning, decision making capacity, emotions, a location and a host of other attributes. The servant of service is constrained to understand the attributes of customers who differ widely even within the same industry or enterprise. The beneficiary of service has to be understood by geography, culture, demography, gender, status, desires and buying capacity. Failure to relate with customers from their own perspectives often leads to the collapse of valid business models.
The emotion of service
We have already affirmed that customers have emotions as beneficiaries of service. This implies that purchases can be made on emotional grounds. Consequently, you might ask buyers their reasons for buying and get seemingly illogical responses such as “I just like it”, “It reminds me of my sister” or “because it’s my favourite colour”. Logic will query such purchase motives but emotions will applaud them. No wonder economists tell us that consumer tastes and fashion influence demand. Advertising takes advantage of the emotion of service by flooding buyers with persuasive content. Consequently, it is logical to take into account the emotional side of service when setting up strategy.
The memory of service
The emotion of service serves as a prelude to the memory of service. When the experience of a service is positively memorable, emotions follow suit and are more likely to be retained. The same applies to bad experiences. We all cling to various memories for good or bad but we are more likely to seek retention of the good ones.
Customers hold on to experiences longer than they hold on to physical products. If memory serves them positively, the servants and the organization benefit from repeat business and vice versa for negative memories. A bad memory says “I’m never going back there”. A good memory says “I can’t wait to go back there”. Strategy should focus on creating not just services but memories or better still, unforgettable memories. Hospitality businesses in particular have an immense capacity to create positive memories and should take full advantage of this in their strategies. Delivering service is commonplace but creating memories is uncommon and brings future returns.
The publication of service
Returns are generated from the memory of service through free publicity. Word of mouth, referrals and boasting on behalf of organizations produces enormous multiplier effects. The impact of social media has made it possible for news items to reach millions of people across the world within a few minutes. Individuals can share valuable information about their lives and activities to those they are socially connected with, some of whom they do not know personally. For example, a visit to a restaurant will get free media publicity as the customer enjoys the food and posts multiple pictures of it on social media. What a publicity boost for service strategy!
To get strategy as service on track, business entities should know how strategy design affects the servant, the beneficiary, the emotions, the memory and the publication. The effects can and should be considered collectively.