The little things: how each company defines and executes service is what customers remember--and what sets a supplier apart.

Author:Bigelow, Peter

IT ALL TOO often is the little things that we remember most vividly and that can set one person, or company, apart from another. Consider a restaurant. A friendly, smiling and attentive wait staff can do wonders to make a customer want to return, while a staff of preoccupied, inattentive people can make the dining experience seem endless and virtually guarantee that customers will think twice before returning.

Service is not just measured by the smiling face of a customer-oriented frontline employee; it also includes the other little things that each company does, intentionally or not, to provide customers service (or not). How each company defines and executes service is what customers remember vividly, and for better or for worse, it's the little things that usually set each company apart from the competition.

As custom designers and manufacturers, our industry is much like other service businesses, such as that local or chain restaurant. We have to provide service with a smile--real time or virtual--complete with attentive and friendly service to all. Most companies in our industry fully understand the importance of service, and focus on having a qualified, attentive, friendly person answering e-mail and the phone, providing pre- and post-sales support, which is indeed one of the key service offerings critical to success. Companies exert much effort and attention to the hiring, training and retaining of service-oriented personnel. Typically, every effort is made to recruit the best people available.

But what about the other things that customers expect as part of the service experience? How well do we understand what customers want vs. what we think they want? Is the same effort made to put in place the "little things" that are customer-friendly and service-oriented? And how often do we camouflage our own corporate self-interest, such as cost reduction, under the guise of providing service by putting in place "improvements" that are really just plain customer unfriendly?

To this last point, one of my pet peeves is banks and credit card companies that try to reduce costs under the guise of wanting me, the customer, to have a conscience and "go green," so they, the bank, do not have to pay for the printing and mailing of my monthly statement or bill. It's one of those little things that I remember and not kindly! If the bank really wants to provide me, the customer; with better service, it will remind me that they are happy to provide my statement...

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