Joe Marchese

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"I don't have a legal definition of pornography, but I know it when I see it."

                    --     Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

I was the CIO for a startup company called FirstWave. FirstWave was a very unusual business proposition, so unusual that I often found it difficult to describe just what business we were in.  It was so difficult because it was so unique -  there aren’t any organizations quite like it.  [Uniqueness is a special trait that is essential to being competitive – more on that in a future blog.]  And I must admit that I occasionally saw eyes glaze over when I talked about a membership organization, network of services, time-saving assistance ...  A friend  was right in suggesting that sometimes it's just easier to say that we were a buying service or something that they had heard before.

So how do you describe your business when friends ask?  I find it more relevant, as well as accurate, to think of most knowledge economy organizations as being in the service business. A colleague once stated that "every business is a service business".  Most products can be thought of as services if, as Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor suggests, you look at what it does, not just what it is.

The customer's assessment of quality is a subjective one.  Just as Justice Stewart, they know it when they see it.  If that is true of quality, then what of service, which most people think of as downright smokey by comparison.

Here are a few elements that we must consider on designing and delivering service to our customers.

§  Understand -- and meet -- the customers' expectations.

§  Let our commitment, cooperation, responsiveness, expertise, and courtesy show. 

§  Be especially determined in problem situations, those "moments of truth".

That's easily enough said, but what do we know of how customers judge service?  How do they know it when they see it?  Research done by the Marketing Science Institute is perhaps the clearest insight anyone has offered.  Ten specific attributes were identified as being the important elements on which customers judge service.  They are:

§          Reliability - dependability in meeting commitments and expectations

§          Responsiveness - willingness to help, promptness in doing so

§          Credibility of the service providers

§          Communication - candor, articulation

§               Competence - skill, knowledge, expertise

§              Ease of Access to service providers (reaching them when they are wanted)

§          Courtesy -- so easy yet so forgotten

§          Understanding/knowing the customer's business

§               Security - freedom from danger, risk (including           corporate politics), doubt

§               Tangibles - physical attributes of the product or service (appearance of people, facilities, products, etc.)

I’ll share more of the particulars in future blogs, but bear in mind that reliability and responsiveness comprise almost 70% of what customers call service. Customer satisfaction is a key measure of our organizational performance.  We can’t get better at these things unless we dimension just where we stand in the minds of our customers.  And we want our customers to use a consistent yardstick, one we understand very well ourselves, to measure just how valuable or un-valuable our services are.

In the meantime, remember that in its purest form, we are not just in the [fill in the blank with the way you defined your organization]business -- we're all in the service business.