I say to-may-to, you say to-mah-to

The same differences can be had when different people speak of service quality. So, let’s call the whole thing off, right? Well not so fast.

The tangible aspects of quality – ones that can be easily measured, quantified, analyzed and remedied – are obvious. It’s the service side, the intangible aspects of a transaction or interaction that become the source of ambiguity. The root cause of this ambiguity is simple – people are the variation.

You can train your call center representatives to answer the phone the same way or work from the same scripts when handling customer calls. What can not be predicted is the satisfaction level that the customer will feel after that call. Because we don’t explicitly know in most cases what will delight or satisfy that customer.

In the business sector, customers groups are sliced and diced and put into groups. It can be based on age, gender, income, education (and many other factors). But the fact remains is that no matter what common characteristics a group of people may have – they are still individuals.

Individuals who have had thousands of experiences that are specifically unique to them, and it is based on these experiences that they make assumptions about what service quality is or should be.

As service workers, we all need to be cognizant of the people variable when doing our jobs. Whether it’s face to face, phone or email interaction. The best service providers are adept at interpersonal communication. It’s sensing when the person has had a bad day, and one more bad experience is going to put them over the edge. It’s familiarizing yourself with the subtle and not so subtle clues of when your customer may not want to hear a canned script.

Empowering and trusting your workers starts with providing them the right skills training to handle all types of situations. And it’s not for everyone.

Service quality is a unique beast. You can make assumptions about what your customers want out of the service interaction, but you’ll find that your assumptions many times get blown out of the water. That’s why it’s important to not think of customers as part of a segment, but as individuals. Yes, they may behave, look like and spend like 99% of the others in that group but there’s that 1 out of 100 times that things won’t go as planned – where they break the rules and show their individuality.

When that happens, will you be ready?

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

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