The Real Value

People-Oriented Strategy: The impact of authentic customer service

In a world where goods are being increasingly commoditised and consumers are spoiled for choice, service is increasingly being leveraged as a business differentiator. Often, the difference between a good brand and a great brand lies in how much a business has invested in the design and delivery of service. There are a few important trends and disruptors at play. The increase in technological adoption across the globe and the advent of social media have created a world that is more connected than ever before. Consumers can now take their complaints and compliments online, add to a web of information and influence how a brand is being perceived by a fast-growing community of economically mobile and empowered individuals. People are more likely to believe what their peers tell them than what they see on an ad. Stories of shame or glory are communicated at the speed of light and often beyond the control of businesses. What businesses can control is how consumers should experience their brands, what they can do to delight them and how to effectively resolve issues of disappointment or mismatched expectations.

The Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore (CSISG), a landmark study run by the Institute of Service Excellence (ISES) reveals that satisfaction levels and revenue are positively correlated. Its data shows that the more satisfied customers are, the more they tend to spend and stay loyal. In our 2015 Q3 Food & Beverage (F&B) and Tourism study, we found that satisfaction with the Attractions sector was directly linked to perceptions of quality while discounts had limited impact in driving satisfaction. This demonstrates that consumers are getting more sophisticated and it takes more than a competitively priced deal to delight them. We also found that social media has a profound impact on influencing expectations. Customers who access social media prior to visiting a F&B or Tourism establishment tend to exhibit higher levels of expectation compared to customers who did not. For businesses to stay ahead of the curve in delighting their customers, they will have to pay attention to an entire ecosystem of factors that correlate to service levels. Service can no longer be relegated to mere interaction with front liners and simplistic beliefs about hygiene cues. 

Examples of service authenticity

 When someone asks for examples of great service, companies such as Singapore Airlines, Ritz-Carlton and American Express come up frequently. What this means is that there is commonality of understanding on what great service means. When asked, consumers may point to specific instances where the company had gone out of its way to do something that made them feel good or experience an element of surprise.

Service authenticity embraces the notion of identity. Service authenticity also implies the possibility of service being inauthentic or manufactured. When one ponders over this idea, it reveals something deeper about human nature. People can always tell when something is insincere. It almost appears to be an innate and intuitive ability that is part of our natural makeup. When service is kept at a superficial level and manifested in cues such as smiling, bowing or a series of obvious physical attributes, it is half the story told. What makes or breaks the effective delivery of this is whether the manifestation is accompanied by sincerity.

From a Singapore perspective, the delivery of authentic service means taking into account unique attributes and even embracing stereotypes that have become a part of Singapore’s identity. Is Singapore known to be efficient? Many may find it hard to disagree with this. Perhaps, service authenticity in Singapore then refers to a brand of service delivery that is rooted in principles of efficiency and effectiveness.

 On a personal level, service authenticity brings to mind the concept of service from the heart. This is where service personnel are invested in the process of ensuring that service isn’t a mechanical and emotionally void exercise or duty. Rather, it is an exercise of personal engagement that eventually leads to personal fulfilment and satisfaction for having made someone’s day or helped someone in need. 

In a recent interview with Changi Airport Group, the Institute of Service Excellence was told of a story about Dushantha Baduge, Duty Terminal Manager and the Changi Experience Agents’ collective efforts in helping a passenger who was inebriated and unable to help herself. 

Finding the passenger had unfortunately soiled herself, Dushantha arranged for two of his female colleagues to help her wash up while he bought her a new pair of pants. Two of his other colleagues brought her some refreshments and checked her into the airport hotel to rest. Dushantha was able to convince the passenger to remain in the terminal instead of venturing out in her state.  Together with his colleague, he ensured she was medically certified by a doctor to fly before rearranging her departing flight. 

To ISES, this is a great example of service authenticity because it combined the CAG-brand of service with personal initiative and self-directed leadership that came from the heart. The team went above and beyond their expected call of duty to provide holistic assistance to the passenger.

 Grooming talent towards providing authentic, heartfelt service brings value to the asking price.  It also sets leadership in attracting return business with less marketing investment; an objective many business events cities long to achieve.

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