Service Is Going the Extra Mile

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Something caught my attention in the results of two automotive service studies we just completed. It was the substantial impact of perceived extra effort in the service process on customer satisfaction & loyalty. In a study on getting a vehicle serviced, whether the service centre “went the extra mile” was the third most important driver of customer satisfaction and loyalty – out of more than 60 specific needs, mind you.

And, in a study on buying a vehicle, the most important driver of customer satisfaction and loyalty (out of more than 80 specific needs) was whether dealership staff “went to great lengths” to make sure the customer was satisfied.

Taken together, these two studies really drive home the importance of getting staff to go above and beyond the call of duty in serving customer. It is from instances of extra effort exhibited by staff that customers come to feel especially valued and appreciated by a company.

But how can a company differentiate itself in this way? On the surface, this service objective seems less amenable to service design than one like getting customers through a check-out line quickly. There is not one point in the service process where extra effort is required and, by definition, it seems to rely more on spontaneity than design.

In fact, this is actually why differentiation by going the extra mile is so valuable to the firm. It doesn’t rely on changing one process, policy, or structure – that would be easy to copy; rather, it relies on building a capability for extra service effort throughout the organization (check out this related blog on building these service capabilities).

So, here are three truths about firms that differentiate themselves with extra service effort.

Extra effort is encouraged.

Great service companies encourage extra service efforts by committing to values and standards that are aligned with exceptional customer service. This ensures that their staff understand that going the extra mile for customers is expected and will be appreciated. Academic research backs up this truth. One study, for example, demonstrated that leadership emphasis on service quality leads to shared perceptions by staff that service is important to the company which, in turn, leads to extra effort on behalf of customers…and ultimately customer satisfaction and sales.

In practice, Publix, the Florida-based grocery chain with the highest customer satisfaction for nearly 20 years now, ensures that its associates view customers as the most valued assets of the company who should be welcomed, cherished, and appreciated. It reinforces its commitment to customers with practical standards such as the 10-foot and 10-second rules – greet customers whenever they are within 10 feet of you and do so within 10 seconds! Publix also celebrates and rewards extra service effort via its Delightful Service awards that are given for customer service that is over and above minimum standards, as observed by customers, mystery shoppers, or management.

Extra effort is engaged.

Service companies also engage a desire in their staff to go the extra mile for customers. A large part of engaging employees in this way comes from hiring service enthusiasts. Companies like Zappos and Canvas on Demand (listen to a podcast here), for example, hire first and foremost for attitudes and personality that fit with the job and company.

In addition, these companies engage a desire to deliver exceptional service to customers as a means of helping the company they cherish. Academic research shows that a primary motivator of extra service effort is employee attitudes toward the company. You see, if employees believe that they are treated well by their company, they reciprocate by going above and beyond the call of duty in their service to customers. Not surprisingly, then, the exemplars of great service in this area are also exemplars of being great employers. Companies such as Publix, Zappos, and Southwest Airlines focus on their people who, in turn, focus on service, which leads to profits.

Extra effort is enabled.

Finally, service companies that excel at going the extra mile enable it with training, policies, structure, resources, systems, and insights that support extra customer service efforts. Marriott International, for example, supports extra effort with a database of individual guest preferences that can be fulfilled by employees at any Marriott hotel worldwide.

Academic research, in particular, shows that latitude or discretion given to service employees enables them to delight the customer with extra effort. For example, rather than sticking to the industry standard of using average talk-time to evaluate call centre employees, Zappos encourages each employee to use judgment to go above and beyond in every customer interaction. And each staff member at a Ritz Carlton, a Marriott brand, has a discretionary budget they can use to satisfy customer needs – especially when things go wrong.

Doing what’s expected may satisfy your customers, but it probably won’t win their hearts or their loyalty. That requires putting forth extra effort to exceed their expectations. Though it cannot be scripted, it is possible for a company to differentiate itself with extra service efforts if it actively encourages, engages, and enables staff to delight customers in this way.

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