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Over-servicing is counterproductive

Are you guilty of over-servicing your external and/or internal clients?

If so, your desire to provide 100% customer satisfaction can actually be counterproductive.

Here’s a few examples to consider. You probably have a myriad of your own.

OTT Service Principles

Recently, I was a customer of a business who provide customised products made to order. When my order arrived (very quickly), I realised that a small component part was missing. I contacted the customer service team to request a replacement of the missing component and was astounded to hear that the only way the customer service person could "make good" was by processing a second order of my customised product. All I had asked for was to have the small, inexpensive missing component replaced (and maybe a couple of spares). The customer service person also refunded me the cost of the postage for my first order. It's important to note, that the missing component does not prevent the product from being used.

While I was delighted on one hand with the policy of offering 100% customer satisfaction, I was also dismayed with the waste involved in reproducing my order. I was also faced with the moral conundrum of whether to refuse a second supply to reduce the environmental impact and limit the cost to the supplier, or accept what was freely offered - a second product for nothing. What would you have chosen?

For me, this was a significant example of over-servicing. As the customer in this scenario, I would have been 100% satisfied if the business had sent me the replacement component I'd asked for, for a few dollars, rather than spending over $100 RRP to reproduce the item and ship it. The issue in this case is two-fold:

  1. The Customer Service person does not have access to order and ship the component parts; and

  2. They have a mandate to ensure the customer is 100% satisfied.

So, perhaps the business' intent is not to remake every expensive customised product when something small goes awry, but because of the systems and philosophies conflicting, this is the only way the mandate can be achieved.

Do you have processes in your organisation that mean it costs you more than it should if your team are to deliver on your customer service principles?

Great Expectations

The easiest way to over-service an internal customer is by creating expectations about the level of service you provide, which, when the circumstances change, make it impossible to maintain and thereby disappoint the customer.

If the customer would be satisfied if you responded to emails and provided a solution within one business day, yet you regularly respond within a couple of hours, the internal customer will come to expect this as the service standard.

If the customer expects that they will have to follow you up on three out of ten occasions when they have made a request, but you are so responsive and proactive that they don't need to follow you up; and instead, you follow them up when you are waiting for further information; they will simply assume that things are progressing, and will be disappointed when they realise you have not actioned their request.

So when something changes - you take on an additional project; someone leaves, creating a gap in the team's capacity; you have a period where you are unwell; the business grows over time and your responsibilities increase, but no additional support or resources are provided; you will get to a stage (as much as you may not like it), where you simply cannot deliver the same level of service as you previously did. This can lead to your internal clients complaining to your manager that you are no longer performing to expectations, damaging your personal brand, and creating conflict in the workplace. Has this ever happened to you?

I once received a "talking to" because a manager had waited three working days for a response to a (non-urgent) matter. They were so disappointed, they reported it to their manager, who had a word with mine. And as was often the case, when I rushed to make good and provide the information that was required, the manager did not take the recommended action for over a week.

Service level agreements are not just important for external customers, but can also help with setting the expectations between teams. For example, if an invoice is approved within 2 working days of the invoice processing day, the invoice will be processed; however, if the invoice is not approved in time, no guarantee of payment processing is given.

Would service level agreements between the teams in your organisation help manage expectations?

The Martyr Effect

My parents often reminded me that my name was Martha, not Martyr. I did not need to sacrifice myself for the benefit of others.

The label "people-pleaser" is a commonly used one these days, and is not used in a positive way. If you are deemed to be a people-pleaser, you are tagged with being so keen to keep others happy, that you often fail to care for your own needs.

As someone who could likely be awarded this moniker, I see it more as being caring, compassionate, humble and considerate. However, if I look deep down, it also possibly fed by insecurity and/or a lack of self-worth.

If we allow these feelings and behaviours to creep into our work and business life, we are likely to find ourselves over-servicing our customers; giving away our time, our intellectual property, under-charging for our skills and services; and many other examples. Do you find yourself giving stuff away in a bid to make a customer happy? (This is different to a deliberate decision to offer pro bono support).

Our desire to make our customers happy means that we do end up sacrificing parts of ourselves for their benefit. This can impact our livelihood, our mental and physical health, our relationships and our potential for growth.

When you think of the overall potential cost, the benefit in that moment for the client barely seems worth it.

As I hear my self-talk telling me to practice what I preach, some tips on how to manage and limit over-servicing:

  1. Say no at least one in ten times.

  2. Check your prices at least once per year to ensure you are charging market rate.

  3. Don't discount your prices just to secure a piece of work; if you're going to discount, ensure it is a part of a longer, strategic plan.

  4. Set boundaries for yourself and your client and stick to them.

  5. Take time off. You need to refresh your brain; and time away from the day to day operational demands is necessary to clear your head.

Do you need someone keeping you accountable to your boundaries and standards?

So while we are striving for 100% customer satisfaction (and think that's a good thing); if the expectations of the customer, whether or not we have created them, exceed our ability to meet these expectations, we will never be able to reach that 100% target.

And in the first example, exceeding a customer's expectation by too great a margin can also result in them losing respect for your business and its processes.

The first step in exceeding customer's expectations is to know those expectations ~ Roy H. Williams

Rather than having a rigid customer service mandate across all aspects of your business; empowering your people to establish the client's expectations before offering a solution allows them to adjust their approach to meet the needs of that particular client.

For regular clients and internal customers, set a service level agreement that you know can be achieved, even in difficult circumstances, and then work to consistently exceed those expectations.

Expectations are key in all aspects of business - from customer service, to employee management, to problem-solving and business strategy. Get clear on yours and theirs and neither party will be disappointed.


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