Customer Conversation in a Service Economy


Are your employees corporobots? If so, you've not only dehumanized them — you've stripped your company of precisely what gives it the possibility of creating an enduring advantage.

In an economy that even when producing products is mainly based on service — internal and external, domestic, and foreign, up and down the organization ladder, and across departments, which does not mean that for collaboration to occur we need to put everyone in cubes; collaboration is an attitude — customer conversations equal execution.

Service, which is also the way you build and deliver a product, is part of what differentiates your business from another.

This is an issue if you're customer-averse, in which case, you end up being at the mercy of the lowest price, or most ubiquitous distribution to be part of the consideration set. The second case means that instead of customers, it's distributors that beat you up on price.

Do more than, not more of

Because service is not overhead, it's what makes what you do valuable. It's what makes a business person part of the community. Passion for design and craftsmanship is the reason why I love products made in Italy, for example, especially articles of clothing that serve me for years.

The other day, when I cleared up my closet for the seasonal change, I came across and admired again the long deep burgundy velvet Ferré skirt I bought probably thirteen years ago. It is made so well that it held through time. The line is so classic to be timeless.

That skirt cost me a fortune, which I had saved for when I was barely making ends meet. I still enjoy wearing it. I'm not sharing this story now to brag about my exceptionally good taste. I'm using it to remind us that marketers are in the fashion design business — beauty and style are part of the design of experience.

Ferré said he designed clothes for intelligent, free, strong women. Strong in their temperament, their character, their passionate side. Elegance has personality, like seduction. Clothes not for everyone, yet so right to serve the kind of person who would wear them.

Hand-made suits are another example of this concept. Tailored to suit a body type and life style.

You would be right to think we don't do a tremendously good job at being customers, whether we buy products or demand service. However, the odds of becoming that way improve when you design a full experience with customer conversation, starting with closing the communication loop.

Service is like dominoes, it cascades through people. If you organize it to be valuable, it comes across that way.

[image of phonebooth dominoes]


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0 responses to “Customer Conversation in a Service Economy”

  1. I like that “marketers are in the fashion design business”. What a great analogy. Much like the story of your skirt, I often purchase Italian pants – while expensive up front, they last for years and can save money compared w/buying throw-away clothes.
    In many cases, you get what you pay for – key as marketers is to do the things that make you valuable. Not compete for scraps in a price war, which ultimately is a loss for all involved (unless you’re Wal Mart).

  2. Nice post – and I totally agree. As more and more products become disposable, flimsy and plastic – the ones that stand out as being long-lasting feel more valuable; more worth talking about; and more easily recommended to friends.
    People made such a fuss about the “boring” Beatles announcement from Apple last week – and yet it really served to show how they aren’t just “making computers”. They have positioned themselves as curators of culture and design, which transcends through their media ventures and into the products they sell and the lifestyles of their customers.
    I wrote a similar post last month, on the value of “showing your work” – how businesses can build added value into their products by adopting and demonstrating the ethos of an artisan.

  3. I would have to complete agree, with you, about the importance of customer service experiences-it’s what makes companies like Apple, Clarks, Babeland, & Zappos are truly amazing. Those companies have a level of customer focus and experience that you simply don’t get at your run-of-the-mill shop. It’s also why the above-mentioned companies continue to have a growing score of loyal and raving fans.

  4. @Patrick – it’s another one of those things I said a long time ago, that marketers are in the fashion business, when nobody was there to hear it. And I am meditating a post about that, too. What happens to innovation if nobody notices? Yes, you do get what you pay for, a lesson everyone should have.
    @Neil – thank you for the link. Apple is in the service business, most companies are. Yet so many don’t pay attention to what their customers love. Apple does.
    @Timothy – even when organizations are not customer-centric, those who are customer-focused win. Admittedly, the bar is still quite low.

  5. This post and many of the comments are highly applicable to the travel and tourism sector which has been industrialised and and commoditised. Tourism suppliers are in the experience design business” but I eschew the word industry because it is too mechanical. I like Neil Bearse’s comment on “show your work”. How do travel suppliers do that – by enabling their employees to show they care; to offer personal not scripted service and by telling stories about what goes on behind the scenes. I am as much interested in the people who serve me in a hotel than whether it has a flat screen TV with 150 channels.

  6. It’s nowadays not just what you sell, but how you sell it, and what added value you provide to it. The Apple example I saw in a previous comment comes immediately to my mind as well. But I could cite many other examples, like Mercedes cars or Blizzard games.
    Everyone can sell a computer, a car or a videogame, and for how much the quality can be comparable, it’s the added, perceived value that makes customers shift to one brand or the other.

  7. Do you think it’s possible for a company to have too much customer service? I ask semi-jokingly, because the odds of that actually happening are so low, but still — what do you think?
    And your comment about that skirt made me want to go buy one for my wife. But its a braver man than I who would do that, I think.

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