Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Good Service, Part II

Entering keywords Customer Service into Amazon Books, we come up with 88,558

Although I admit to having read less than half of those titles (much less!), until I read this quick post on Harvard Business Review, then realizing the bulk of these lessons
Swatting the gnatty service 
away takes courage!
could be reverse-engineered and attacked from the rear, I thought, like most domestic staff citizens, that principals, like all customers, just wanted more of what's good. Yes, quite true, but also, and as it turns out, not quite!

The truth is, good service isn't really enough. Getting rid of the bad service is equally important. Not the really bad service; that's easy to find and toss out. It's the little gnats, the annoying ones that just keep coming back because, frankly, no one ever bothered to swat them away! How can that be? The second truth is, many estate owners never actually, nor actually want to, manage the nitty-gritty details of a performance management system for a small team of domestic workers. And, among the individuals who have done so, including a few seasoned estate managers, tend to "not sweat the small stuff," usually reserving the lion's share of time and energy for "the big picture." 

Fair enough, we say, but is it enough? The inquiry itself almost seems to run counter to our earlier inquiry of Appreciative Inquiry, focusing on the best a person could provide, which eventually creates less space for the lessor qualities to become relevant (or at least, evident!). Further into the matter was the study of our favorite HR Director Abe Lincoln, and the inspiring story told by Peter Drucker of how Lincoln wisely overlooked General Grant's deficiencies, resulting in a prize no less than winning the civil war itself. Yet, are these ideals for management incompatible with removing the lessor irritations for your employer within their home? Is focusing on the good stuff and ignoring the bad stuff, always enough?

If only it were this easy!
Not enough! - at least that's according to MIT's Michael Schrage, who notices (as we all do, too) the tiny, yet incessant irritations within most any service experience; those which are like tiny, little gnats - and not enough of them to bring out the yard fogger and file a formal complaint, yet always big enough to create a damper on the entire experience. Interestingly... very little attention is often paid to how the customer (i.e., your principal employer) is interpreting these little pests buzzing about. 

This can spell true disaster to the domestic staff team, as it prevents accurate analysis of the service delivery system or even, perhaps, alerting the staff there is no system in place at all. As Schrage notes,

Cynically put, petty irritations and annoyances are simply too petty and annoying to merit managerial focus. Almost by definition, serious complaints deserve more attention than trivial ones. The reality, of course, is that a perennial or chronic irritant almost always reflects a deeper and more systemic issue.

The article makes important note of two financially successful companies, Starbucks and Proctor & Gamble, who either missed or continue to miss the mark, perhaps because of their own gigantic success and solid place in their respective markets. Parallels for this phenomenon of "too big to fail" can be drawn to domestic staff teams or team members who've succeeded - let's say, fairly well, rather good, or pretty much doing well, over the course of many years... save, of course, for those little gnats within their service delivery ... and no system having been established to move beyond sorta good enough service... to really good service.  The difficultly lies in such teams being open to closer inspection, to being open to taking an honest look at not just delivering service with more better - but also delivering service with less worse

I've seen many surveys and questionnaires asking customers what made them "unhappy" or "dissatisfied" with their experience or interaction. I've never seen — or been asked — was there anything particularly irritating or annoying about your dealings with us?

The trick is to dive far below the 30,000 ft. level during inspections, reviews, and performance management inquiry, far down even below tree-top level... right to the ground action of what one does during the day, during each and every opportunity for service interaction. To win the battle for good service will always take more than simple inquiry for unhappiness... the devil is in the details, as Schrage repeats and the details hold unique opportunity for innovating a fresh approach.

Think back to your own most recent service experience, perhaps as recent as today. Did anything about it annoy you? Maybe it was the misaligned doorway which scrapes metal against metal, welcoming you into the store with the sound of nails on a blackboard? Well, that's my own consistent little gnatty experience each time I visit my local midtown Starbucks, and the truth is, it's also not enough to keep me from returning almost each day or even pulling the store manager aside... and therein lies the problem! Yet wouldn't it be so much nicer if someone took a quick turn of the wrench and some WD-40 to the doorway? The effort required to swat away that little annoying and gnatty experience wouldn't cost very much at all, and oh, what a nicer experience it would make for everyone entering the store! It would quickly turn the delivery around from a pretty OK service experience, to that of - good service. 

Schrage ends his posting with the one word rarely seen or heard during honest inspections.... courage.  Indeed, honest reviews of service delivery are not easy, nor for the timid. Yet courage does indeed hold the promise of a fresh beginning and will create real change, real efficiency, and ultimately, real, good service.

The hard question then becomes: what are you doing that annoys your principals? Where are the gnats in your teams' service delivery... and what courage would it take to discover them?