Service matters. But does it really matter that much? When asked, most producers will tell you that service is how they differentiate their company and claim it as the reason for customer retention. My response to this is, "really?" And if there is some truth to this, prove it. The reality is that producers base this belief on the false premise that their loyal customers prove the theory. But what would your bottom 75% of customers say about your service? A relative set of a select few customers, does not demonstrate service leadership.

In this inaugural column of "Service Matters," my goal is to set the tone for future editions. It is extremely easy to give lip service to this topic and much more difficult to execute on it. In my opinion, most take the easy route. Few producers depart from their habits, routines and ways of the past and embark on the path which can truly differentiate them. Why? Change is tough; lack of belief that service really makes a difference; need of a strategic guide to get there-these all play a significant role. So let's get at it.

What would happen if you gave your customers what they wanted-not what they expected?

When Dan Cathy took over as President and COO of his father’s company, Chick-fil-A, the world took notice. He boldly took on many of the traditions of the fast food industry. His vision was to give the fast food customer an experience similar to Macaroni Grill but for $4.00. He took what could easily be seen as a commodity (fast food) and non-commoditized it through service leadership.

What does a differentiating experience look like? Flowers on the tables, employees walking through the location refilling drinks, "my pleasure" instead of "no problem," closed on Sundays based on core values, five gallons of gas if you run out at the drive through window, daddy-daughter date nights, employees with umbrellas escorting you into the restaurant in the rain, doggie bags for dogs in patron’s cars at the drive through-That’s what it looks like.

The concrete industry is not fast food but the principle solidly applies. When producers give their customers the expected industry experience, they are not differentiating themselves through customer service. So the question begs, "What specifically are you doing that breaks from the industry norms of customer service? If the answer is general, you are giving your customers what they "expect" not what they "want." If you can get specific, you are like few other producers-differentiable through customer service-a service leader.

Joan Fox is a customer experience consultant to the Ready-Mix industry and a popular conference speaker: 513-793-9582, joan@joanfox.com.

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