How can my business deliver above average service?
Asking clients whether they received an above average service is meaningless. “Service” can’t be quantified, let alone measured, therefore calculating an “average” is impossible.
And, it is possible for a large majority of a group to all be above average in a particular measure: for example, the vast majority of people have above the average number of legs, because, sadly, a few people only have one, or no, legs.
There are good reasons for not polling clients on their expectations, either. If I expect a supplier to do a bad job (eg Carphone Warehouse), when they duly deliver a bad service my expectations are fully met.
Service providers shouldn’t be aiming for these pointless concepts of “above average”, “exceeding expectations” and so forth. Businesses should be focussing on what their client needs.
The problem is that many businesses don’t know what their client needs.
This is because most clients don’t know what they need—they think they do, in many cases, of course. Clients aren’t stupid or malevolent: they simply don’t know what their business needs, because they often lack the outside view required to look dispassionately at it, and because they don’t often have the language to express their needs.
In my extensive experience as a consultant specialising in defining clients’ requirements for IT systems, if I asked the question, “what do you need?”, the usual answer was one of:
- “what I have at the moment but without the problems”
- or, “a database”.
How service providers set themselves up to fail
Here are ways service providers set themselves up to fail by delivering a service their client regards as “below average”,
1 Supplier doesn’t talk to the client at all in any meaningful way so just delivers what the supplier wants to deliver. It will be wrong, because the supplier isn’t an expert in the client’s business.
That said, this is a mode of interaction favoured by many prospective clients who send out “invitations to tender” and by other prospects who simply will not provide enough of their time for the supplier to have a useful conversation with them.
2 Supplier asks, “what do you want?”, and the person they are talking to tells them. The supplier then delivers this. It will be wrong because “wants” and “needs” are two completely different things.
3 Supplier asks, “what do you need?”, and the person they are talking to mishears (or, rather, hears what he/she expects to hear) and tells them what they want. Go back to 2.
4 Supplier asks, “what do you need?”, and the person they are talking to tells them. The supplier then delivers this. It will be wrong because what an individual needs is very unlikely to be what the business needs. Further, the client will express their need in terms of a wish to be helpful by telling you what the solution is (eg, “a database”)—which isn’t helpful.
5 Supplier gets the client to put together a representative sample of people in the client business who have a stake in the new service/system/product and then interviews them (preferably in groups). This is much better, but will still result in the wrong thing being delivered if any of the following are the case:
a the supplier cannot resolve contradictory requirements expressed by different people
b the supplier is scared to stand up to assertive client managers. Often linked to…
c the supplier is scared of admitting he/she knows little or nothing about the client business
d the supplier cannot spot, or won’t raise, discrepancies in the requirements as they appear but aren’t articulated by the client
e the supplier doesn’t know how to ask open questions, or simply the most helpful questions; how to follow up an answer; and how to get the client to surface material they didn’t volunteer.
In short, as I said to one of my business performance clients, “Ollie, you will be a great web developer when you become a great coach”.
> story: Drill . on 2, 3, 4—supplier asks, “what do you want/need?”…
> case study: Train . on 5c—the supplier is scared of admitting he/she knows little or nothing about the client business
> resource: How to ask open questions confidently . on 5e—the supplier doesn’t know how to ask open questions…
by Jeremy Marchant