Service Design for Government
Technical Assent Logo
capturing customer experience in a service offering

The Experience, an Elusive Attribute of Service Performance

Delivering capability “As A Service” is making a profound impact on the service sector, forcing us to think differently about what and how services are conceived, designed, delivered, and managed. This impact presents itself in the fundamental way that we define the value of a service. Our current definition – based largely on its use and function – ignores the perceived value that customers place on the experience. This is despite a growing mountain of data that tells us otherwise.

Let’s dig a little deeper into how we determine the value of a service. The highly regarded framework for IT service management, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), provides a commonly accepted definition. This definition determines the value of a service around two key performance attributes – Utility and Warranty:

Fit for Use – Utility. Whether a service has utility is determined by whether it solves a customer’s problem or removes a constraint. It seems simple enough. If I am yearning for a warm drink in the middle of winter and someone offers to make me a hot chocolate – the solution has utility. Likewise, if you want to purchase a home but do not have the cash on hand, a bank can remove this constraint with a loan.

Fit for Purpose – Warranty. Beyond solving the customer’s problem, the value of a service is also measured for warranty – or fit for purpose. These attributes typically include availability, continuity, security, and capacity (enough to meet the demand). The customer defines these performance targets based on their desired quality and perceived risk. For example, the last customer in the hot chocolate line expects that the barista has sufficient ingredients on hand to serve everyone in line; the bank providing your home loan might stay open late or on weekends to better accommodate the schedules of full-time workers.

These two attributes – Utility and Warranty – clearly contribute to customer’s perception of value and provide a basis to compare the offerings among similar service providers. But Utility and Warranty seem to determine “what” the optimal technical solution is, but largely ignore “how” the solution is delivered (I say “largely ignore” here because an attribute such as availability may refer to providing the service at a specific time and place or through a specific communication channel). Our current definition of value is incomplete.

To make this point, consider a highly competitive market like the airlines where companies continually battle for market share. After a few generations, all the solutions begin to look similar – coach class feels equally cramped on every flight, there is some variation in coverage area, and maybe slight variations between pretzels or trail mix. But for the most part, they are the same. Where utility and warranty are being commoditized, some air travel providers opt to compete on experience – think of the no frills attitude of Southwest or jetBlue compared with the metropolitan tech savvy feel of Virgin Atlantic or Hawaiian Airlines’ Aloha greetings.

According to several studies, anywhere between 50-85% of customers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience.

Fit for Experience. As the utility and warranty of services become more similar, Customer Experience plays a bigger role in customers’ perceptions of value. To be clear, the “Experience” we are talking about here goes beyond the user experience (UX/UI) of your website (or, for that matter, any one technology channel). This “Experience” is the sum of all interactions that a customer has with a particular provider across all delivery channels throughout the lifetime of that relationship. Providing an authentic customer experience certainly impacts the “what” of a particular solution and also focuses on “how” the service is being delivered as customers learn about, narrow, select, consume, and retire a service.

Experience is a new frontier for differentiation and provides the opportunity to impact customers in profound ways. It does not exist in vacuum: Experience relies on both Utility and Warranty as a foundation to provide a durable competitive advantage. This means that we need to pay attention to all three of these performance attributes if we are to sustain truly exceptional services. Acknowledging Experience as something that customers value in concert with Utility and Warranty is a first step. We need better ways of measuring experience and tying it to customer behavior and customer outcomes so that we can better understand its contribution.

team-based approach to building a service culture

3 Ways to Grow a Service-Oriented Team

People working in government and nonprofits often refer to a personal calling to serve the public good. Their sense of purpose can be a source of energy for their peers and their customers cannot help but feel their enthusiasm for the mission. But even the most passionate public servant has an occasional bad day – it is human nature and most people are willing to give us a pass when we stressed or distracted.

Unfortunately, the service itself doesn’t get the same courtesy. Customers expect service quality to be maintained and the experience to be consistent despite the occasional system outage, process glitch, or failure of personality. Services have to systematically overcome these variables to consistently provide a relevant customer experience. As a service provider, here are three ways to develop a service-oriented mindset:

  1. Find the Services, Find the Customers. The first step of a services mindset begins with the customers; identify what problem you solve for them and how they interact with your team to solve that problem. Both the solution and the interactions are part of your service portfolio. Some of these services are easily recognizable – like a haircut or table service at a restaurant – but some can be tricky. Business support functions like the Finance Department, Human Relations, and the CIO’s office can also be viewed through a services lens. Unlike consumer services, internal customers don’t typically pay with money but they do pay with their time. Scheduling a meeting to discuss next year’s budget, providing a brown bag session to present the impact of new hiring policy, or waiting for a call back from a technical expert are all examples of services that contribute to an internal customer experience.
  2. Optimize Services Around Customer Needs. Once the services have been named, engage customers to better understand what is important to them – do they care more about accuracy or speed in the weekly report, are the templates provided helpful in crafting new job descriptions, what was the impact of the last system outage on their productivity. This initial feedback can go a long way, but look for opportunities to formally measure the performance of your services against these attributes. In a consumer service, service quality is captured in a contract document called Service Level Agreement; while it may not make sense in your organization to take it this far, it is worthwhile to communicate to your customers that your performance objectives are focused on the things they care about.
  3. Build Service into the Culture. Shifting culture is never easy, but there are several things that leaders can do to change the tone of the conversation with their employees. First, involve them in the process we have outlined above, encouraging them to think about the services they personally provide and those they contribute to on the team. Expose them to new ideas and techniques for how to approach a customer conversation with empathy or how to constructively accept feedback. Teach them how to measure their service portfolio against customer performance attributes. Model the behavior yourself; emphasizing that the customer is always in the forefront of your mind. When pitching a new project, include the expected customer impact in your scope statement. When being briefed on an issue, first ask about the impact to the customer and how the customer is being taken care of in the interim before digging into the details of the problem. Each of these small actions can have a big impact when repeated consistently.

These relatively simple exercises will take some time up front but can have an immediate impact. We are currently mentoring a Support Department Head of a medium-sized organization responsible for IT services, acquisition and contracting, and human relations. While a little nervous about exposing some of her team’s shortcomings at first, she has found her customers are receptive to offering feedback and employees are energized about the opportunity to think more explicitly about serving customer needs.

improving patient experience is key to improving healthcare

3 Ways to Improve Healthcare Outcomes by Following the Patient Experience

Consider all the touchpoints between a patient and a hospital for a single doctor visit – scheduling the appointment, receiving an appointment reminder, navigating endless hallways, filling out forms and waiting, maybe more waiting, seeing the nurse – then the doctor – then the nurse, then stopping at pharmacy, billing, and insurance. Healthcare professionals and patients likely view these experiences quite differently – what the hospital may view as an efficient workflow to maintain consistent quality of care for hundreds of patients, patients may process as redundant, glitchy, or even careless.

The medical community has long been committed to patient outcomes as the primary metric for measuring quality of care. Patient Experience, however, includes interactions with medical and non-medical staff; all the processes, policies, and business rules; and the digital media and mobile technology they encounter along the way. These concepts of Outcomes & Experience are not mutually exclusive; however the question remains as to the extent to which patient experience can directly influence patient outcomes. Here are three examples of the direct impact of a patient-centered approach.

Improve Satisfaction by 20%. In the highly interactive exchanges among the medical staff and patient, most medical professionals will do anything to make a patient’s stay as comfortable as possible. The challenge for the medical institution becomes how to maintain that same perception of care as the patient moves through the more business-oriented functions of the organization.

Increase Employee Engagement by 20-30%. Patients are keenly sensitive to discontinuity in their experience and have an innate sense for when organizations deliver stove-piped services. When seeking out opportunities to improve, Patient Experience provides a unique vantage point to create a dialogue among stove-piped departments about how to make things better. It offers a lens by which to view the convergence of talent, tools, and technology (regardless of who owns the asset) as they come together at a specific touchpoint to add value for a patient.

Lower Cost to Serve by 15-20%. Despite their intrinsic value, the two points above may be insufficient to convince Administrators to invest in improving the patient experience. This approach makes several strategic and economic contributions – understanding the Patient Experience helps us understand what is really important to patients and, equally, what is not. This enables targeted investments that are tied to business outcomes such as efficient service delivery, workforce productivity, and a more competitive cost structure.

12