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.