Why would customers choose your product over competitors? You guessed it, the total experience. Not the brand, product features, quality, or price, though these are important. Ultimately, service is what transforms a product into an experience. 

Service comes in many different forms. Customers shift between channels — phone, email, chat, in store, social media, etc. — and even use multiple channels simultaneously. Whether your market is B2C or B2B, you’ll need an omnichannel communication strategy, including web self-service, phone delivery, mobile customer service, and email.

As service components are increasingly embedded in products and platforms, you should also upgrade your technologies andsystems to enhance interactions. AI and machine learning will help build and personalize customer relationships. Data management and security are crucial to build trust. CRM, case management, and other enterprise data stores are necessary to provide individualized routing decisions for each customer and to track responses.

How do you build service-product capabilities?

Leadership must instill the importance of service through training, incentives, and resources. Centralized access to customer and product information is essential. The workforce must know how listen empathetically and know where to go for answers. Processes and ‘rules’ must be clearly laid out, but staff needs to be empowered to do what’s necessary. The Apple Store, for example, gives its employees cards that say “enrich a life today” on top. This is a much different message than “make a sale.” Excellent service begins with attitude.

According to Forrester Research, the five key service capabilities are:

  1. Deliver the same customer service across communication channels. Standardize the resolution process and customer service experience across communication channels.
  2. Empower agents and customers with knowledge management (KM) tools. Deliver contextual, personalized self-service and agent/customer experiences.
  3. Support agile customer service with a strong foundation of business process management. Standardize service delivery, minimize agent training times, ensure regulatory and company policy compliance, and control costs.
  4. Integrate with customer communities as a natural escalation point to a contact center. Customer communities, ideally with extensions to company employee communities, must be included in the overall customer service solution.
  5. Strengthen customer feedback management. Seek feedback about products, services, and organizational processes to optimize customer experience and increase retention rates. Use traditional channels such as surveys as well as digital mechanisms.

How do you then differentiate your offerings?

Having a strong service orientation is the foundation of customer-centricity, but you need to go further to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace.  This is where service morphs into customer experience (CX) design.

Here are 6 key differentiators to consider:

  1. Personalization: Genuine and respectful knowledge of customers’ preferences and usage. There is a fine line between ‘bespoke’ and invasive, however.  Apply the golden rule.
  2. Hyper-convenience: This isbig. Customers expect to get what they want when – and where – they want it. Multichannel access and last mile delivery are the main capabilities needed, but it’s also potentially part of a subscription service.
  3. Delivery: This goes hand in hand with convenience. Amazon keeps raising the bar, offering near immediacy and a host of pick-up/drop-off options (including inside your house even when you are not home). For food and restaurant businesses, fast delivery is everything. Having the correct items at peak freshness is not that easy – even Whole Foods/Amazon has problems with missing or substitute items. Delivery is part of McDonald’s ambitious Experience of the Future (EOTF) growth plan.
  4. Intelligence: Embed digital intelligence into your products to give consumers built-in advice or coaching based on their situation. Examples include blind-spot detection in cars, Apple Watch and Fitbit motivational messages and rewards, Alexa answering specific questions, Ecobee telling you it’s time for maintenance, etc. PillPack, Amazon’s new prescription delivery service, customizes each order to simplify and ensure consumers take the right dose at the right time.
  5. Face-to-Face Advice: This is perhaps even more of a differentiator than digital intelligence. How often do you walk into a store where staff is truly knowledgeable about their products? Stores like Home Depot and Best Buy have made staff knowledge a cornerstone of their service strategy. Home décor consultations are another value-added form of service offered by companies like Wayfair. Customers will go to boutiques, farmers’ markets, and craft shows where the owner/creator of the product is available to advise. Truly personalized human service with knowledge is rare in today’s world of e-commerce and Big Box stores. It’s a rarity customers will often pay extra for.
  6. Frictionless Purchase and Return: This may or may not be a differentiator depending on how you execute. It’s certainly a baseline requirement for e-commerce but the idea can be extended to physical stores as well. Amazon Go and Walmart are examples of stores that use scanners, facial recognition and other technologies to make buying easy. Mobile payment and apps are important enablers for Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS). Products themselves must be designed and packaged for multiple forms of shipping and delivery. Returning products must be equally easy, particularly for products that customers are unable to try on, touch, or feel before buying. Your strategy and processes must be set up to take risk out of the buyer’s decision journey.

There are many other ways to differentiate as well; the key is putting yourself into your customers’ shoes to uncover gaps and opportunities.

Bottom line

In sum, service is integral to product success. We are in a highly commoditized society where customers place a premium on experience. Your products must go beyond the expectations of simply performing well.

To succeed, you need to look at your service capabilities. The five key ones are:

  1. Deliver the same customer service across communication channels. 
  2. Empower agents and customers with knowledge management (KM) tools. 
  3. Support agile customer service with a strong foundation of business process management.
  4. Integrate with customer communities as a natural escalation point to a contact center.
  5. Strengthen customer feedback management. 

Customer experience (CX) differentiators, including:

  • Personalization
  • Hyper-convenience
  • Delivery
  • Intelligence
  • Face-to-Face Advice
  • Frictionless Purchase and Return

Most importantly, you need a corporate-wide belief system and infrastructure that supports exceptional service and puts customer happiness first.  

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