Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Service Experience Value Statement

No matter how much we want to avoid it, the healthcare industry has been and will always remain a service industry; a place where humans practice the care of, compassion for, and satisfaction fulfillment of others.

What the consumer cares about is not necessarily about the number of minutes of service delivered, the ir clinical outcomes, performance efficiency, etc. They care about the service experience itself. Key questions such as:
  • Am I satisfied?
  • Did I wait long?
  • Did I receive the outcomes desired/expected?
  • Were the explanations of service satisfactory?
In my time, I've been given the opportunity to be a part of several service branding initiatives in large and small organizations alike. What I've noticed is that nearly all organizations look to their industry top performers for guidance; as a model of what "perfection" can and should be like.

On a quick aside: I've always found it curious that many firms rarely seek out the goal of surpassing their professional mentors - and - that it is indeed, those industry leaders that have held those intentions and maintain their resolve that become the veritable "king of the hill."

For this post, I'd like to share some of the best service experience tenets I've come across - and - I'd also like to share a case study in how such principles can be used to rebrand through the service experience itself.

Service Expectations

1. Customer Acknowledgement
Perhaps there is nothing more important than a proper "Hello." Also, there is probably nothing more annoying to customers than employees bustling about when you are obviously in that "deer-in-headlights-lost-need-help" posture, and... they are IGNORING YOU. Engaging your customer at the first possible point of contact is a great way of communicating through actions that they are "numero uno!" This, rather simple and obvious, first step is the key to setting the tone for the entire service experience. And yet, this basic tenet of customer service is perhaps the most commonly botched concept by so very many companies.

2. Service Introduction
The service introduction simply that - an introduction. It should only cover the "what" aspect of the service. A brief summary of what is about to happen - that is all. There should be no elements discussed as to the who, when, where, why, and/or how... that's all for later. This is a critical moment where you set the tone of the service experience past the point of customer acknowledgement. If the customer wants to know more, you can assure them that all those questions will be answered by *insert name here* in a quick, short while.

The reason you do NOT want to go into too much detail in this moment is a purposeful tactic; by simply letting the consumer know of the Reader's Digest version of "what" the service is about to be, the provider delivers the focus of the experience which then pervades into the customer's immediate psyche. It is a great tactic to prevent any derailing or hijacking by easily distracted consumers.

Example: "Hi Mr. Smith. I'm Dr. Fung, your physical therapist - I understand we'll be taking a look at your knee pain."

Notice that I won't talk about the special tests I'll perform, the movement analysis, the history I'll take, or any other elements in the service itself. I just want to set the tone that today, this service is all about Mr. Smith's knee pain.

3. Defining the Experience
This is where you take your time in answering all pre-service delivery questions & concerns. This is also where you define not just the detailed "what"... you also want to carefully define "who" is providing/receiving the service, "when" the service will occur and the time frame of the occurrence, "why" the service will be delivered in the manner described, "where" they can expect the service(s), and "how" said service will be rendered.

Make sure you define the boundaries of the service expectation so that the experience isn't perceived as inadequate or as an unwelcome surprise. This is also a good time to discuss alternatives; ie. if the customer is able to bail out if they get nervous, what the financial implications may be, etc.

Perception is reality; defining the expectation is a great way to make the perception positive from the get go while strengthening the focus of the customer's perception on precisely what you want it to be keyed in upon.

4. The "Thank You"
I'm a big believer in ending strong. Just as strong movies with bad endings leave a mediocre taste, and, mediocre movies with strong endings leave a fairly good taste - the same goes for the emotional content during the completion of a service experience.

Since satisfaction is a highly emotional construct, it is important to end strong. Thanking your customers for their patronage should go beyond the auto-tuned "Thank you for coming!" The "Thank You Moment" needs to also incorporate a short summary of what they are thankful for. This is an excellent time for quickly going over home programs, exercise prescriptions, etc. with the intent of impressively conveying how much was done during the service - and - also leaving them with that satisfied buzz of wanting to come back for more.

Additionally, a very sincere and emotionally positive "Thank You" is a great way of harnessing the power of cognitive dissonance. Subtly reminding patrons that they chose you over your competitors is a clever way of cementing in the emotions of: "Hey! I *made* this choice." Since cognitive dissonance would make the average bear be less than inclined to point out they made a mistake in the choice of service (ie. choosing you over someone else *wink*), the logical thought would be to focus on the post-choice bias and ruminate on all the positive elements of the service experience. There's no way *I* made the "wrong" choice - this was the right choice! Let's validate this choice internally by focusing on all the satisfying elements of the service experience I received.

In the same vein, the consumer is then, more likely to dismiss any points of dissatisfaction as industry norms which would be found at any other competitor. Besides, *they* (the consumer) made the right choice in choosing you... right? Of course, now, you're thinking of all the quasi-satisfying consumer choices you made... how many were less than satisfying, but, you convinced that you were indeed satisfied? If you're human - quite a bit, is my guess.

Rebranding Through Service Experience - A Case Study
San Diego is the birthplace of Rubio's, a hometown pride and a personal favorite, Mexican cuisine of choice. Rubio's is famous for their Original Fish Tacos and healthy mix menu delivered with quick service. Haven't heard of them? Well... they are primarily here in the southwest. Nevertheless, they have over 90k Facebook Likes and almost 8.5k Twitter followers.

Oh... and: NO. I am not receiving any type of royalty, or benefit thereof, for this part of the post. I just love their food - and - their new found service brand.

So how did this all start? Well, Rubio's restaurants originally owned the brand image of a clean, Mexican take-out with the specialty of fish tacos. There really wasn't any service. It was your typical grab and go place; a taco shop... not so much a sit down environment. It was affordable, quick, clean, and easy. That was their brand.

Recently, Rubio's started to spruce up their chains. The one that I'm a most loyal patron of, began to use actual silverware and plates - rather than plastic utensils and cardboard dishes. Additionally, they began a revamping on the internal image of their stores. They made for artistic backgrounds, improved music selections, cleaner bathrooms, new tables and chairs, bar seats, new paint, and a very welcome serve-yourself-salsa bar. Oh, yes..! Smile big! They also serve beer now. But, is this the rebranding I'm talking about? Certainly not, this was just the skin deep expression of things already in motion.

While the image of each shop is quite important to the brand, we've all "been there before" - some place with great internal elements with awful food and even worse service. Rubio's did not fall into that trap. Instead of having your number or name called for you to come get your food, this Rubio's branch began to have patrons sit down with the food brought to them. Only take-out customers would have their names called. Even then, team members were encouraged to recognize and REMEMBER which patron ordered which dishes.

The high impact changes occurred when, Rubio's team members began a regular system of (non-intrusive) rounding on the dine-in customers. A number was given to each party, and the number was not to be removed until the entire dining experience was completed. Patron who were accustomed to the former etiquette of self serve & bus were kindly interrupted on their way to the trash cans by Rubio employees who would offer to complete the task of cleaning up. Should a party seem to be just a tad bit hungrier than expected, chips were commonly served on the house.

This Rubio's branch was also very active with reaching out to the immediate community; offering all sorts of sampling and dining specials to which customers got to vote in their favorites to be added as part of the menu (which is fantastically congruent with critical rebranding concepts - making your consumers part of the new idea). Not only are these special offers free - they are a regular occurrence. And! Not only are these special a regular occurrence, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ralph Rubio in person - only to find out later that I met him years ago - apparently, I went to the same secondary school as his children did some time ago. Surprised me too!

Perhaps the element of this service experience that affected me most as a marketing guy is the fact that team members are encouraged to add their own personality into the work environment. Part of this is getting to know the regular customers. This is something I did not expect from a large chain like Rubio's. You figure, you go to a big chain like this - people are working to work, it's not the most serious or invested job in the world. Right? Wrong!! These team members got to know me; who I was, what I did for a living, and even got to watch the process of my family expand - they would constantly ask me how my wife's pregnancy was going. When my son was born, they would ask me how my boy was doing. Incredible stuff!

This particular branch (among others) changed their brand image from a take-out-taco-shop into an finer-higher-end dining experience. Much of this had to do with the servicing. The service experience re-branding was successful because the focus was more than just the appearance of the shop. The focus was the level and quality of interaction between the Rubio employee and the customers they serve. These actions and employee behaviors created the brand elevation into a classy (and affordable) sit-down environment with the convenient option of take-out now positions Rubio's as both a great place to grab & go as well as sit and enjoy. Although improving the appearance of their restaurants certainly played a part of this, the real magic occurred during the renovation process.

Patrons already began to change their own expectations of the Rubio's dining experience as the employee's behaviors changed prior to the physical remodelings. Moreover, business got better and better before the aesthetic improvements because the service got better first. When the service got better, the funds to create improved cuisines were available. THEN the funds to remodel the exterior to match the intrinsic service experience was ready as the finishing touch to the new service experience brand.

Closing Thoughts
The service experience value statement is a power piece in chess game of business. It can be changed, modified, re-created, re-imagined, and delivered in a manner which is so powerful it can easily be harnessed to rebrand a business. The crux of the issue is consistent training, delivery, and accountability of employee behavior. Service is a professional behavior. However, the culture of service runs deeper; culture is identity and is an existential facet of working life. Making service valuable? That's the art of business administration.

Moreover, value, in and of itself, can be a brand. Want an example? Look no further than fine watches for gents - Rolex, Omega, Tag Heuer, Cartier, Mont Blanc... just to name a few. They all tell time. Sure some are jewel encrusted and made of gold - but they all tell time. For these products, the perceived value (material, social, fashion, etc.) is the brand. In the service industry, the experience is everything - the service experience is the brand and it is being measured with by every passing customer.

If you want a strong and unique brand in the service industry, things must be done differently - better, faster, more quality, more quantity. Do it this way across an entire discipline, you have a new brand amongst the profession at large.

My question to my fellow physical therapists: how do *you* want to reshape the way we service our customers? Perhaps, more importantly, how do *THEY* want to be serviced? In these questions hold the answers to the real answers of solving the problems in our profession.


  1. My exact beliefs echoed and now in black & white. Kudos on the forward thinking plus the documentation! It is all about the "Value Proposition"!

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