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November 14, 2013

Redux: In a Global Services Economy, could "Ease of Use" ever catch on?

Get off your knees. Imagine a Better Standard. Get to work.

"Client Service" for professionals. It got to be a joke almost right away, don't you think? But it doesn't have to be a joke. Client Service. In our view, that huge gap between the promise and the reality has rendered the term nearly meaningless. Even for those who deeply care about the crusade of delivering "it", and see its value for client retention, "client service" eludes the best of us.

We had no idea that building a client service culture and keeping it would be so hard.

It's a mantra we repeat to ourselves, to our employees, and to our customers. We believe that if we say "it" enough, "it" will come. With the best intentions, service providers really do institute--but rarely work at and enforce--regime after regime of Client Service.

The reason: Client Service is much much harder than it looks. You weave your skills into a buyer's "experience" of them, and deliver them together as One Thing. CS is a hard-acquired habit. It never was easy. Never supposed to be easy.

Most of us gave up. So we just talked about "it" in promotional materials and at meetings. We didn't establish and enforce it. (And lots of the time, if we were honest, we'd admit to ourselves we really didn't know what it was. It's just "being nice" to clients, right?)

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What if the services sector, now King, competed for clients and customers on the basis of "Ease-of-Use"? Develop and apply ease-of-use concepts for products and goods to pure services? To our clients' services?

And to our services? Law. Accounting. Consulting. Advertising. Newer and non-traditional services, too. Anything where a service (something valuable but "invisible") or product-service mix is part of what you pay for.

In other words, Ease-Of-Use for services.

"Ease of use" is already intuitive to large armies of managers and employees who work in any services industry and don't like Hallmark cards. They already get it. It just needs to be seized upon, delivered daily, and enforced at your shop.

Well, why not? Why wait for the "Who Swiped My Cheese?" crowd to write a few books? Services are pretty much Everything these days.

Services certainly represent the direction global markets now march--in good and bad times.

Consider for a moment just products. In 2006, The Folgers Coffee Company was awarded an Ease-of-Use Commendation by the Arthritis Foundation for its AromaSeal™ Canister. If you're a Folgers® drinker, you notice that Folgers® added an easy-to-peel tin freshness seal (no need for a can-opener), a new "snap-tight" lid and even a grip on its plastic red can.

Folgers® did it for coffee cans. IBM and CISCO have ease-of-use programs for the products they sell. The great companies many of us represent do spend money and expertise on making their goods, equipment and products usable.

Think about your car, your luggage, your TV remote (well, strike that one), your watch and even grips on household tools. Think about Apple, Dell and Microsoft. Each year they think through your experience with their products and try to make it better. Continuous improvement models for "things."

Develop and apply ease-of-use concepts to pure services? Our clients' services? Our services? Sure, why not? It's probably coming anyway, even while it will be infinitely harder to do for services than for products. WAC? has noted before that even corporate clients that sell goods see themselves as selling solutions and not products.

By 2005, services sold alone or as support features to the sale of goods and products accounted for over 65% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the US, 50% of the United Kingdom's GDP and 90% of Hong Kong's. Even products sold by IBM and CISCO, now chiefly service companies, are part of a services-products mix in which the services component is the main event.

Law firms, of course, have always sold services. And we are a small but powerful engine in the growth of the services sector. We strategize with and guide big clients every day. While that's all going on--day in and day out--what is it like for the client to work with you and yours? Are clients experiencing a team--or hearing and seeing isolated acts by talented but soul-less techies?

Do you make reports and communications short, easy and to the point? Who gets copied openly so clients don't have to guess about who knows what? Is it fun (yeah, we just said "fun") to work with your firm? How are your logistics for client meetings, travel and lodging? Do you make life easier? Or harder? Are you accessible 24/7? In short, aside from the technical aspects of your service (i.e., the client "is safe"), do your clients "feel safe"?

What if law firms--or any other service provider for that matter--"thought through," applied and constantly improved the delivery of our services and how clients really experience them?

And then competed on it...?

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(from several WAC? ease-of-use posts beginning in 2007)

Posted by JD Hull at November 14, 2013 01:59 AM

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