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Jack Burke Jack Burke , 4/29/2014
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From the man who maintains our pool to our attorney, it seems that everyone is bemoaning the lack of service.  Is the concept of service gasping for a final breath?  Despite all the rhetoric about service, it’s clearly an elusive culprit – at least in the eyes of many consumers.

Consider these examples:

An attorney merges with another and finds that they’re both paying $400 per month for identical material.  Rather than cancelling one of the subscriptions, they decide that they’ll simply change the material being supplied to avoid duplication.  A call to the sales representative of the information provider goes unanswered, as well as three calls to the company.  “Do I have to sue them to get their attention,?” asks the attorney.

A friend buys a new house that’s supposed to be finished by mid-November.  To be safe, he sets the closing for the sale of his existing house at the end of the month. Every week, he’s guaranteed that everything is on schedule.  Three weeks before closing, the builder tells him the house won’t be ready until December 8th.  A week later, the builder extends the completion date until December 20th.  Every call to the builder results in the buyer’s being pushed off to another department.  Eventually, the Vice-President of Operations says he needs to talk to the Vice-President of Sales, who in turn says it’s an operations problem.  Twelve phone calls and not a single straight answer! “Do I have to sue them to get their attention,?” asks my friend.

The head of a major advertising firm told about an insurance company that wanted his agency to compete for their account.  Explaining that it had more than $ billion in revenue with an advertising budget of $15 million, the insurer requested his agency to come and make a presentation. The ad exec boasted that he told the company that if they wanted his agency, it had to come to him.  Although I applaud his nervy salesmanship, I have to wonder how this attitude might affect the service the firm would provide.

I recently began to question whether AT&T was worth a 40% premium as the long-distance provider for our business.  I called our local phone company (GTE), MCI, and Sprint requesting that a business representative come out, research our phone needs, and offer a proposal  (Note: Studio recording over telephone conference lines has some unique needs).  Sprint was the only one of the three willing to send a representative.  Guess which company will be our new long-distance provider.

Based on those and similar stories, one might conclude that indeed service is dead --but it isn’t.  Service still ambles along upon the happy road of destiny, often good, sometimes bad, and occasionally exceptional.  However, the recipients of service (consumers) are more educated than ever before.  As a result, their expectations have increased dramatically.  Unfortunately the service level of most companies has not!  Even the real-time service potential of the Internet often falls victim to tardy (or no) response to e-mail inquiries.

I’ve always maintained that service is the critical component of success.  Today, more than ever a truly service-oriented agency enjoys a significant competitive advantage.  Instead of basking on your laurels of past service, ask what you have done for your clients and prospects lately.

Here’s a little test based on today’s most precious commodity time:  Many agencies open at 9 am, close from noon to 1 pm, lock the doors at 5 pm, and don’t operate on weekends. 
If you were a client or prospect, how easy would it be for you to do business with a company that maintained those hours?

Have you matched your hours to the needs of your clients? Are you operating in the way most convenient to them – or are they bending to your convenience.  Would they appreciate if you kept your office that open during their lunch hour and perhaps until 6 or 7 in the evening?  Before you answer this question, ask your clients what think. 

The agency that puts its clients first will place itself s at the top of its market. This historic truth holds sway today more than ever.

Service is alive and healthy!