Service, service & More Service

Last week, I was recounting the torrid tale of customer service at its most awful, based upon our recent experience of a leading annuity provider.  And, whilst venting is no doubt therapeutic in some sense, it would be preferable to be able to find positive things to say about those companies that we deal with.

I am fortunate to be able to run a Network whose Members are almost so entirely devoted to great service and best practice, that last week's sojourn in the 'Slough of Despond' (a la Pilgrims Progress) was a very notable contrast.  Here is another such notable contrast - alas, not an IFA...

Our first time at a new restaurant, where the new Manager is a personal acquaintance.  Suffice it to say that the food was very good.  What was not good was the service:  it was excellent.  When we were seated, a complimentary glass of Prosecco arrived for each of us.  Then a dish of succulent olives and some italian bread.  Then a bit later a selection of antipasti, just to keep us going whilst we waited for the main course.

I ordered a glass of the house red to go with my mains, but what arrived was a rich, dark Negromaro that was so good, it was shocking - because the waiter wanted me to appreciate one of their new wines which he was excited about.  I was charged for the house red.

It struck me that there were valuable lessons here for any business which seeks to offer a service, and expects to get paid for it:
  • the overall pricing point for this restaurant was slightly above average in the area, but customer endorsements are very strong, so one feels confident that the meal is going to be great value - likewise IFA practices with satisfied clients, prepared to give testimonials, don't need to feel under pressure to reduce charges;
  • even without the unexpected extras in terms of service, this little restaurant absolutely delivered the goods - they had a clear understanding of what they were offering, what made them different, and why customers would be prepared to pay a premium for their meal.  Often IFAs lack a clear sense of what they're own proposition is about - and we need that kind of clarity in order to motivate our clients to buy-in;
  • this little restaurant took a great deal of pride in each ingredient they used.  Meats and fish were all sourced locally.  Even international ingredients such as olives, garlic and wines all came from suppliers that they knew personally.  Whilst they did not make a big song and a dance about it, you knew that these people took very close personal interest in what they fed their customers - a lesson which many IFAs might have done well in the past to listen to, given the long and sorry legacy of using unfamiliar products from new companies with little by way of track-record;
  • there was a real delight in what they were able to do for their customers.  We've eaten plenty of Italian food over the years, but this experience was characterised throughout by a kind of cumulative discovery that we simply had no idea that it could be this good.  Likewise, IFAs which convey that kind of delight in the excellence of their proposition, irrespective of whether it focuses on the technical underpinnings, or on the attention to detail in service, are likely to 'convert' transient customers into long-term, loyal clients;
  • and, finally, there is that issue of service.  It was done quietly, unassumingly, and without some big fanfare that made it obvious, but throughout the meal the emphasis was on exceeding any reasonable expectation we might have had.  For IFAs, the kind of scenario I narrated last week has, unfortunately, become merely a normal part of our usual experience with product-providers, and if we are not sufficiently alert, it is all-too possible to go for a similar kind of lowest-common-denominator type of service proposition.  If you want discerning clients, prepared to pay your fees without quibbling, then they need to be loved-up in a kind of Casanova way...
Of course, the real litmus test is what happens next time we visit this little restaurant.  One-offs are relatively easy to pull off, its the longer-term, consistent delivery of service that really counts.
Kevin Moss, 06/09/2013