Closing the 21st century service capability gap

In his article Closing the 21st century service capability gap, Christoph Goldenstern [Partner and Global Vice President of Service Excellence, Kepner-Tregoe] highlights some of the challenges service businesses face and outlines a more strategic approach to delivering high quality customer service. Here is an edited extract from his article...

With the ongoing commoditisation of products driven through globalisation and the omnipresence of the Internet, the pressure is more than ever on the service business to come to the rescue. Not only to provide additional sources for revenue growth and defending sliding product margins, but as a way to provide a level of differentiation from other technology providers by establishing an intimate relationship with the customer that goes over and above the product functionality.

Not surprisingly, recent research conducted by Xerox showed that their overall customer satisfaction was more impacted by the customer service experience than by the performance of the product.

Furthermore, customer service needs to be able to support the rapid evolution of converging technologies. The steadily increasing complexity of technology leaves service organisations with a widening gap between the capability of the technology they are supporting and service engineers' understanding of it, which can no longer be bridged purely through product training - the speed of technological innovation is simply too high.

On the customer expectation side, things don't look much better. With the global access to suppliers and vastly similar technologies to choose from, more than ever, we are dealing with a "buyer's market". In this environment customer expectations of customer service are only going up, putting additional pressure on service businesses to deliver not only a high quality, but consistent customer service experience... every time... and everywhere.

Another contributing factor to the widening service capability gap is a general lack of direction and priority setting in service businesses on how to close the gap in critical areas of the business. This often stems from a lack of strategic clarity around the service portfolio that is being provided and the missing segmentation of different customer types and their needs.

It is impossible for an organisation to prioritise its time and investments without clearly articulating what its focus is around customers and services and defining how it will differentiate itself from its competition.

The three major sources of service gaps: process, people, performance system.

Critical customer service is ultimately delivered through people as part of a process. Problems are solved by people and relationships are created by people, not software. However, software can play a critical role as an enabler to make this process as efficient as possible by helping to capture, store and retrieve the information in the way you want your service engineers to think, engage with customers and create knowledge.

If the design of the software is not modeled after the service work flow - which it is supposed to enable - service engineers will soon find creative ways to minimise their need to use the system or circumvent it completely in order to reduce, what they would consider, bureaucratic, non-value-added work.

We suggest that service organisations need to focus on two basic performance outputs:

  • providing a high-quality customer experience
  • providing a consistent customer experience.

Both of the above are primarily behavior driven and therefore require a renewed focus on "the human service interface", which is largely driven by service processes, the skills of service engineers and their performance system.

Where to from here?

Reducing the service capability gap will require a new type of thinking, away from blindly investing in tools and measurement systems towards understanding what truly drives a repeatable, high-quality customer service experience and efficiency in how services are being delivered.

If we can get it right, the price to be won will be worth the effort: customers that not only are loyal to our business, but that act as willing apostles for our products and services. It is then that customer service will become a genuine competitive advantage and a driver of future revenue and profits.

To view the article in full.


Christoph Goldenstern leads a global team of consultants who serve clients in a range of high tech industries. Kepner-Tregoe provides consulting and training services to organisations throughout the world. They help clients implement their strategies by embedding problem-solving, decision-making, and project execution methods through individual and team skill development and issue resolution process improvement.
Please send any comments or questions you have in relation to this article to: dbyrum[at]kepner-tregoe.com.