Designing the Soft Side of Customer Service
When people think about innovation in customer service, they usually think about technological or process enhancements that make service delivery faster or more efficient. Restaurants have introduced hand-held devices that buzz customers when their table is ready, and supermarkets use self-service checkout lines. While such innovations can simplify matters for customers, service organizations rarely stop to consider the overall psychology that shapes service encounters. Indeed, many key psychological variables that influence customer perceptions the subtle enhancements that help define a positive experience have yet to be fully defined or articulated. Organizations often measure the outcomes of service encounters in concrete terms such as on-time flight arrivals or the time to resolve a customer's call. However, the subjective outcomes the emotions and the feelings are more difficult to describe: Did the passenger enjoy the flight? Did the customer who called the service center with a problem walk away feeling better about the provider? Just as having a deeper understanding of systems dynamics and process analysis has pushed companies to re-engineer their operations to achieve explicit outcomes, findings from behavioral decision-making, cognitive psychology, and social psychology can point service providers to ideas for redesigning the psychological or implicit aspects of service encounters. In this article, the authors examine how three factors emotions, trust, and control shape customer assessments of service experiences and their overall view of service providers. Drawing on research conducted at companies including Harrah's, MGM Grand, Dell, Farmers Insurance, the Seattle Supersonics, and McKinsey & ; Company, they argue that organizations seeking to excel in customer service need to attack the "soft side" of customer management with the same type of intensity they have previously used to reengineer workflow and supply chains.