I recently spent time with a potential customer talking about their expectations for service when it came to who they hired to work on their company's signs.
They told me about a recent sign project at one of their stores that they weren't happy with. The project was a standard build and install and at first, everything went smoothly. The permitting, fabrication, and installation all went as expected.
The breakdown happened at the very end as the contractor was packing up to leave. When the customer examined the newly installed sign, like any customer should, they saw that their brand-new sign had fingerprints on it.
Fingerprints on an exterior sign 20 feet up the air may not seem like a big deal, however, the customer explained to me that the issue wasn't the fingerprints, it was the unwillingness of the sign contractor to even consider getting back in the bucket, going up and wiping them off after the customer asked if he would.
I wasn't there. I don't know how the conversation went down and what was said and what wasn't. After all, we've all had bad days and there's a very real chance one or both people in the conversation were having a bad day and just didn't communicate well with each other over the fingerprint issue.
What I do know, is that the potential customer was talking with us because they were looking for a new sign contractor, no matter what happened or didn't happen in that conversation the sign installer that left the fingerprints on the sign lost a customer.
As businesses we all understand the need to control costs and the scope of work that always seems to grow higher, however, how do we balance the need to manage those costs with the reality that we have customer expectations, both written and unwritten, to manage as well?
I think the answer is found in the third dimension of service.
“What is the third dimension of service?”, you ask.
Before I answer that question, let's make sure we all agree on the first two dimensions of service.
Let’s picture the first dimension of service as the xy-axis on a plane. (I know this is technically two dimensions since one dimension would just be a point, but it is the foundation we will build on)
Ability is the foundation of any service offering. A company must have an ability to do something a customer needs before they can ask people to pay them to do it. For example, a carpet cleaning business can clean a carpet. They have the skill, knowledge, and understanding needed to clean carpets. If we were to graph ability, it would be plotted on the foundation of our chart. Some businesses abilities are limited, and so their foundation is limited. Other businesses have a far-reaching range of abilities and their foundation has many points over a wide surface. The more skills and abilities that a company can bring with them in their arsenal of services, the wider their offering is.
Let’s extend our analogy in another dimension, Capability. In our diagram, if Ability describes the length and breadth of our service offering, capability describes how deep and how high each of those abilities can go. It is the extent to which a business can deliver on their abilities.
To continue with the carpet cleaning business, a carpet cleaner with their own equipment and vehicles is going to have deeper capabilities than a carpet cleaner that must rent his equipment and ride the bus to his service calls. Both can clean carpets, but one has a deeper capability than the other to deliver on that ability.
When a company ‘goes deep’ more of their service performance is under their direct control. When the entire service is under their control, their depth makes them a better value for the customer.
The depth chart for lighting might go something like:
Sell Light Bulbs
Sell Light Fixtures
Install Lighting and Fixtures
Install and Service Electrical
Design Complete Lighting Solutions
Control and manage the lighting network for your enterprise.
Control and manage all the energy for your enterprise.
Deeper capabilities are good for a business, but it is the next dimension, the third dimension that makes the difference when maintaining good service over time.
The first and second dimension of service are straight forward. You must know what you're doing, and you must be able to deliver a deep skill set. It’s this third dimension of service, flexibility, that will often determine if you stay in business.
Back to our potential sign customer's story, their contractor had ability and capability, but when it came to flexibility, he wasn't willing or couldn’t be flexible at that moment, and unfortunately, that moment was critical to their relationship with the customer.
We must be able to have the flexibility at the moment to bend with the customer’s current needs. If we can’t view our relationship with our customer over time, rather than being hamstrung by only viewing the current moment in isolation, the customer will find someone else who can.
Be Able to Afford to Say Yes!
Saying yes costs us something. It might be profit, time, or it could even just be our pride. As service providers, we must have a plan and budget that allows for that moment that we need to say yes to the tough ask.
If you think about it, most projects and service calls go well. Rarely, if you're a reputable business, are you having to overextend yourself to make a customer happy. There is always, however going to be that one project or service call that requires that uncommon extra mile of service. If you've taken care of your customers, invested in their business, and planned your time well and communicated well, you will be able to say yes without destroying your budget, schedule or self-esteem. Even if the project or service call becomes a momentary loss, your past investments, both of finances and good will, should be enough to cover you and keep everyone happy!
Stay with The Customer
Things aren't always going to go perfectly. Material is delayed, labor is hard to find, there are financial, weather, supplier and other issues beyond our control that cause a project or service call to go off the rails.
The temptation in these situations is to cut your losses and run. In 35 plus years as a service provider, FSG has learned that sticking with the customer over the long haul is worth the effort. Sure, there are some projects and service calls that in the moment, we all wish we could forget, but viewed over time it is how we handled those projects and service calls that our customers and partners remember the most. Staying with the customer through the bad almost always leads to more opportunity with the customer to do good!
Three-dimensional service must be a top priority for service providers. Ability and Capability are critical for running a good business. Flexibility over time is critical for staying in business!
For more than 35 years, FSG has been offering three-dimensional service to customers of all shape and size. To learn more about FSG, visit us at www.fsgi.com
Brannon began his career at FSG in 2012 writing and preparing content for FSG’s communication department. In a world where the story sells, Brannon quickly found his stories and projects being used in sales presentations and thus began his transition from internal communications to marketing and sales.
Brannon works with one of the best teams any marketing professional could ask for to create and deliver dynamic sales and marketing materials to FSG sales teams nationwide. Brannon lives with his wife and four children in the Houston area. When away from his work Brannon speaks publicly for non-profit youth organizations with an emphasis on foster care and youth development. When not doing that, Brannon enjoys camping with his family and going to Disney World with his kids.