Customer Service Expense or Asset?
Is customer service a cut-and-dried profit and loss proposition, a key element of your image branding—or both?
By Nancy Klosek
The process of servicing a customer after a sale is both utterly quantifiable—it takes people, vans, tools and labor—and as subtle as the fadeout of the lighting in a home theater before a movie begins. As a business element, its dollars-and-cents value can be recorded in a ledger and seen as either profit or loss. But as an extension of a business' brand, its worth can only be measured by how much it adds to—or detracts from—the total customer experience.
We gave several custom retailers the floor to define "service" as it is manifested in their businesses, and to tell us the ways they have found, through years of experience, to execute the concept most successfully.
"Service," by these dealers' definitions, can range from neatly and quickly responding to something gone horribly wrong with a product or installation, to leaving a "thank you" bottle of fine Chianti on the doorstep of a client.
What IS service?
"We're about 85 percent custom installation," says Mark Ormiston, president of Seattle-based Definitive Audio, "so service, for us, is a bit different. We had a service department as a retailer, back in the 80s, when everyone did—a couple of guys at a bench, fixing gear. When something broke, the customer brought it in, put it up on your counter and someone nice would fill in the paperwork. That's a dated concept.
"Our concept now is field service. We have a truck outfitted with repair stuff, and about 50 percent of service we do is now in the home. A lot of service calls aren't even things that are broken. It's not so much components that need repair but rather that the system needs to be rebooted, or they need a refresher on how to operate things."