Organisations must look beyond their industry if they are to meet and exceed customer expectations of service delivery.

Illustration of a girl looking out a window at stars in the sky

As customers are exposed to new ways of interacting with organisations, their expectations about how, when and where they access products and services are changing. More specifically, their current expectations are shaped by past experiences they've had.

Customers build up and compare service experiences from a range of sources that are sometimes completely different. If a customer visits a bank branch, receives personal attention, and gets their loan application sorted in less than 15 minutes, it seems reasonable to expect or hope for a similarly seamless experience when a tradesperson turns up later that day to quote on their kitchen renovation. Likewise, when purchasing health insurance online they might think about the great experience they had sorting out a flight booking over secure web chat the night before.

Customers build up and compare service experiences from a range of sources that are sometimes completely different.

Organisations are typically “embedded in their own stories”, focused on improving their existing processes and technologies, and comparing themselves only to their industry competitors.

And while it is imperative for organisations to ‘look in’ and take stock of their own operations, and to conduct research into their customers’ needs and pain points, organisations can and should be ‘looking out’ to how others are delivering excellent experiences. This is key to remaining competitive in the ever-changing service delivery landscape.

The Barnes Foundation, an art gallery in Philadelphia, are doing this by partnering with a bikeshare program that has succeeded in reaching out to more diverse demographics. The Barnes’ Digital Initiatives team were able to learn more about audiences they didn’t know (but wanted to attract) by leveraging the bikeshare’s openly published data and lessons learned, and applying these principles to their audience growth strategy.

Eyewear retailer Warby Parker designed their retail stores to look and feel like a library, recognising that customers’ experiences in the physical environment are an important market differentiator beyond price point and online sales. They knew that customers would be comparing the shopping experience not just to other eyewear retailers, but to their other experiences of public space.

What service experience elements are customers comparing?

There are core attributes common to services that allow customers to compare across experiences:

  • Usefulness: ensuring the service meets customers’ needs and goals, making it useful and valuable to them
  • Simplicity: improving the clarity of complex systems to reduce mental effort
  • Consistency: familiarity in look, feel, interaction and behaviour
  • Efficiency: reducing the amount of time taken to achieve a task, without increasing mental effort
  • Personalisation: how information design and outcomes are tailored to meet the needs of the individual customer
  • Integration: efficient information design and data flow across every part of the service (people, process and technology)
  • Access: removing barriers to entry, making the service easy to learn and engage with, and ease of error recovery.

These attributes define the experience of any service, and allow customers to compare - what might look like - apples to oranges.

How can organisations improve their own services?

Firstly, start by understanding your customers’ needs and goals, conducting research to understand how, when and why they are interacting with your organisation (and with your competitors, where relevant), what their interactions have been like, and what their expectations of a good service experience are.

Secondly, conduct internal research to determine the goings-on of your organisation – who and what are the people, places and processes that engage with customers? What are your organisation’s needs, goals, motivations, and barriers to success?

And finally, consider organisations from different industries that are delivering great service experiences. What attributes of their experiences are working well for customers, and how might your organisation apply these learnings to the design and implementation of your own products and services?