In an age of increasing product commoditization, service quality is one of the most promising sources of differentiation and distinction. Giving good service is the essence of practicing a customer orientation.

Yet many companies view service as a pain, a cost, as something to minimize. Companies rarely make it easy for customers to make inquiries, submit suggestions, or lodge complaints. They see providing service as a duty and an overhead, not as an opportunity and a marketing tool.

Every business is a service business. You are not a chemical company. You are a chemical services business. Theodore Levitt said: “There is no such things as service industries. There are only industries whose service components are greater or less than those of other industries. Everybody is in service.”

“Businesses planned for service are apt to succeed; businesses planned for profit are apt to fail,” observed American educator Nicholas Murray Butler.

What service level should a company deliver? Good service is not enough. Nobody talks about good service. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, set a higher goal: “Our goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.” The three Fs of service marketing are be fast, flexible, and friendly.

What is poor service? There are stories that tell of a hotel in Spain that advertises that it will accept service complaints at the front desk only from 9 to 11 A.M. each day. And there is a store in England whose sign reads, “We offer quality, service, and low price. Choose any two.”

There are two ways to get a service reputation: One is to be the best at service; the other is to be the worst at service.

Ellsworth Statler, who founded the Statler hotels, trained his people with the dictum: “In all minor discussions between Statler employees and Statler guests, the employee is dead wrong.”

You can check on the service quality of your organization by becoming a customer for a day. Phone your company as if you are a customer and put some questions to the employee. Go into one of your stores and try to buy your product. Call about returning a product or complaining about it and see how the employee handles it. You are bound to be disappointed.

Check the smile index of your employees. Remember, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” (Victor Borge)

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