Part 1: Should premium products come with premium service?

Over the festive period, I was fortunate enough to escape away to the Caribbean.  Due to the length of the flight, hubbie and I opted to fly international first class both ways.  A week of luxury living starting and ending with luxury flights got me thinking about premium service.  Should premium products come with premium service?

During the course of my trip, I experienced a solid “hard product”.  With regards the airline, the airport lounges were luxurious, the champagne was vintage, the aircraft seat was sumptuous and the food on-board delicious.  What was less consistent was the service delivered.  On the outbound flight, whilst the crew were extremely courteous, deferential and respectful, they also struck a wonderful balance to be personal, empathetic and relaxed.  I felt valued and at ease with a perfect balance of informality and charm.  This feels like this may be a skill-set that is trained, but at the same time, perhaps there are elements that are inherent in the person.  Whilst the ability to genuinely personalise a service experience with every individual you interact with (day in, day out) sounds very difficult, clearly some people can do it.

On the return flight, the service experience was altogether more lackadaisical.  The crew seemed distracted, forgetting some requests whilst duplicating others.  The joined-up team effort so evident with the outbound crew was very much lacking on the return flight.    Even basic questions about the food and the wine seemed to stump the crew, making for a clunky feeling experience.  Whilst it was the same plane, the same bed and similar food, the latter experience of international first class genuinely left me debating as to whether it was worth the money (my decision is no, stick to business class for long haul flights going forward.)

I am confident that both sets of crew will have undergone the same rigorous training, and being of a similar age, may well have similar levels of experience in dealing with customers.  So why did it feel so different?  Fundamentally, good service is no service (as Peter Massey regularly reminds us!)  If the product is sufficiently simple, intuitive and well-designed, I don’t need much if any help to use / consume the product.  At the next level up, great customer service means solving any requests or need for interactions as quickly and seamlessly as possible, so as to avoid disrupting the product experience.  That can still feel great, especially when the personal interaction leaves you with a sense of “they read my mind!”

So when it comes to premium service, where we expect a customer to knowingly pay more for a better / more luxurious / higher quality product, should we also be offering a premium service to match?  In the case of airlines, the service element is positively promoted as part of the product, “inserting” a human element into the product.  It feels a little outdated to assume that in order for the product to be the top of the crop, human beings need to be a part of the delivery to justify the highest prices, perhaps?

Other businesses often offer a speedier customer service SLA (prioritising premium customers), and may well have a dedicated team, but is speed the most important and valued aspect of customer service?  Does this vary between experiential (“I don’t need this but I want it”) and transactional (“I don’t want this, but I need it”) experiences?

To answer this question, you need to arrange a discussion with your product and marketing colleagues.  How exactly do you position your product with customers?  What expectations are set?  How do you describe to the customer what your service experience will feel like?  And how do you define the difference between your basic or standard products, and those at the premium end? Once you are clear on this, and whether the service element is part of the differentiation, then you can determine whether or not your premium product needs a premium service to accompany it.

And whether you are an airlines, an online store or a SaaS business, who is capable of delivering the premium service to your customers,  and whether premium delivery skills are different to those of “standard” service is a topic of next week’s post!

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