5 factors on what it takes to deliver premium service over standard service

In a recent post, I asked the question, “Should premium products come with premium service?”  I concluded that this would very much depended on what your product and marketing teams committed to your customer.  So if your business does positively  promote premium / luxury / high end service as part of your product or service, who are the right people to deliver this service, and what skills, competencies and behaviours do they need to exhibit?

Of course, this really depends on your business needs and your products offered, but I thought it might be interesting to consider a number of factors that should contribute to making the right hires and creating the right mix of skills.  In suggesting these 5 factors, I’ve considered various industries, virtual and f2f experiences and transactional versus experiential customer experiences.

Tenure: For many businesses, there is a logical progression which happens over time – the longer you work for the company, the more your loyalty is rewarded with upward promotion, greater autonomy and increased responsibility.  This is typically seen in airline industry, where those with the longest tenure tend to service the premium cabins.  The advantage in this scenario is that with tenure comes a certain level of confidence and competence in delivery – having performed the majority of tasks many times, the ability to execute quickly and consistently increases.  Also, with tenure comes a broader knowledge, where exceptions and unexpected circumstances become less likely.

Overall, tenure brings more / broader / deeper experience, and thus should be invaluable when selecting people to deliver premium service.  It can however, be a double-edged sword, in particular when dealing with customers.  Too long in any role can result in someone becoming jaded, set in their ways or even intransigent, thus delivering sub-optimal “wooden” service experience.  Therefore, tenure alone is not a natural indicator for the right fit to deliver premium service.

Client- / customer-side experience:  In offering a higher level of service, we are invariably seeking a greater degree of empathy with the customer.  One way in which to achieve this is to seek out those who have experience from the customer’s perspective, where they have worked on the customer side.  This often often the case in consultancies and agencies, where the experience of being a customer is highly valued.  Knowing how it feels to be a customer or client, both the good and bad elements is an obvious natural fit for premium service.  In addition, bring real-life experience and knowledge of how to drive engagement and overcome issues can introduce new and fresh ways to differentiate the premium service offered.

The potential downside of customer- / client-side experience is the risk of a pre-set or fixed perception on what a great service experience looks like, so it’s important to keep a good balance between existing knowledge of customer- / client-side experience and a willingness to looking to different models to create the right premium service for your customers.

Seniority / people manager experience: In call centre environments, and in particular in outsourcers, those with the seniority get the tasks that are perceived as most high profile, such as premium service.  As with the points raised with regards tenure, there is a lot of common sense in this approach.  Those who are more senior should have a greater understanding of the risks and implications of poor service experience, especially for premium customers.  Increased accountability makes for greater reliability and consistency in service delivery.

Where this may not be the right approach is when a particular set of soft skills is required, in particular around human interaction and empathy.  More senior staff are often removed from the day-to-day delivery of service, and thus may have a tendency to overreact when delivering to premium customers.  There are many occasions when premium service may well be better delivered by those closer to the standard service delivery, because fundamentally, many of the customer-desired outcomes for premium or standard service are exactly the same!

Culture fit and mindset:  Amongst the most relevant, but hardest to measure factors in determining who the right people are to deliver your premium service are culture fit and mindset.  Whichever role you recruit someone to in your business (customer facing or back office), at some stage you assess the individual against your business culture, and determine (usually subjectively) whether their mindset is likely to meet your behavioural criteria.  Many businesses then park this aspect (although more and more are integrating culture, values and behaviours into annual performance review cycles.) Brands like Virgin value culture fit highly, especially amongst their customer facing teams, not just for new joiners, but celebrating as ongoing essential element of the brand.

If who you are (your culture and values), how you deliver (your behaviours) and what you do (your products and services) are in alignment, culture fit and mindset should be one of the strongest factors in determining who delivers your premium service.  Those with the strongest culture fit and closest alignment to your values and behaviours should be best suited to deliver your premium service, because they should be the best representation of who you are and what you are all about.

Higher EQ: Emotional Intelligence, or EQ is a well documented set of traits that are usually associated with good leadership behaviour.  Without getting into a philosophical debate on this topic, since the early 60s, many psychologists and psychiatrists have acknowledged EQ can indicate someone propensity to guide their own actions and behaviours by recognising their own and other emotions and reacting accordingly.  The five main contributing factors are:

Self-awareness – knowing your emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognise their impact on others while using gut feel to guide decisions
Self-regulation – controlling or redirecting your disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances
Social skill – managing your relationships to get along with others
Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions
Motivation – knowing what motivate yourself

Whilst high EQ is regularly discussed and highly valued as a leadership trait, I would suggest that it is also one of, if not the most valuable trait for those delivering premium service.  Hard to measure?  Absolutely!  Open to debate? Of course, but perhaps more than any other factors, high EQ is an excellent proxy for the right skillset and mindset to deliver your premium service.

What other factor would you add to this list when building a premium service function?


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