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What Actually Constitutes Superior Service?

Everyone wants to pride themselves on their service in the consulting profession, but that desire is often unsupported by definitions of exactly what constitutes outstanding service. (I once observed a consultant networking, assuring a possible prospect that the consultant’s service was “better than anyone else’s.” The other party said, “Really? How would I know that?”)

How would you demonstrate that your service is, indeed, worth paying a premium for? After all, if your fees aren’t commensurate with such superb service, then what’s the point?!

Let’s put ourselves in the client’s shoes. How would we know that service is top-drawer?

  1. Response time.
    I would receive return calls back from you at a minimum the same day they were made (or first thing the next morning, if I called you late in the afternoon). At best, you’d return my calls within a few hours. Email responses would always occur within 24 hours.
  2. Deadlines honored.
    Reports, suggestions, responses, and anything else requested would be delivered in worst case on deadline and, in best case, considerably before it. This includes last-minute requests and short-deadline request. In other words, if you’ve agreed that you can do it, you do it as promised. I never have to follow-up with you to obtain an awaited document.
  3. I’m a priority.
    You don’t take my calls on a cell phone forwarded to you while you’re in an airport or, heaven forefend, working with another client. I never feel rushed or taken for granted or patronized. I have your undivided attention. While I know you can’t be available whenever I pick up the phone, I expect that when we do connect I will not be competing for your focus.
  4. Your support functions are professional.
    If I talk to your assistant, answering service, or even voice mail, I’m treated with respect and don’t have to “jump through hoops.” I don’t want to listen to the same 30-second commercial for your services every time I call simply to leave you a message. Your assistant never slaps me on hold and doesn’t mispronounce my name. Your letters and email are error-free and, electronically, everything you do it compatible with my own platforms and applications.
  5. I perceive trust and candor.
    You don’t add to my problems, and you candidly inform me when something has gone wrong, including my own behavior. I know I’m going to hear undercurrents of discontent from some staff members who may feel threatened by you, but I don’t expect to find any substance behind it (such as evidence you are taking sides in turf battles).
  6. You respect our culture and operation.
    You’ve taken the time to learn about how we operate, so you don’t make unreasonable demands and commit silly mistakes. You pay for your coffee, park in the correct area, observe office policies, and request expense reimbursement commensurate with the situation (e.g., if our own team flies coach and takes taxis, that’s the level of reimbursement you request).
  7. You are proactive.
    I periodically receive articles, ideas, references, and other resources which are non-promotional and clearly helpful to my company, position, and/or life. You provide more than I anticipate and your intent is clearly to ensure that my needs are exceeded, not merely met.

Superior service is a wonderful differentiator, because it requires no capital investment and is often easier for a smaller firm or solo practitioner to enforce than it is for a larger, more bureaucratic organization to maintain. Your service level may well exceed the sample seven I’ve listed above. The key is to be able to articulate them and extend them to every prospect and client.

High service levels always assist the perception of value, so they need to be manifest from the first point of introduction to a prospective client.