Products Aren't Personal; Interactions Are

I just bought a Samsung Galaxy 3 phone and was excited when it arrived. I eagerly opened it up only to find that it had been delivered dead in the box. Understandably, I was frustrated. I called customer service, they said this had been happening a lot and that they would send a new one right away. My frustration disappeared, and I soon forgot about it.

That same night, I went to a restaurant and had one of the worst service experiences ever. The food was fine, but the service ruined my entire night (and I was still thinking about it the next day). When I continued to replay the experience the following week, I began to think about why. It comes down to focused or divided attention. When you are selling a product, the customer’s attention is divided—there is the quality of the product and the quality of the service. Oppositely, when you are selling a service, the client is focused on the service delivery alone. When you are selling a product, the client is left with something tangible; when you are selling service, the client is left only with the memories of the interaction.

We’ve long known that customer service is an emotional endeavor. In fact, Sandra Kiffin-Petersen and Gregory Soutar from the University of Western Australia and Steven Murphy from Carlton University in Canada recently published their research on this topic in Human Relations, a peer-reviewed journal. Their study showed that how customer service employees rated their interactions with customers could be used to predict their emotions, suggesting the dynamic interplay between service providers and customers, and the emotional context of interactions within the service industry.

Customer service is an emotional process, especially when what you are selling is a service. It’s how the client feels about the interaction, and what positive or negative emotions or memories the interaction invokes that will predict, ultimately, how the client will feel about your company. And, because there isn’t a “product” to distract the client, their entire emotional association about your company will be built from their series of customer service experiences with your company.

What do you think? Post your response and check back for a reply!

  • Do you agree? Do you think customer service excellence is harder for professional services firms because the attention of the client is not divided?
  • Do you disagree? Do you think product-based businesses have just as many customer service challenges as service providers?


Topics: business, customer service, mistakes