Accountants, lawyers, engineers, architects and other firms are collectively referred to as professional service or services firms. Note the word “service” here and consider what that means to you. Or more particularly what it means to your clients.

I want to share with you two different experiences I’ve had which caused me to think about the concept of service. The first is from a hotel I was staying at regularly and the second is from my local bike shop.

Hotel encounters

There is four-star hotel in Sydney that I have regularly stayed at. On two occasions I had the same thing happen. I arrived at the hotel at my usual time of about 9.30pm and checked in. When I got to my room I found a card with a hand written note that said Welcome back Mr Pillans, please have a drink on us. There was a voucher for a free drink at the bar. At face value this sounds good right? Here is the problem – the free drink was at the bar downstairs which closes at 9pm. I have never checked into this hotel before 9pm! To make matters worse, the voucher provided had a validity of that day only – it had was useless by the time I got it!

This well intended gesture happened twice and on the second occasion I told the reception person about it when checking out and explained the problem. She looked a bit lost and I heard nothing more about it. The idea was good but it was implemented very badly. At the same hotel I had another experience of a bad smell coming from a drain and an inability of the hotel to address it. I’ve now moved my loyalty to another hotel because in the end I perceived the service was not to the standard I expected and believed I was paying for. Contrast this with the two encounters at the local bike shop.

Bike shop encounter 1

When Kate and I moved to a new, much more bike friendly area than where we were, we wanted to get out and about. Unfortunately, in the move my bike took a knock and the gear mechanism was not functioning correctly. In my younger days I would have fixed this myself but these days I prefer to leave it to the experts. I had seen a local bike shop nearby so dropped in to say hello and see if they could assist. A very friendly man introduced himself as Fred and said he’d be happy to assist but just could not do it that week. There was a large community ride about to happen and he had a big queue of bikes which he had promised to have ready for that event.

Two things struck me from this encounter. First, Fred has a great way with clients – he is friendly, confident but not cocky, clearly loves what he does and you just can’t help but like him. Second, he managed my expectations in terms of what was possible. He needed to do that so he could meet the expectations of clients he had already made promises to. He did not over commit. I went back the following week and Fred was there again ready to help. I left the bike with him and it was fixed the same day for a very small charge and he took the time to explain what the problem was and what he had done. I was very happy and knew that if I ever had any bike related needs Fred would be the first person I’d visit.

Bike shop encounter 2

About 2 weeks later I found myself in a rather embarrassing situation which required the help of the bike shop again. I locked my bike and Kate’s bike to a bike rack outside the local library but then the key would not work to unlock it. Oops! As luck would have it the library is not far from the bike shop so I went in to explain the situation. Fred was not there but the young man on duty listened to my story and without hesitation said something like “no worries, why don’t I bring some lubricant with me and we’ll see if that works otherwise I can use these bolt cutters!”

The bolt cutters were needed and then we returned to the shop and I bought a new lock. But before we did that the young man asked if I needed to wash my hands. Very thoughtful on his part. It seemed that nothing was too much trouble. There was never any suggestion there would be a charge for this “call out” service, even when he saw that my bike had clearly not been purchased from him. He was just happy to help. He had never seen me before, but, like Fred, had an instinct for service or had been well trained by Fred. My guess is it is a combination of both.

Here are four questions for you to consider:

  • Do you and your team have an instinct for service?
  • What training do you provide on client service?
  • What client service systems do you have in place?
  • Do you provide clear guidance as to what each team member can and can’t do in the name of client service?

I’ve had two brief encounters with the local bike shop and do you think I am now loyal to them. You bet I am. In a fiercely competitive environment your client service may be a key differentiator for you. How could you apply these lessons from the hotel and bike shop to make your client service better?

If you would like some client service training for your team I’ll be pleased to chat about what I can offer.