What’s a great product without great service?

It’s rare that a great product would win without the support of great service, so why then are the two so quick to grow apart?

The problem, I think, is success.

Scale and its associated economies support the development of a product  but rarely do they support the development of the accompanying services. There are exceptions, of course, but not many; McDonalds is one, Apple another, Sadly I’m at a loss to think of a third.

It’s worth noting of course that Apple and McDonalds are are notable exceptions to the rule, albeit for vastly different reasons. McDonalds is a very, very large franchisor, and the “product” being sold does not come in a bun, the product is the Franchise. The Franchisee buys a proven recipe for fast food and efficient service. If McDonalds didn’t have control of the entire McD’s ecosystem through a tightly wound Franchise Agreement it would be impossible to maintain its brand of high-margin consistency that allows it to continue selling to franchisees at a premium.

Apple, on the other hand, is all about brand, and that brand extends through the product supply chain to the lifestyle, which includes the process of purchasing and ownership. Prior to Apple seizing control of its supply chain the service part was delivered by 3rd parties, now it is a powerful pillar in the house of Apple.

When a typical business grows, investment is poured into improvements in the production process, reducing the cost of goods and improving margins. The same can’t be said for service, great service at scale is costly, and returns to scale are minimal. In addition, training great service to new staff takes time, so the gap between product uptake and service delivery can grow rapidly if the growth was sudden and unforseen.

Improved margins are seductive, investments in service are not, and so the conflict begins.

As a business owner, you can get ahead. At a minimum there should be a record kept of a consistent service KPI such as Net Promoter that can serve as an early indicator of customer sentiment taking a turn for the worst. Where growth is happening at the expense of service the growth should be arrested until the issue is identified and resolved, hard as it may be to do so.

Positioning your entire business as a product is smart, have a McDonalds-like operating manual with detailed descriptions of service procedures and quality standards, or emulate Apple by asserting service as a key part of your brand, then live it with every touch-point!

To favour growth at the expense of service is a short term win, the positive sentiment that propelled growth in the first place is already evaporating, allow that to continue and chances are your brand will never recover.

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