Posted by: Chris | April 21, 2008

Customer Touchpoints: The “Back-End” of Services Marketing

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I jump through hoops all day. We all do. It’s annoying, but we have reconciled ourselves to them: the mindless processes that were implemented, who knows how long ago, because of an isolated incident that caused someone high in the food chain to get burned.

Typically, when we think of Services Marketing, we think of customer service, value-added service, branded service, relational service, etc. Interactions resulting from these are what would be considered “front-end” initiatives in services marketing.

On the “back-end” are the logistical concerns. In Services Marketing, the back-end includes the processes that promote interaction between service providers and their clients; for example, mailing and call list creation, location planning, and provider education. They also include the creation of a sequence of events that most effectively, efficiently connect a service provider, be it a cashier, a front-desk clerk, a financial services counselor, an educator, a minister, or civil service employee with the right client.

Unfortunately over the years, humans have been removed from this aspect of service provision. In light of this, it is absolutely essential that these logistical considerations, which I’ll just refer to as “connection processes,” be absolutely targeted, focused, effective, and free from superfluous activity (previously referred to as “hoops”). I mean, if you’re going to remove the human aspect, it had better be good, right?

A key to auditing connection processes is that of a services blueprint that necessarily consists of a customer-touchpoint flowchart. This blueprint comes from conscientious evaluation of all customer contacts available and their efficacy in accomplishing the mission of the company. This goes beyond financial nuts and bolts to address attitudes and positioning, points of failure, adaptivity, customer loyalty, and employee empowerment, among other aspects. And in its most elemental form, a customer-touchpoint flowchart addresses the very steps performed by the customer in accomplishing his goal, as well as front-line service employee (FLSE) action that is visible to the customer, FLSE action that is not visible to the customer, and support processes that are not visible to the customer (Pires and Stanton; also, thanks to Zeithaml, Bittner and Gremler).

I realize the idea of sitting down and creating a flowchart seems arbitrary, but it is my guess that many marketers are unable to list all of their company’s customer touchpoints-especially those implemented long ago by people who no longer work at the company in question-which means that some touchpoints, such as this one described on The Consumerist, are at best inconvenient and at worst, catalysts for discontinued service.

Ineffective customer touchpoints arise for a variety of reasons. I’ve already mentioned one (higher-ups got burned). They also arise to help fend off litigation. These are not always bad, but perhaps less effective than they could be. Some show up around employee review time as a token of one’s work. Some exist simply because they “always have.”

Some traditionally shoddy touchpoint culprits include service calls, ticketing, waiting rooms, checkout lines, parking and orientation, guest services, transaction processes, and one that should be of grave concern for marketers: new accounts.

There are obviously many more, and to simplify and wrap up this already lengthy post, the payoff for evaluating these touchpoints is that of differentiation that leads to loyalty. Of course, when drawing up a touchpoint blueprint, it’s important to be painfully honest and critical of the connection processes your company already has in place. Try to anonymously go through these processes yourself multiple times to assess their effectiveness. Doing so may lead you to a combination of otherwise unassuming changes that ultimately transforms your front-line service.

What experiences have you endured and what hoops have you had to jump through to initiate and/or complete an FLSE transaction? How have you seen companies creatively transform an otherwise meaningless or mundane point of contact into a creative connection process that will keep you loyal?

References: “The Role of Customer Experiences in the Development of Service Blueprints,” Guilherme Pires and Patricia Stanton; Services Marketing, Valarie Zeithaml, Mary Jo Bitner and Dwayne D. Gremler

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