Wow your customers

New book offers 20 habits for better service

Vince Magnini
Vince Magnini's new book pulls valuable information
from research on shaping customer attitudes to help
service businesses boost their performance.

Food service employees taking “smoke breaks” near their store’s front entrance. The hotel manager who didn’t say “hello” as a guest walked by. The sales associate who, while serving a customer, griped to a colleague about not having a day off.

Vince Magnini, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management, cites these encounters from his own life as examples of “experience breaking” behavior in his new book, “Performance Enhancers: Twenty Essential Habits for Service Businesses.”

“We as consumers witness such behavior regularly,” he says — employee actions that are inconsistent with “the experience that the firm is trying to create for us.”

Magnini says, however, that academic research exists that, if properly communicated, “could significantly enhance business practices.” The book represents his effort to make such “managerially useful studies” more readily accessible.

20 service habits

Meant to be “an easy read,” his book presents 20 habits that he thinks are important for anyone working in any service business to cultivate, whether it is travel, entertainment, retail, accounting, engineering, health care, home improvement, or legal.

The suggested habits range from the behavioral (using drama, laughter, and verbal and nonverbal cues) to the technical (analyzing blogs, mining data, and measuring return on quality).

None of these habits are generally practiced in the service sector, Magnini says, but “all will boost performance if practiced.”

He discusses the habits in terms of their impact on the attitudes and behavior of employees and customers. “Attitudes serve as the foundation for behavior, and the habits presented address how to positively influence employee attitudes and behavior and, in turn, customer attitudes and behavior.”

Service blueprinting

Discussing habits that can shape customer attitudes, in particular, Magnini suggests, as habit 11, “service blueprinting” — the process of mapping how customers and employees flow through the physical spaces of a business. The diagram would include places where customers can go, areas where they cannot go but can see, and employee-only spaces.

Performance Enhancers book
Vince Magnini's Performance
Enhancers: Twenty Essential Habits
for Service Businesses

Service blueprinting has been a subject of academic research for nearly two decades, he says, “but it has failed to gain a critical mass in practice.” Though not a guarantee of success, “taking time to accurately plot a detailed service blueprint can yield benefits that are sizable and far outweigh the costs.”

Magnini notes, for example, that a service blueprint can offer ways to “delight customers at various contact points” and manage “atmospheric variables” — sights, sounds, and smells that influence customers subconsciously. It can show a front-line employee “how his or her role ties in to the rest of the service offering.”

Service blueprints can also help a business develop strategies to manage customer waiting perceptions, Magnini says, an issue he discusses as habit 12, which focuses on actual and perceived wait times.

These are quite different, research has shown, Magnini says. “Waits feel longer if they are unoccupied (i.e., if customers have nothing to distract them mentally) or experienced alone; occur in preprocess stages; or are unexplained, unexpected, unfair, or of unknown length.”

Recovering from failure

Even the best managed firms experience service failures now and then, Magnini says, but dissatisfied customers need not be an inevitable result. Thus, in habit 13, he discusses ways of coming back from a service failure.

Researchers, he notes, have described the phenomenon of the “recovery paradox,” the notion that a service failure enables the business to acquire higher satisfaction ratings from customers than if the mistake had never occurred — if the corrective measures are effective.

“If you as a service provider wow your customers with the actions that you take to rectify a problem, they will be highly impressed and have a higher opinion of your firm than if the problem had not happened.”

The recovery paradox will not occur in every situation, Magnini warns. The redress initiatives must be “truly impressive and sincere.”

Even so, customers are unlikely to be enthralled, he says, if it is their “second experience of failure in your firm, for example,” or if they perceive that the problem is likely to occur again, or “if the failure is severe, such as with a food-borne illness.”

Researchers also have a term for botched comebacks. Magnini notes that a “double deviation” is a scenario in which “the recovery was so poorly executed that it actually represents a separate service failure in the mind of the consumer.”

Double deviation magnifies the dissatisfaction of the customer, he says. “Research finds that the double deviation effect is quite common, because many consumers indicate that it was not the initial failure that caused dissatisfaction but the service employee’s response to the failure.”

Positive reception

Magnini’s book has received enthusiastic reviews from readers. “…Having a book focus you on the importance of what is right in front of you — the attitude and behavior of both your associates and your guests — is certainly time well spent,” wrote the general manager of Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.

“…tangible and effective strategies that managers at every level can incorporate into their practice,” wrote an administrative director at Lenox Hill Hospital.

And from the general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation: “A concise and comprehensive read that encapsulates the essentials of a winning formula for the service industry today.”

Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Spring 14

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