Last time, I explained the conditions and assumptions that underlie the act of giving as well as receiving a service. I discussed the nature of the relationship between you as a hungry customer and the employees of a restaurant.
Today, I will show that quality lies at the heart of any service relationship. In addition, I am offering you a new way to think about the quality of what you get when you ask others to do something for you.
I have argued so far that you will evaluate a service with respect to your expectations about it: Was the quality of the food as good as the time before or as good as in a comparable restaurant? Did you wait for your meal longer than expected? And, most importantly, did you get served the food and drinks you ordered?
In most countries, people perceive services as being connected to money. Hence, the most prevailing expectation of any customer is: “The more I pay, the more I should get.” This argument assumes that quality is allocated on a continuum: your dish can have a quality of anywhere between very high (i.e. very yummy, well composed etc.) to very low (i.e. not yummy, poorly composed etc.).
The perspective of quality being represented between two extremes allows us say that the following must also hold true: “The less I pay, the less I should get.” However, if we extend this argument and apply it to our restaurant scenario, we have to conclude that a “cheap eat” is a contradiction in terms. Either you eat an expensive meal which – according to the quality continuum – contains very high quality food or you pay less and get very low quality food.
So, the critical question we must ask here is: Would anyone want to expect low quality food at all, that is, regardless of the price? Probably not. Still, someone might complain about the quality of a $3 meal, and get the reply: “It’s $3, what do you expect?!” This question presupposes that $3 is an amount too small to expect a good meal for.
But regardless of whether this is true or not, an even more fundamental belief underlying this question is that quality is dependent on the price. Hence, when you go to a restaurant with a quality-equals-price mindset, you are basically giving up some quality for a reduction in price. In other words, you go below your natural expectation for good food. And this simply does not work out – not because the service may be bad, but because you are treating yourself differently – worse – than you would when you were cooking by yourself. It would seem that having someone else cook for you should satisfy you at least as much as if you were doing it yourself. We could also say that you are pretending to be a very tolerant customer who will eat anything, if the price justifies it. In other words, you compromise on basic requirements. As a well-known management expert put it, a compromise is – in most cases – “a low form of Win/Win”: you won’t be satisfied due to the low quality of the food, and because of this the restaurant won’t see you again.
All of this solely results from applying the paradigms of “The cheaper the service, the poorer its quality” or “The costlier the service, the higher its quality.” Neither paradigm leads to a long-lasting and fulfilling service relationship.
As a conclusion, it is not wise to look at quality as a continuum in order to understand its role within a service relationship. Instead, I propose to look at quality as being represented on a ray:
Every service that you receive must fulfill your basic needs, and a meal of bad taste – however cheap it may be – or a portion only big enough for a child does not meet your needs. If a meal does satisfy you regarding portion and taste – of course, these criteria differ among services – we can say that you have been treated with a service quality of 100%. It is the minimum for you to expect and the minimum for the service provider to provide. Anything below this level fails to address the main intention of the restaurant visitor, i.e. have someone else cook for him/her, or the intention of the restaurant staff, i.e. serve good food to the customer. (Keep in mind that the existence of this basic motivation is one of the assumptions I put forth in the previous article on service.)
Everything that increases the service to more than 100% does not have to concern any basic requirements, e.g. decoration on the plate, creative composition of the food, luxury foods, glass instead of plastic bottles. These extras go beyond the main idea of the concept of a restaurant, that is, the core aspect of any service.
To sum up, good services have in common that they fulfill their main purpose. A customer cannot be made to expect less than the core service, e.g. good food in a restaurant, a seat on an airplane etc., because this is what he / she asked for in the first place. As a result of this definition, any service that falls short of its main purpose is not a bad service – it’s not a service at all, for the simple reason that it does not serve anyone. And if we believe that there is something true about the commonly used credo Living is giving, then serving other people is what lies at the heart of our relationships with them. We fail to address this value, if we continue to provide disguised services that are none. We fulfill it by giving unconditionally before we start to think about the money.
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 Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Free Press, 2004. Print.