What are we really talking about when it comes to service?

P.T. Barnum famously bet on his customers getting confused by fancy words when he wanted to pump up profits at his museum. Barnum posted signs marked “This Way to the Great Egress” that led people towards what they assumed was the museum’s latest attraction. Gullible patrons were surprised to learn that "egress" is really just another word for exit when they followed the signs straight out of the building.

That sort of trick wouldn’t pass muster with today’s customers (imagine the Yelp reviews!) but there’s still plenty of confusing language used in customer service. Clearing up this confusion may be one of the keys to preventing service failures in your organization.

Here are a few examples:

Customer Satisfaction. What is it? Is it good? Or, is aiming for customer satisfaction setting our sights too low when we really should be achieving customer delight? And, if customer delight is the goal, should I scrap my C-Sat survey in favor of a C-Del metric?

Employee Engagement. It seems to be a matter of fact that positive employee engagement is strongly correlated with high levels of customer satisfaction. Or is it correlated with high levels of customer engagement? What exactly is employee engagement anyway? Even the top employee engagement consulting firms don't agree (see my post).

Outstanding service. This is good, right? Just ask five people and they’ll all agree. Then ask them what outstanding service looks like and they’ll all give different answers. None of them will be necessarily wrong, just different. (See my simple explanation.)

These are really rhetorical questions in an effort to highlight the need for a common frame of reference, though I wouldn't mind you sharing your answers in the comments section below.

Practical Application
Here are a few simple examples of how you can establish a common frame of reference when talking about customer service.

Training. Before conducting customer service training, I work with my clients to create a clear definition of outstanding service using a Customer Service Vision tool.

Surveys. Before writing your survey questions, take a moment to think about what you really want to learn about your customers and what you will do to act upon that data. (See "C-Sat: So what?")

Strategy. Frame customer service or employee engagement initiatives around SMART goals rather than writing fuzzy objectives like “improve customer service.”