For just a moment, try to take off your businessperson hat and think about your tendencies as a consumer. What things annoy you the most about companies’ customer service? What things do you appreciate? What makes you tick? (And conversely, what ticks you off?)

Now, does the way your company handles customer service requests line up with your own preferences?

McKinsey Quarterly ran a great piece in its January edition called “The Human Factor in Service Design” (free with registration), which hit on that very idea. The piece delved pretty deep into the ways that companies can use behavioral science and psychology to gain a deeper understanding of their customers’ tendencies, preferences, and pain points, and how that knowledge can help shape their approach to service.

The Importance of Service Design

We’ve written about service design before on the SmartVan, but it’s worth bringing up again, because looking into the design of service can help shine a light on a company’s priorities, strengths, and weaknesses — not to mention help spot assumptions it has made about its clientele.

Here’s an example from the McKinsey piece of how service design affects companies’ bottom line: A cable-installation company conducted a survey of its appointment scheduling, with the aim of reducing its service window from four hours to one:

“But after studying the sensitivities of customers the company found that the duration of the appointment window was less important to them than having drivers actually arrive sometime within it,” the report says. “Furthermore, the sweet spot for efficiency and customer satisfaction came at the two-hour mark. Optimizing service better than that wasn’t worth the additional cost.”

Knowing Customers’ Pain Points

It’s an interesting point, especially given the recent arms race between cable companies to narrow their service windows. Customers always say they detest waiting for the cable guy, but where exactly is their pain point? Is having a one-hour window actually more important to them than something else — say, how many channels they’re getting, or what their monthly bill looks like?

If nothing else, it’s a good exercise to think about what assumptions your company has made about its customers’ pain points. It may be that you’ve underestimated your own clientele, and by conducting a more focused study of their tendencies, you can find new opportunities for efficiency in your service design.

From the report: “By focusing on the end-to-end nature of services as customers see them (from, say, order to provision) these companies can spot trouble — and design new services — much more quickly and successfully.”

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.