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From Dr. Scott Sampson's Understanding Services Businesses Book (click for table of contents)
—[in Unit 12: Challenges in Delivering Service Quality]— Next⇒SBP 12b: The Unreliable Supplier Dilemma

SBP 12a: Everyone Thinks They're an Expert

With services, the customer often provides product specifications (what to make) and process design (how to make it), often without the invitation of the service provider.

Why it occurs

This principle occurs because the necessity for customer-inputs in service processes means that most customers have extensive experience with the service process. This experience breeds process knowledge and ideas for improvement.


The words of Richard Chase capture this Service Business Principle well 1): “Everyone is an expert on services. We all think we know what we want from a service organization and, by the very process of living, we have a good deal of experience with the service creation process.”

Receiving Customer Inputs This Service Business Principle can both be a blessing and a curse to the service provider. On one hand, it can be a great thing to have customers participate in the quality improvement efforts by offering improvement suggestions. (Unless, of course, the company is not willing to act on the suggestions.)

On the other hand, even though customers think they are experts, they may not understand the complexities of implementing a given quality improvement suggestion. The suggestion may not affect a sufficient number of customers to warrant the high cost. This brings to mind the Service Encounter Triad discussion from the Who is in Control Service Business Principle: If the customer thinks he or she should be in control, but the service organization or the service employee insists on being in control, conflict will occur.

However, an extremely common problem in service businesses is to underrate the potential benefit of customer suggestions. In fact, in many cases customers do know the best way to do things, and ways to improve quality at low cost. Service providers need to be very careful about the often-fatal “Not Invented Here” syndrome, which is that “if the company is not already doing it, it must not be a good idea.” Wise service providers will not let the valuable customer-feedback resource go to waste.

How it effects decisions

Service providers need to decide how to handle quality improvement suggestions from customers.

What to do about it

Every suggestion from a customer, either solicited or unsolicited, should be acknowledged to the customer. If it is sincere, the service provider should tell the customer that suggestions are appreciated. This does not mean that every suggestion should be implemented, but that there is great potential from listening to customer suggestions.

My airline example

It is likely that most airline passengers think they know some way the air travel process could be improved. With such a huge suggestion resource, why is it that there are not more perfect airlines? The answer may lie somewhat in the ability of the airline to maintain control of the process. There is not much in the process of air travel that is not subject to various forms of regulation or risk control. As a result, airlines tend to operate “by the book,” with a policy for just about everything. Such inflexibility is not conducive to quality improvement suggestions. Many improvement suggestions may be beyond the limits of regulation, or may not be cost effective. Yet others may be perfectly doable.

How manufacturing differs

With manufacturing, customers usually have no experience in the product design or product manufacturing processes. Most customers have very little idea of how a given product is made, and as a result have little knowledge that would lead to improvement suggestions. (Consider a manufactured item as simple as a pencil. Most customers do not have a clue how a pencil is made, much less how a microchip is manufactured.)

Analysis questions

  1. In what ways can customers tell the service provider what to provide?
  2. In what ways can customers tell the service provider how to provide it?
  3. Where do customers get this knowledge?
  4. How should the company respond to this customer expertise?

Application exercise

Design a customer-suggestion system. What is an appropriate procedure for handling unsolicited suggestions for quality improvement? Should suggestions be solicited? In what manner? (such as on customer comment cards?) What is an effective procedure for handling solicited suggestions? (draw a flowchart) What types of “customer-expertise” would be particularly helpful in a company's quality improvement efforts?

1) Chase, Richard B., and Aquilano, Nicholas J., Production and Operations Management: Manufacturing and Services, Seventh Edition, 1995, Irwin: Chicago, page 104.

[up to index]

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