Service vs Duty

Reflecting on the strange, contradictory concept of service, we find that there are few companies who actually go beyond the call of duty

You might be fooled into thinking that you get excellent service when you make your way through a city like New York, but you’ll soon be disappointed when you realise that you are expected to pay for every act of kindness, from opening your hotel door, to ordering a bottle of water to your room. Most companies would say that they provide a service. But there’s a big difference between providing a service because you have to (because customers expect it of you in return for what they pay), and giving a service because you think it’s the right thing to do. It’s the difference between doing your duty, and going beyond it.

Table 1

Think of that difference as duty versus ‘real service’. Then think of some real companies. Nearly everything BT does and talks about as ‘service’ is in fact duty to its customers, because customers expect it for what they pay. If BT provides you with a phone and a line that works within a day, it’s not a service. It’s simply their duty as a telecoms provider. The same is true for someone like Avis Car rentals. It’s their duty to provide you with a clean car, empty ashtray and a tank full of petrol.

Nearly everything BT does and talks about as ‘Service’ is in fact duty to its customers, because customers expect it for what they pay.

I once hired a car at JFK with Avis, and when I got dropped off at the compound by the Avis bus, all the cars were covered in snow including the number plates making it almost impossible to identify the car I’d hired. It was cold, I was stranded and my roller bags were caked in salty sleet. As I stood there staring in despair at the vast expanse of snow covered cars, I felt abandoned by a big corporate ‘service’ brand and there was nothing I could do about it.

But look at a company like the haulage firm Eddie Stobart. Of course, they have a duty to provide certain things, but they go out of their way to do some things which aren’t intrinsic to their business. Instead of the usual mucky, rude, difficult lorry drivers, their drivers are clean-shaven, wearing ties, driving politely, with clean lorries (because they are washed every time they leave the depot). These are the ideas which demonstrate ‘real service’ above and beyond the call of duty.

Those in the future who provide ‘Real Service’ by going beyond the call of duty are tomorrow’s businesses that we’ll all admire. It’s the difference between being liked and being compelling.

Eddie stobart truck 1

Eddie Stobart has marked itself out as different among its competitors by doing things it didn’t need to do in pure business terms. Instead of seeing service as a cost they see it as a way of proving their commitment to their customers, and to the wider world. Not surprisingly, Eddie Stobart inspires more loyalty than most haulage companies (even among people who would never need to use them). They have a fan club of over 20,000 people; and when Corgi wanted to make a toy lorry, of course they made an Eddie Stobart lorry. They’ve created a community of Stobart fans in a way ubiquitous brands like BT or Avis can only dream of.

Itis Holdings has created a partnership with Eddie Stobart to fit global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices to their lorries. Its central computer monitors the location and speed of all these, determining traffic conditions. If you want to stand out, you need to ask yourself what things you do just because customers expect it of you, and then ask yourself what you could do for them individually or as a community that they’ll value. Increasingly businesses are getting more competitive and customers are getting tired of being mistreated. Those in the future who provide ‘Real Service’ by going beyond the call of duty are tomorrow’s businesses that we’ll all admire. It’s the difference between being liked and being compelling. It’s no longer a choice. It will simply become a necessity for survival.

So what’s your idea going to be?