University of Southern California

The Et Ceteras of Customer Service that Keep Consumers Coming Back
Trust is a Cornerstone to Business Success
March 17, 2008 • by News at Marshall

By Laurie Dominic

You've booked a hotel room for your vacation. Did the reservation process make you feel happy, relaxed? Do you trust the hotel to deliver on its promises? Were you in control of the process?

If so, you're working with a company that knows the importance of "ETCs." No, not the "Et Ceteras." These issues are anything but afterthoughts at the heart of any customer-service transaction, says USC Marshall School of Business professor Richard Chase, for years one of the world's top experts on how companies deal with their customers.

By going beyond the sale itself, and focusing on what Chase calls the ETCs, a company can give consumers positive emotions, trust and a sense of control over the process. In today's marketplace, where dollars are spent more cautiously and customers have more access to consumer information, going above and beyond average levels of service is vital to long-term success.

Chase has developed the ETC concepts with Sriram Dasu, an associate professor with Chase in USC Marshall's Information and Operations Management Department.

Chase, who holds USC Marshall's Justin Dart Professorship Emeritus in Operations Management, travels the world teaching about the ETCs to organizations such as Dell Computers, the MGM Grand Hotel, Aloha Airlines and McKinsey Consultants.

His work is highly sought after in a field that has had too little researcher attention given its importance, according to one recent assessment of the field, in the journal Production and Operations Management. The assessment ranked Chase fifth internationally in research productivity, based on the number of his papers that have been published in top journals. The same review ranks USC Marshall fifth overall among institutions, powered in part by Chase's productivity.

Trust is a Cornerstone to Business Success

In Chase's work with Dasu, they lay out several key tenets for company success in customer service. To establish trust with the consumer, business leaders must anticipate the ways they'll deal with a customer's emotional response to service failures, Chase says.

For instance, Farmer's Insurance found that the satisfaction scores for the claims process were based on their agent's level of dedication. That sense of commitment established trust with the customers, which was further reinforced when agents projected a problem-solving attitude.

A customer also must feel a sense of control over the service process, whether it's making an investment decision or getting to decide when they get to eat their hospital meal. One key way to give customers more control is to disclose as much information as possible about service problems, say with a flight delay, and then giving them a detailed understanding of how they can fix or bypass the problem.

How Organizations incorporate the ETCs into Their Businesses

Each Joie de Vivre hotel is thematically designed to evoke a specific magazine. For instance, the Hotel Vitale in San Francisco uses Country Living to set the emotional tone for its facilities and amenities. The hotel targets women business travelers. Joie De Vivre's Phoenix Hotel ties its "edgy" rock-n-roll emotional experience to Rolling Stone.

To help potential customers figure out which hotel might be a good fit for their personal needs and interests, the company's website uses a five-item test to figure out their implicit emotional preferences.

Courtside at Seattle's Key Arena, an Operations Manager monitors the ebbs and flows of Supersonic games. His job is to manage the emotional climate by directing the psychological experience that surrounds the on-court play.

During timeouts and commercial breaks, he controls the timing of scripted events and influences fan involvement and the energy level by flashing "D-Fence," "Charge" and "Noise." The result is a sense of engagement and flow for customers, giving them a more enriching communal experience. Such attention to the details of the customer experience, Chase says, should never be an et cetera.

Tips for Incorporating the ETCs into Your Business

  1. Analyze what the job requires to get done, and restructure the way you do it so that the ETCs are accommodated. "Focus on the task at hand, consider how it will be completed, the treatment the consumer receives and the customer's underlying feelings about his experience."
  2. A customer's emotional reactions can have a huge impact on his or her perception of the service they're receiving. Emotions such as frustration, anger, disappointment, anxiety joy, happiness, hope, relief and excitement have a great bearing on loyalty, word-of-mouth referrals and complaints. "This leads to two basic questions: 'What theme or climate do you want to establish for customers?' And, 'How should you manage the emotions that arise during the service process?' "
  3. If you foul up, how you fix the problem depends on what you did wrong in the first place. "If the steak was been less than perfect, the server can resolve it by providing a different entrée or a refund. But if the problem was that the server was rude, an apology will be more important than a refund. The point is that you want to make the customer "whole" in the case of a task mistake, and provide a managerial and staff apology in the case of poor treatment.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.