Many years ago, my high school chemistry teacher shared with us an experience he had while working at a laboratory in southern Indiana.
They were developing a new laundry detergent and it was terrific. In lab tests a half of cup cleaned better than a full cup of the major competitor's product. Everyone knew it was going to be a big success. Then they ran a consumer trial and the results were horrible. They were stunned and disappointed. No one appeared to like the product. One response said that it was like washing the clothes in tap water. When they read that response they realized what went wrong. They had been so concerned with the active ingredient and how effective it was, they had forgotten to add the suds. They found a substance that produced luxurious suds when agitated in water and added it to the new detergent then ran another consumer trial. The responses were terrific and that detergent soon became the best selling product on the market. Those suds had absolutely nothing to do with the effectiveness of the product, but they had everything to do with the public's perception of the product's value.
In our service industries we often became so wrapped up in providing technically effective, valuable service for our customers that we sometimes forget how important their perception of our service is to our success. We may need to add “suds” to our service to improve their perception. Those things we can do that will not improve the quality of our service yet will greatly increase our customer's satisfaction with us.
The best example of something we can add is a smile. On the telephone a smile changes our tone of voice and makes a significant difference in our customer's reaction and satisfaction. In person it is even more important. A technician who smiles and appears to enjoy his or her work and the opportunity to serve the customer will be perceived to be doing a much better job than a technician who looks disgusted or even worse bored with the job. That is true even when both are providing the same technically efficient service for the customer. A few other examples of suds are: removing or covering wet or dirty shoes; not standing too close when the customer comes to the door; and not blocking their driveway.
Years ago I shared my suds story in a series of service meetings in each of our company's branches. I listed a few of my ideas on the board to get the discussion started and each technician or administrative assistant was asked to share the things they were doing to increase customer satisfaction. In those brief brainstorming sessions other things we could do to produce “suds” were added to my list. I began with five ideas and after all of the meetings, I had a list of more than 60 practical ways to improve our customer's satisfaction, most of them better than mine. The important thing was to get our service providers to share with coworkers the little things that seem to improve their customers' satisfaction. The best ideas spread through the company faster than the common cold and as a result customer satisfaction greatly improved.
We must never forget the fact that our customers' perception of our service is reality to them.