Every organisation with a service interface is judged for its ‘professionalism’, a set of high-quality processes and actions delivered consistently and distinctively. The customer’s assessment of this aspect plays a significant role in forming fundamental perceptions, which in turn shapes its reputation and patronage. Traditionally, brands have defined ‘professionalism’ from the lens of interaction inputs which must be urgently re-defined from the filter of customer experience, the primary governing truth of this age.
We have all experienced ‘professionalism’ as interaction inputs in the multiple service encounters that occur daily. Each time we seek a complaint redressal from a mobile service operator or a credit card company or from a utility provider, the live agent meticulously and usually cordially asks a series of structured questions. In an airline too, for delays and solutions, a similar process is replicated, any query beyond the manual having few answers. Even in the healthcare business with all its intensities, providers had moved on to templates from spontaneous responses, as a matter of legal prudence among other considerations. Most surprisingly, even the Government departments have replicated private sector practices to incorporate pleasing responsiveness as part of taxpayer engagements. Hotels, restaurants and peers in the entertainment business consider this to be stock-in-trade, investing seriously in creating ownable engagement devices. While the above is blessed with noble intent and sincere content, what is often missing is the vital filter of customer experience, the accurate stimulus gaining precedence over the desired response.
A few simple illustrations can explain this shift that will be undeniably more valuable although undoubtedly more demanding, in terms of insight and training. Input-based professionalism in a restaurant means sharing the menu and delivering it as per specifications while experience-based professionalism means understanding the sensory mood of the diner and then matching it to a deliverable item. For a low-cost airline with a wide menu like Indigo, it will mean the shift from simply stating the items to explaining the suitability for time of day, appetite, attitude towards flight and the plans post-flight. This can be done in the printed menu as well as the online purchase and, of course, in the hostess interaction. An Uber or Meru interaction beginning with the number of passengers on-board to the purpose of the journey, airport or wedding or meeting, can help guide the customer to the appropriate vehicle category. While a simple hospital OPD appointment may easily begin with an elementary enquiry about the health concern, basic profiling and then fitment to a specialist, as opposed to directly asking for the specialisation and/or the doctor. In modern retail as well, service staff are trained usually for locating sizes and facilitating the transaction while a purpose-based or taste-based interaction will help engage the potential buyer. A similar purpose- cum-profile based query mechanism will help yatra.com align the most appropriate timing of flight and airline on a largely experiential and not just minutely transactional basis.
In each case mentioned and in so many more, the desired shift is from an input model to an experience model when it comes to defining ‘professionalism’ for the service brand, influencing perception and hopefully outcomes. As it must be noted that even at its best, a protocol as such is simply a facilitator for performance, by sharply bridging customer necessity with product competencies. There was a time even a few decades back, when the culture of service was not established in India, in terms of courtesies or procedures or commitment to actions. Which is why even basic adherence to efficiencies, in delivery and communication, was construed to be high-end ‘professionalism’. In present times, due to the rapid evolution of consumer culture, both through global and indigenous influences, such hygiene-level intervention from the lens of interaction inputs will not suffice and ‘professionalism’, like every other feature, will be defined by the ability to influence experience.
To upgrade to the new levels of ‘professionalism’, brands must ramp up their understanding of consumer behaviour, for the category concerned as well as the connected others. New-age tools like AI must work in tandem with intuitive understandings to form carefully-structured customer engagement protocols, based clearly on the desired experience. Which will then lead to training modules that will facilitate sensitive human interactions, a step ahead of current assembly-line approaches. Above all, this mandate must emerge from the highest leadership levels of the organisation, recognising it as a key variable for brand performance and eventually equity. We are currently being rather amateurish about professionalism and this must change very quickly.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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