A long term Client sent me an e-mail looking for advice on how to best position his expertise for a new position he is pursuing:

“What would you say are the major differences between the strategies to support service excellence in a retail environment with fixed locations/employees (i.e, McDonalds) versus a service company with technicians in trucks delivering services at customer sites?

I am a candidate for a VP of HR role with a large multi-national residential home services provider. They are looking at me with a background in the construction/maintenance and services industry as well as candidates from the retail sector. The role will lead the service quality initiative. During our discussions I indicated that there are substantial differences in the HR strategies required to achieve the excellence they’re pursuing.

Outside of the obvious environmental factors that can impact the outcomes, my experience has been that service technicians are by their nature independents. They have a difficult time buying into any corporate ‘initiative of the month.’ They often receive dual messages like ‘do the best job’ but are paid piece work. Often there is very little support and they are removed from any support system within the organization. Contrast that with the controlled, authority-driven retail sector where there are usually more supervisors than front line staff.

I am seeking your input on what you see are differences between the two that would assist me in my pursuit of this position.”

I agree with his distinction on the differences, especially the independence of contractors versus retail service providers. This underscores the need for leadership that builds “volunteerism.” Here’s how I described that in an article at https://www.clemmergroup.com/customer-satisfaction-is-a-reflection-of-employee-satisfaction.php:

Taking an organization from good to great customer service ultimately depends on the people who provide that service. It can only happen through the volunteerism — the willingness to go beyond what is merely required — of people who serve on the front lines. Going from ordinary to extraordinary performance happens through the discretionary efforts of front line staff deciding to make the thousands of “moment(s) of truth” (any time a customer interacts with the company in person, by phone, or electronically), they manage every day as positively as they possibly can. This enthusiasm, loyalty, or devotion can’t be forced on people. It only happens through a “culture of commitment,” where front line people reflect to the outside the intense pride and ownership they are experiencing on the inside.

There’s a similar perspective from a piece on “Leading Generation X” in the September 2007 of The Leader Letter.

Our SVP of Consulting and Training, Scott Schweyer, has worked extensively on service/quality improvement programs with mechanical contractors, home builders, retailers, and others using contractors. He added his experience and prospective to our discussion:

Differences between In-Home Service and Retail Transactional Service

Time it takes to deliver versus transactional – need much better communication and ‘recovery’ skills if work is not proceeding as expected.
Level of expectations by customer – work done in or on my home is expected to be high quality and long lasting. The service person has to convince me that their solution is the best for the cost they will incur. Transactional sales are low investment usually and returnable or refundable. This is not the same level of commitment.
Expertise, Attitude, and Communication Skills – buying a hamburger or shoes calls for lower knowledge and investment. In-home service customers want more technical advice and assurance that the service person is a qualified expert. Poor communication skills or a negative attitude can dramatically undermine that perception. The technician needs strong communication skills, a solid field support system, and pride in representing the company.
Dealing with objections and problems – I have a much higher emotional investment in the problem when it concerns where I live. Recovery from transactional service breakdowns is often quicker and easier. If the service recovery isn’t effective, the company will usually lose fewer customers by word of mouth. With in-home service, I will tell more people about the companies I liked working with (i.e. furnace contractor) and complain even more loudly about the ones that didn’t come through.

He said our advice provided further clarity to how he was positioning his experience and expertise. Hopefully it helps him get the executive role!