Second in a four part series on The Three Rings of Perceived Value.

The 18th century English potter, Josiah Wedgwood, once declared “a composition for cheapness and not excellence of workmanship is the most frequent and certain cause of the rapid decay and destruction of arts and manufacturers.” That’s as true today as when he built his pottery manufacturing empire. The inner product ring is the basic, bare product, service, or core offering on its own. This could be a piece of equipment, financial service, government program, restaurant meal, or complex technical system. Internally, it can also be a report for the boss, information for the manager in plant no. 3, training and development, or technical support. The size of this ring depends on the level of quality the customer feels he or she is getting. The customer appeal of that product or service depends on the extent to which it meets minimum requirements and specifications.

First of 3 Rings of Service Quality - Jim ClemmerIf an organization, department, or individual contributor’s basic product doesn’t meet minimum standards, then the next two concentric rings don’t matter. Some organizations put lip stick on that proverbial pig by providing support services or teaching “smile training” to frontline staff when their core product or service is grossly inferior in design, performance, or cost. Airlines are classic examples. If we miss critical meetings or have vacations ruined because planes aren’t on time or baggage is lost, the type of service we get after the First Ring has collapsed doesn’t make a big difference.

Today, the minimum standard that’s considered acceptable in product manufacturing is much higher than it was just a few years ago. Similarly the standards of basic service requirements such as ease of access, flexibility, and the suitability of the service are also rising. Just to stay in the game today calls for a functional basic product — there is simply no market for products and services that don’t work. However, in a globalized world with an unprecedented supply of good products and services, minimum standards of acceptable quality are increasing exponentially. Just keeping products or services up to swift changing minimum standards of ever more demanding customers is an increasingly tough job.

Team or departments producing basic products or services primarily for internal consumption also feel this pressure to improve. Changing requirements of external customers, coupled with growing pressures on every organization to do more with less, are radically shifting internal partners’ base requirements. Internal support groups need to keep their basic product strong and evolving just to keep up with the fast moving needs of the organization they serve.

One of the biggest challenges to expanding the inner ring is getting the technical experts who design and build the basic product or service to look beyond their specialty, industry standards, tradition (“we’ve always done it this way”), competition, or their own “I know best because, after all, I am the expert” tendencies. They need to understand what problem the customer is trying to solve, or what need they are trying to fill. We have to look through the customer’s glasses to determine what kind of product or service features to offer. Then we use the customer’s yardstick to measure the product or service’s quality level. This calls for a much closer relationship with customers or internal partners to get behind the product or service and see “where the customer is coming from.” High performing teams/organizations move out of the traditional “product (or service) push” approach which involves selling “things” to “customer pull” which involves finding solutions. That means a very high degree of customer listening.

Next Blog: Defining The Second Ring of Service/Quality: Support That Satisfies


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