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

Today’s external customers or internal partners are looking beyond the core product or service (First Ring) to broader levels of support. The Second or Support Ring encircles a huge array of services and factors. Basically it includes anything an organization does to make the Basic Product/Service more reliable, accessible, useable, enjoyable, convenient, dependable, accurate, or useful. This may consist of training, web sites, parts, repair service, warranties, emergency assistance, information, status updates, user hotlines, instructional videos or manuals, recipes, partnerships… the list is endless.

Second of 3 Rings of Service Quality - Jim ClemmerWith the huge growth in the quantity and quality of products and services available today, customer expectations (and relentless competitive pressures) are dramatically expanding the amount, type, and quality of support services and activities required to just keep customer perceptions of the Second Ring static, let alone push it outward. In the past two decades companies like IBM focused so heavily on providing software and consulting support to their “big iron” hardware that these services that were once Second Ring Support have migrated to the First Ring and now form their core business.

How many times have you had an excellent restaurant meal but vowed never to return again? Weak — even nonexistent — Second and Third Rings doom many organizations and internal support teams. That was the focus of my blog post Our Dell Dance to the ‘Bureaucratic Boogie’ Highlights a Common Service Breakdown.

As you look at your team/organization’s basic products and services in the First Ring and then assess what makes up your Second or Support Ring, you’ll probably have some difficulty deciding what the minimum requirements are and what Second Ring expectations would lead to satisfied customers. If you took that discussion to your management team, a conflicting array of opinions would further confuse things. One way of clarifying what belongs where would be to ask those frontline staff or team members on the serving lines who hear what customers are asking for and commenting on. Their opinions and weighting of customer expectations have constantly been shown to be more valid than those of management.

But the obvious people to ask are your customers or internal groups you serve. And there’s the power and simplicity of The Three Rings model. Ask your customers or internal partners what their minimum standards are and have them rate how you’ve been doing. Then do the same to find out what support they expect and how you’ve been doing at satisfying those expectations. Get each team to do the same for the external customers or internal groups they serve and to communicate the results to everyone. Do that, and you’ve just taken a giant step toward developing a consistent definition of service/quality in your organization.

Blurring the Lines: A Broader Definition of Service/Quality

A telecommunications company discovered that when company representatives periodically called customers, those customers perceived improvements in their service — such as fewer dropped calls — whether there actually were less calls dropped or not. The line between products and services is so fine it often disappears. It’s been called the servicization of products and the productization of services.

Service/quality levels move higher when companies who once viewed quality in a narrow product or technical definition expand their focus to include both the First and Second Rings. Broadly speaking, quality means quality of design, quality of fit and finish, quality of service, quality of information, quality of process, quality of people, quality of systems, quality of listening, quality of marketing, and quality of brand.

Vital to Second Ring quality are organization and management systems, processes, practices, and structure. Sitting in the middle ring between the Basic Products/Services and the Enhanced Service Ring, these vital components determine what comes outside in to strengthen the Basic Products/Services and the cost and effectiveness of all support and enhanced service activities that move inside out along the service/quality chain through internal partners to external customers.

Next Blog: The Third Ring: Enhanced Service That Delights Customers

Further Reading: