In The Frame

The service element of any business always has the potential to differentiate.

The rather technical description of a Service on Wikipedia illustrates this intangible and insubstantial commodity with a picture of a “bellhop”, a rather dated name for a hotel porter. I was looking it up as I was mulling over the importance of the service component of the things we buy and the businesses we run. Of course some things are pure services, like bell-hopping it seems, but many combine a product with a strong service component. The reason this interests me is that it is often much easier to differentiate the service component of a sale than the product; if you can do both so much the better, but if you can’t the more you can differentiate the service element the more successful you will be.

Pret A Manger does both, this now somewhat iconic British fast food chain, sells quite distinctive sandwiches and salads but it also has very slick service delivery that few businesses can come close to. Taken together, it is a class apart in the “ready to eat” segment in London, if not internationally. I’m a big fan of Pret. Well, today I returned to a local picture framing business that I discovered only last week and I took such delight in the service component of this business that I wanted to write about it.

For many years I have tended to buy my own picture frames; I guess I subconsciously thought of picture frames as a commodity product – surely anyone could stick a picture in a frame? That’s not to say that I wasn’t aware that others might be better than me at it but I had assumed that the cost would just be higher than I was prepared to pay, that the added benefit of getting someone else to do it just wasn’t worth the added cost to me.

After visiting Altered Images, in Wadhurst, East Sussex, I have changed my opinion and I now realise that the product component of the purchase of a picture frame can be secondary to the service component; that what I am actually buying is a beautifully presented picture rather than just a picture frame. Not only that, but I realise that it is worth the cost to me of buying my frames here primarily because of the added value service component. On one level it is very simple service but that doesn’t make it any less valuable and compelling to me as a buyer in search of “a well displayed picture”.  All this may be obvious to you but it is a new perspective on home decoration for me.

So, what happened? First of all, although the various staff were busy, either with other customers, or in the workshop at the back of the premises, both times I entered the building, they dropped what they were doing and put me first; both times, quickly and politely engaging me as if I was actually quite important to them.  In my experience of UK retail that is quite rare these days. I was served each times by a very polite and interested young man who listened to what I wanted and then, in an unhurried and deliberate way, guided me through the various options I had in terms of mounts and frames and combinations of these things.

Whilst I guess you get a similar service in other framing businesses, it would be hard to fault both this young man’s focus on what I wanted and his apparently genuine interest in helping. It was a busy place and I am sure that he had other things to do but not once did he make me feel rushed. He just guided me and then listened to what I said and together we soon narrowed in on a final choice. Then he told me how much each frame would be and do you know what? even for a committed do-it-your-self-picture-framer like me the price seemed more than reasonable for what I had bought, a well displayed picture. Just look what great customer service, often a combination of differentiated service process and personality, can do.

If the young man in question ever reads this he may wonder why I am going on so much about something he just does every day; the reason is quite simple: whether by luck or judgement this business has hit on a differentiating service component to each sale that has persuaded me, and others I guess, that when you want to display a picture to its best advantage you need more than just a frame.

The service element of any business always has the potential to differentiate. Does yours?

Mark

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