Gone are the days when customer service was about knowing who your customers were and having a strong and loyal relationship with them. Now customer service is becoming increasingly automated and anonymous.

The author Barbara Gutek, describes two different views on types of customer service and its delivery approach in her books, “The Dynamics of Service” and “Brave New Service Strategy”. One way is to view the service as a type of “relationship” with the customer. The relationship style customer service is used today in areas such as medical care i.e. visiting your local GP is an example of a relationship service.

The second view to customer service is called “encounter” which is associated with fast-food and some banking services. The encounter service, which is used in fast-food, requires minimal contact with the customer, who doesn’t need to build a relationship in order to buy a burger with fries. This approach cannot be used by a GP – if it was you probably would not keep going back to that GP.

The concern though is that some of the relationship type services are increasingly being replaced by encounter type services. Measuring customer service by an encounter service type is not as important or valuable as measuring other areas such as efficiency. Some bank services used the relationship service approach, which has now been replaced by encounter service (ATMs, online banking) and even the GP visit has changed over the years and is a mix between the relationship style and the encounter style.

Differences Between Relationship and Encounter Service

 Relationship  Encounter
 Appointment  Walk or phone-in or unattended
 Service slow  Designed to be fast
 Feedback direct  Feedback indirect
 Loyalty high for both sides  Loyalty weak
 Profit potential is good but limited  Profit potential unlimited
 Measurement not emphasised, satisfaction not efficiency  Measurement of efficiency stressed
 High cost per transaction  Lower cost per transaction

Some examples of when a relationship style is better suited than an encounter is:

* Transaction is important to the individual e.g. selling/buying a house
* Inexperienced in the transaction
* Complicated processes
* High risk is involved

Some examples of when an encounter style service is better suited involve:

* Routine, simple transaction
* Expert and experienced at the transaction
* Risk is low

Some types of service are not so clear cut and involve some initial background relationship style and provide the customer with a simple encounter style which is very efficient and easy to use.

What type of service is your customer looking for?

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