I've been where you are — standing at the crossroads, with a ton of software-generated data and figures on one side and the ever-evolving pulse of human emotion on the other. The service industry, by its very nature, hinges on human interactions. So, how does one balance the cold, hard facts with the warmth of human intuition? Please join me on a journey this month of discovering this fruitful intersection.

The service sector: where humanity meets business

Let's start by acknowledging the uniqueness of our industry. Unlike product-based businesses where tangible goods are the focus, in the service industry, we're in the business of experiences, relationships, and trust. Every decision we make resonates at a personal level with our clientele. Hence, while data offers us a roadmap, it’s the human touch that drives the journey. This is extremely important for us to remember as more and more AI enters our space and data is accessible to everyone, all the time.

The glitter of data

In today’s digital era, data is like the North Star. For a service business leader, it can decode client preferences, highlight efficient processes, and unveil hidden opportunities. Data can tell us when our services are most sought after, which teams are performing at their peak, and where our strategies are bearing fruit. Who to dispatch to which call, what part of town, which product they sell the most of, etc. The list is becoming endless, which can lead to data overload at times.

Even with all its glitter, data can sometimes miss the human story.

The stories data doesn't tell

I recall a time in my previous plumbing company when armed with stellar feedback data, we launched in a new market about 60 miles south of our primary service area. Everything, from customer surveys to market analysis, indicated it would be a game-changer. But it didn't take off as expected. On digging deeper, we realized that while the offer we had met a 'need,' it didn't resonate emotionally. Clients didn't just want efficiency — they wanted to feel understood and valued. They wanted to feel connected to their service provider. A very small farming community wanted to see my team members in the grocery stores and/or at church on the weekends. We missed the mark by just following the data initially and not getting involved enough in the local community.

Tapping into the emotional quotient

This realization underscored a crucial aspect of service leadership: the importance of emotional intelligence (EI). Understanding and acting upon emotions — both of our teams and our clients — is essential. Whether it's the relief a client feels when a pressing issue is resolved or the pride a team member takes in a job well done, these emotions are the lifeblood of our industry. I believe no matter how much technology improves our space, which it already has and will continue to do so exponentially, the human emotion component of service will set the bar for the most successful and sustainable companies.

Balancing act: marrying data and emotion

So, how can service business leaders create harmony between these two potent forces? Here are some insights:

  1. Empathy is key: Always strive to understand the 'why' behind the numbers. A surge in service calls might indicate a peak demand time for whatever reason, but talking to clients will tell you about the anxieties or aspirations driving them. Will they still use you if they have less demand and can “shop” around more? Are they using you just for convenience, or do they resonate with your company’s values and forward-facing marketing messaging?
  2. Promote emotional intelligence: Encourage a workplace culture where team members are attuned to emotional cues. When your team can anticipate a client’s needs or concerns, it leads to more meaningful and impactful service delivery.
  3. Pilot programs: Before rolling out a significant change, consider testing it on a smaller scale. Not only does this give you data, but it also helps gauge the emotional temperature—how do clients *feel* about this new offering or change? This works internally as well. Think new pay structure, new technology, new accountability, new markets, etc.
  4. Open the feedback channels: Regular feedback, both from your team and clients, is invaluable. They can offer perspectives and nuances that data might overlook. More than just Google reviews for clients and team member surveys internally, facilitate an environment for open, honest sharing.
  5. Look at the long game: Immediate metrics, such as quarterly growth, rolling twelve, and year over year, are important. But always keep an eye on the horizon. Are your decisions aligning with the long-term values and vision of your brand? There has been some short-term thinking dominating some of our industry over the last several years. If you’re not selling your business right away, remaining focused on the long game will serve everyone much better.

Understanding and acting upon emotions — both of our teams and our clients — is essential. Whether it's the relief a client feels when a pressing issue is resolved or the pride a team member takes in a job well done, these emotions are the lifeblood of our industry.

Integrating both worlds

Let me be crystal clear. I am a huge fan of data and a huge fan of effectively managing human emotion. Data and emotion need not be adversaries. Think of them as two instruments in an orchestra, each lending its unique note to create a harmonious melody.

During a challenging phase in my plumbing business, I remember being bombarded with conflicting data points. It was overwhelming. So, I took a step back and organized a feedback session, letting our team share their feelings, concerns, and hopes about our service direction. That emotionally charged session, when viewed alongside the data, provided clarity and direction that numbers alone couldn’t offer.

Closing notes

Service business leadership is truly an art — a delicate dance between the rhythm of numbers and the melody of emotions. As leaders, our challenge is to seamlessly weave these threads into a tapestry that tells a story of trust, reliability, and human connection.

So, fellow leaders, the next time you're knee-deep in reports and data projections, take a pause. Reflect on the individual stories, aspirations, and emotions tied to those numbers. Remember, in our industry, services are the stage, but the human connection is the performance.

Let’s toast to a future where every decision we make is not just informed by data but is also inspired by the human spirit. After all, in the realm of services, people — clients and teams alike — will always be at the heart of what we do. I’m very optimistic about a wonderful marriage of data and emotion in our industry for years to come.

Wishing you a harmonious and impactful journey ahead!