Customer Service - going deeper
In previous articles I mentioned the positive effects of having a robust customer complaint system and the dramatic results that high level customer service has on the bottom line, and all this without any mention of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Clearly handling customer complaints are part of the customer service proposition - and if not it should be.
Today the target is not just good customer service but outstanding customer service. What was average, good and excellent five years ago is unacceptable, below average and average today. Customers are far more demanding of the products and services they buy and the service bar is constantly being raised so upgrading and investing in customer service is crucial.
So where do we look for inspiration? Inside your own industry? Possibly, but to get to real learning nuggets of gold you will need to look outside – go and see what other companies and industries are doing. You may not be able to duplicate the service exactly but look at ways of adapting what you see, hear or feel. Within reason and if there is no conflict of interest, invest in buying some of their product or service to get a full hands-on experience. Even a disappointing experience can tell you something. It still amazes me how many sales people, particularly in the hotel industry, have never slept in a competitor hotel.
If you are serious about raising the bar you should also look at a Value Impact Analysis. This looks at every conceivable step of how a customer could or does interact with you. The service starts long before you have even seen or heard from the customer. In fact your perceived level of service can be tested through the internet without you even knowing it.
Never underestimate the value of good market research. A major airline created a number of product and service improvements based on customer requirements revealed through Value Analysis. From there they analysed the entire process that customers went through from the time they first thought about travelling, to making the reservation, travelling to the airport, the flight itself, arrival at the final destination and beyond. Each and every stage provided them with an opportunity to raise the service bar.
Try this yourself. Each department can benefit from this type of approach and you will be amazed at the quantum leaps in service that arise from this process. However make sure you have a good facilitator otherwise you will avoid asking the difficult questions. The team that tackles this should also be cross functional.
Please allow me a personal comment on the menu driven telephones that have all but replaced telephone operators. No doubt there are cost savings that make these systems attractive but the test comes when you ask where is the customer benefit when you have to trawl through several minutes of “press 5 now” or “choose from this list of options” and you still don’t get your query answered.
Many believe customer service is limited to customer facing personnel, but the non-customer facing departments like accounts also play a big part in supporting or destroying the customer service culture. Exactly what is their customer approach to a late payer who just happens to be your biggest customer? Take a look at every department and plot or mind map every conceivable action that has an implication on the customer. The results will shock you as to how quickly you encourage customers to look elsewhere!
Finally back to where it all begins. As Sir Richard Branson remarked at a major travel event, he puts his people first. Get that right, he says, and everything else will follow. Just how involved are your people in crafting your customer service levels? What processes do you have to harvest their ideas - because that is where the ideas come from and not the boardroom. Do you have a customer focus culture from top to bottom that is truly outstanding or is it just lip service? Is it win-win for all stakeholders or just a few?
Customer service must be part of the customer culture, and the organisation must believe in for it to be effective. Today’s customers can and will change suppliers for the smallest slip in service. Your complacency can be spotted by a competitor and they can add a service innovation that makes your customer level look average. Remember, service starts well before the beginning and finishes way beyond the end – think about it.
This article was contributed by Ray Bigger. Ray is the founder and managing director of Think8, a leading coaching, consulting and training company headquartered in Singapore and a director of Hospitality Strategies Asia Pacific. Ray has more than 25 years of sales, marketing, people and team development experience. Ray is a former English Premier League and Football League Referee.
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2006 Web Articles