Turning a customer service strategy into reality is a key challenge for organisations. Today, most senior managers realise that customer service is the competitive strategic weapon but achieving this is sometimes a major challenge. Organisations are their people, and developing a customer-driven workforce has to be the key role of customer service leaders and managers… so how can they do this?
Peter Drucker famously said: “The purpose of business is to create and keep customers,” so every business needs to organise its service delivery system around the needs of its customers. This means firstly designing a customer service strategy that will put customers at the heart of your business. Senior managers need to ask themselves, “Are we doing everything we can to create the best possible experience for our customers?” Perhaps some senior managers assume that because their marketing departments communicate that the organisation’s service delivery “exceeds customer expectations,” that they actually do. I call this corporate arrogance! It is suicidal for businesses.
Your people are the ones to leave a first impression - and a lasting impression - on your customers. They also intimately understand customers’ frustrations and they often know how issues can be resolved, but are not empowered to make the necessary changes.
- Customer insight – Get to know your customers and understand what they expect from you. How many organisations conduct mystery shopper activities for themselves? Where they do it can be scary but enlightening. Get to know your internal customers too - your workforce. Customer service managers need to focus on all their customers consistently and there are many ways of gathering customer intelligence. This does not mean the odd customer satisfaction survey, which I am personally not in favour of; not because most organisations disregard the feedback or do not interpret them properly, but because many organisations create them with a primary intention of achieving good results! They sometimes only ask the questions that will highlight their good practices.
Also, where satisfaction surveys are concerned doesn’t the customer experience depend a lot on customer expectations in the first place? Easyjet might score highly because we have low expectations, but we might score British Airways lower because we have high expectations. Organisations need more reliable methods of evaluating the customer experience and they need their people to make this happen. I really believe that before you decide what your customer service strategy should be you need to talk to your customers and your people, your internal customers, before you put pen to paper.
I remember one such company that impressed me which has now been taken over. Portman Building Society’s top executives travelled the length and breadth of the country to speak to their customers and their staff to identify what was important to them and what needed to be in place to satisfy all their requirements. When they analysed all the information they developed their customer service strategy, created new service standards and then went back on the road to communicate their new vision to employees and customers alike. Absolutely the right way to go which is why they proved to be a great acquisition.
- Create the service vision or service personality – This is an identifiable set of service characteristics that define how an organisation service proposition is different from that of its competitors. Some organisations have their own credo, others have a service promise or a customer charter but whatever method you have of communicating your service standards to your customers it is important to make sure those promises are achievable and shared by all teams in the organisation.
- Develop a customer service strategy - This determines the overall direction of the organisation, and, in particular, how the organisation will go about delivering customer service excellence.This is a high level plan that communicates to everyone involved with the organisation how it will develop relationships with its customers, in order to maximise customer satisfaction and customer loyalty, and achieve business success. It is commonly used to prevent non-aligned and disjointed activities between departments and drives everyone towards the same service goals. It includes a service/operational plan to ensure the strategic objectives are met and this should be shared with employees as everyone is going on the same journey. Communication is key; if you do not keep your people informed, rumours and gossip spread fast which can lead to negativity and once embedded it is hard to eliminate.
- Build an appropriate customer service framework - A learning and development framework will help identify how the organisation is going to go about delivering service excellence. Reward and recognition, celebrating success are key motivators for employees so use them to deliver your service strategy. Customer service performance will improve when organisations provide support through valued reward and recognition systems. This level of recognition results in higher levels of employee satisfaction which translates into better customer service for your customers.
- Deploy executive service leaders and managers who will become the organisation’s service champions - Service leaders and managers can make or break an organisation’s values; a leader who successfully creates a customer-focused culture will have a huge impact on business success through employee retention and customer loyalty. Ensure that your leaders and managers have the right skills, dedication and passionate about service excellence, customer focused and are results-driven. Leaders should posses a strong business acumen, be strategic, but lead by example, inspiring trust and embedding a no-blame culture within the organisation. Critically, they must encourage positive teamwork.
- Recruit high-performance, intelligent and well-motivated people with a 'can-do attitude' - You want people with a customer-focused mindset. Once in place, develop their knowledge and skills for delivering service excellence against competencies that are customer focused – good communication skills, tolerance, empathy, good judgement and the ability to interpret service issues and respond appropriately according to the organisations rules.
- Create innovative products and services with the support of all your people - Inspire your organisation to develop a culture of continuous improvement and innovation for the benefit of your customers. Employee suggestion schemes have helped many organisations implement change which has improved service delivery for customers but even those organisations that have the answers today cannot assume they know what their customers will want tomorrow. Customer’s expectations have become demands and successful organisations will already be anticipating customer’s demands tomorrow to stay ahead of the competition.
- Design and implement customer-centric processes that make purchasing easy for customers - Processes should be seamless, designed from the customers viewpoint and be consistently reviewed to make transactions simple and stress free. This includes making it easy for customers to complain, remember complainants are your most loyal ambassadors if their complaints are handled professionally. Organisations seldom achieve competitive advantage through their technology and processes alone; it may add value but only if there is a parallel investment in their people who have to work with the technology to assist customers.
- Create performance metrics so that the organisation can routinely and accurately assess its effectiveness for customers - Use appropriate tools, proven methods, for measuring your customer satisfaction, remember that customer service as a whole includes a wide range of specific service characteristics and there are many touch points where customer transactions take place. It is important to check on customers` perceptions of your service levels at each of these touch points and compare the results with what actually takes place. In other words, identifying your gaps!
- Manage customer relationships - Products and service alone will not develop relationships with customers. The organisation must deliver something of value to ensure loyalty. Loyalty is created when you provide a level of service that exceeds expectations and which delights your customers. Managing customer relationships is about establishing, maintaining and enhancing relationships with customers for mutual benefit. This takes us back to the beginning, to learning more and more about our customers in order to deliver what they expect. If your people can be encouraged, not only to deliver the promise, but also to go the extra mile, this goes a long way towards sustaining a fantastic relationship with your customers. You will reap the rewards in loyalty, increased reputation and business success. I must emphasise at this point that although CRM is a term given to the management of customer relationships in high volume consumer services its prime objective is to collect data from different departments to enable the tracking and analysis of customer’s transactions and trends. Although particularly valuable it does not replace the personal touch.
About Stephanie Edwards
After 15 years in Higher Education both in Business Development and Marketing I set up Customer 1st International in 2005. Through my 7 years of working with the Institute of Customer Service I became a Subject Matter Expert in customer service for Accenture (USA) developing 6 e-learning programmes for Unilever. Last year I launched two accredited, tutor led, on-line awards in customer service based on my two best sellers “The Best Practice Guide for Customer Service Professionals 2006,” and “The Best Practice Guide for Customer Service Managers 2009”.
I specialise in helping organisations, globally, to become more customer focused by helping them to develop customer focused strategies and customising quality learning resources for all their people. I have also written " Welcome Management" and "Lead, Motivate and Succeed" for the English Tourist Council and whilst working with the Institute of Customer Service I initiated ICS Service Focus, two training courses delivered by Business Partners.
This past year my team have worked with Accenture (USA) Unilever plc, BAT and MTN Africa, which is particularly exciting as we are delivering our on-line awards to over 2000 people. I have judged for the National Customer Service Awards and the Tourism South East Awards.
Recently I have been asked to contribute to articles on My Customer.Com and my next 2 speaking engagements are in Africa and Dubai.
I also work for a UK Awarding body writing qualifications. My passion is helping organisations to succeed by motivating and inspiring their workforce to deliver exceptional customer service making a real difference for the business.