Customer service remains a strategically relevant success factor for any organisation. Its contribution to profitability or organisational success through retention and customer loyalty is oft weakly assessed.
Organisations usually design and implement service initiatives to improve delivery and achieve consistent customer satisfaction. However, we also encounter challenges when service does not improve in tandem or as expected.
Where does the breakdown happen? Below are ten factors to consider when reviewing service performance. There will be more factors peculiar to an organisation and these can be explored as each situation demands.
1. Non-existent or casual recruitment criteria
The standards we expect in service delivery are explicit. The radiance of the frontline and effectiveness of systems as well as processes are equally well known.
The reality though shows there is significant inattention to how service or frontline staff are recruited. It is evident in several cases across Zambian organisations that some staff are not a perfect fit for customer facing roles.
It appears agonising for them to interact with customers or apply basics such as smiling, being warm and welcoming or readily supportive to deal with queries and requests.
Therefore, organisations must be clear on the profile and attributes of their service staff. This must form part of their recruitment process with consideration for role plays or case presentations among others during the scrutiny of candidates.
This may potentially highlight attitude, service mindset and exposure, possible pointers on candidate suitability.
2. Broken promises and undelivered commitments
I recall one conversation with a customer. She had called in to log a query. It so happened that it was one that required investigation to ascertain course of action. She understood this and when I indicated that I would call her back, her reaction stunned me. She plainly asked me that “are you sure you will call me?”.
Obviously I was startled by the unexpected reaction and question. But it made me realise how much damage we inflict on service and our image when we do not honour our commitments. This reaction is likely a result of so many unfulfilled experiences with varying organisations and frontline staff.
A quick check in our respective workplaces will reveal the existence and recurrence of such breakdowns. How many workmates respond to e-mails, call back when they find a message or deliver as agreed on a commitment? This is an eye opener.
If the right attitude cannot be attained with internal clients we are familiar with, what can an organisation expect when staff are dealing with an external party?
Organisations must prominently preach and entrench the right attitude towards customer contact. A sense of urgency must be applied in all situations as a catalyst for exceptional customer experience. This will inevitably show in how queries are handled, feedback provided and how the entire communication chain holds firmly together.
3. Service agenda adoption
There are various presentations that are done in corporate boardrooms. Nothing wrong with the flowery Powerpoints.
However, the handicap arises when well intentioned pronoucements or plans remain in the confines of those four boardroom walls. The aspirations do not filter to the rest of the organisation in such situations.
The importance and place of service in an organisation must be resplendent when staff observe senior management’s attention to customer experience.
Where feasible, as much input and insights as practical must be incorporated in such plans. There is a mine of knowledge and feedback at frontline level.
A feedback loop must be complete so that frontline insights are captured at the top level. This enhances the likelihood of crafting plans that address customer feedback.
Inevitably, this suggests that the divide between top level aspirations and frontline experience will not be wide. The customer wins in the end. So does the organisation.
4. Incentivising service
It has always been easy for sales to be recognised and rewarded. This is largely on account of clear metrics such as revenue generated. This should not be translated to mean service cannot be rewarded as well.
Therefore, there is need for an organisation to consider formulation of quantifiable performance indicators and reward consistent achievement.
Indicators would include customer satisfaction, complaints received, resolution time or creative initiatives to boost customer experience.
Similarly, rewards vary. They could be quarterly or annual bonuses, recognition certificates, random but regular prizes for exceptional accomplishments or even career progression.
Organisational plans and ensuing actions should demonstrate that customer service is considered as a strategic pillar. It’s critical place must never be in doubt.
5. “Customer service is a job” myth
Everyone delivers on customer service. The sooner organisations realise and appreciate this fact, the likelier it is for improvement to be noted.
The criticality of this is best understood in terms of process design and inter-unit response times or Service Level Agreement (SLAs). Most customer requests, complaints or general feedback handled at one level have dependence on other units.
It therefore follows that the relationship or flow of work must be smooth. Expectations and standards must be consistent across all units thus dispelling any misconception that customer service is only for service staff or a specific team.
6. Lack of action on feedback
Organisations require structure around the pooling of customer and staff feedback. A lot of information and opinion exchange occurs in frontline interactions with customers.
There must be a 360 degree loop that captures this feedback and how it filters through to closure. This entails a focus on e-mail, SMS, written or phone contact from customers. In most cases, this also demands that a specific person is accountable and responsible for this function.
Deliberate fora or platforms must also be in place to comprehensively analyse service performance. This must encompass any breakdown in delivery, root cause analysis and remedial actions to be taken.
7. An inward perspective
Most organisations do not take an outward view to appreciate customer perception of services or products offered.
This is evident in some policies, systems or changes made which are designed internally but with immediate external discontent. As much as practical, an organisation must do things with the customer in mind.
Such an approach builds on customer centricity. Perhaps we would even see the demise of rhetorical service statements merely meant to be politically correct or to impress in the boardroom.
8. Groom, train and invest in the frontline
There is a gap created when organisations recruit individuals to manage service delivery. It appears in most cases, the drive ends at recruitment. From that point, expectation grows as miracles or a dramatic turnaround becomes the anticipated result.
This poses a challenge. Recruitment is not an end in itself. You may identify and select the best fit in terms of skills, personality and attitude. But they will need consistent support.
This support can be rendered in various forms. These may include training, product information availability, enpowernment to enhance decision making and even the elimination of bureaucracy that impedes swift service delivery.
Additionally, processes, systems and policies require an investment of sorts to facilitate exceptional service delivery. The mention of investment usually creates a perception that millions of dollars must be expended.
Grooming standards, coaching, flexible decision making units and mechanisms to track turnaround time need not gobble millions. They can be devised, consolidated and implemented with just the right drive at all levels.
An organisation must not operate as an island. There are several cases of best practice that can be emulated. This has the benefit of eliminating the burden to reinvent the wheel.
So many good things happen in customer service across different sectors. Regardless of the sector an organisation is in, it is of immense value to vigilantly assess how service is delivered elsewhere. It may just be astounding how much can be learned.
The key here is to be cognisant of the fact that learning is in dual form. An organisation can learn from poor service while also aspiring to match the best in class.
This benchmarking must be well structured to add value. Observations made and learnings picked should be analysed for adoption appropriateness and improvement plans. This aspect can be tied in with the suggested forums mentioned above to dissect service performance.
10. Think and build confidence
Let the frontline know what they can do and let customers also know the frontline has all it takes to deal with issues. On several occasions, I have noted how frontline staff struggle with indecision or an inability to project the confidence of someone able to resolve matters.
This may be a result of a culture that reposes decision making only at a certain level. Or perhaps, it could well be a case of recoiling after being scorched for setting a foot wrong in the past.
However, these all present opportunities to coach staff and stimulate not only confidence but competence as well. This can be explored and tackled through planned discussion sessions, role plays with varying scenarios and enhancing product knowledge.
While this goes on, it must never be forgotten that those team members that exemplify exceptional customer service must be applauded. Such simple acts can effectively work to endorse the right behaviours and motivate other team members to emulate.
From all the above ten factors, it can be deduced that customer service will continue to retain strategic importance. More so in the current competitive landscape where every customer matters and differentiation has steered away from products solely.
Organisations that trivialise this pillar undoubtedly do so at their own peril.