We all know when we’ve received great customer service. It’s that feeling you have when you’ve really been listened to and had your problem resolved by someone who took the time to understand. In my role, dealing with the general public on behalf of Pendle Borough Council, I’m extremely conscious there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to customer care. This means my team is particularly mindful of each citizen’s needs to ensure they are supported properly; the payment or non-payment of benefits and taxes is a sensitive matter, and we have a real duty of care to the people we serve.
Although they have their place, KPI status reports aren’t able to capture that responsibility, and sometimes the actual customer care side can get lost in all the measurements and metrics. That’s why it is so important to make sure to focus on the individual, and not just provide the customer with a great customer experience but also focus on the customer’s emotional journey. My team understand that the key to overcoming emotional barriers is to be one step ahead and understand the support and needs of customers in a new world where our customers’ funds are declining and food bank volumes are increasing. In other words, we take care of the pennies, and the pounds – the KPIs take care of themselves.
Looking after the pennies
Looking after the pennies is all about focusing on the day-to-day interactions with customers, understanding who they are and what issues they might be facing. Every morning, my team and I review daily customer surveys to get feedback; we also regularly check the demographic data for our area to see how the community is changing. By using this data, it’s possible to spot the simple changes that can improve our service and ultimately increase customer satisfaction.
This can apply in a range of scenarios. For instance, the industry-wide drive to encourage users to self-serve using digital channels is very sensible, as it is both less costly and more efficient. However, when implementing these sorts of initiatives, it’s critical to consider the demographics of a community. For example, we discovered that, even though online options are available for many of the services we offer, 15% of our local community is digitally excluded with no online access or knowledge. Armed with this knowledge, we were able to better serve citizens by introducing workshops at local libraries to help them get online and demonstrate how they can interact with us digitally and also continue to use the libraries for access.
Listen to the frontline staff
In addition to using data, it’s important to have constant feedback from the frontline staff. Nobody is better placed to know the issues that are cropping up every day than these employees. For instance, we operate in an area with a large number of Urdu/Punjabi speakers, some of whom do not speak English fluently. The frontline team therefore recommended having multilingual signs to direct customers to Urdu-speaking staff if needed, avoiding long waits and sometimes confusion for the customer.
This sort of suggestion from staff can make a big difference and is simple to implement. Yet such ideas only happen when staff feel engaged and valued – a major part of which is emphasising quality over quotas. An employee weighed down with endless metrics may not go the extra mile for a customer, as they are more worried about statistics than service.
Beyond the call centre
Top-notch customer care doesn’t stop at the door of the call centre either. By being proactive in engaging with the broader community, customer service teams can get on the front foot when it comes to managing enquiries. My team, for example, has been working to help people understand how they will be impacted by the introduction and continued roll-out of the Universal Credit benefits system. This will see changes in the way benefits are paid, something that can cause significant confusion and stress, particularly as the entire system is online.
Ahead of the Universal Credit roll-out, we reached out to key people and organisations in the local area, including charities, landlords and credit unions, to make sure all those who would be affected knew about the change. The team also helped to deliver personal budgeting support to benefit claimants, helping them manage their finances as it was introduced.
By reviewing customer feedback, engaging with frontline staff and analysing demographic data, contact centres can identify simple changes that can dramatically increase the quality of care customers receive. However, the truly exceptional service can go virtually unnoticed sometimes because little credit is given to people who prevent problems before they even arise. Yet, engaging with the wider community and going the extra mile to anticipate these issues is when customer care teams are at their very best.
With thanks to Vicky McGurk, Northern Customer Services Manager, Liberata