Paul Clark believes that the essence of delivering great customer service can be distilled into ten key areas.
1. Effective customer intelligence
One of the issues we come back to time and time again with our blue-chip clients is not working out how best to interact with customers – but how to figure out who those customers actually are in the first place! Developments like loyalty cards and the internet have certainly made it easier to track customers and their buying habits – but it is still a huge challenge for companies. Effective customer intelligence is based on three essential questions: Who are our chosen customers? What do they need and expect from us as a service provider? How are we doing in meeting their needs?
2. Have faith in your front-line customer service staff
It is people that deliver great service, not companies. Some of the best customer service is delivered by companies which empower their customer service agents to think for themselves, act independently and be flexible. Nothing annoys customers more than a centre agent who is completely unable to deviate from an obviously pre-prepared script.
3. Understand how customers think
Few firms have begun to consider how they can test for the emotional elements of the customer experience. This is where Enterprise Feedback Management comes in – proactively surveying customers when they are likely to have experienced a service issue (i.e. a water company surveying a group of customers where a leak has occurred in their area would be a classic example) enables companies to plug into their customers’ experiences and resolve issues before the relationship breaks down.
4. Work for and with people who believe in service excellence
If the people at the top of an organisation don’t believe in service excellence, it won’t happen. Customer service has to be an issue that the board takes seriously. If it’s not, all the money in the world won’t give you a decent customer service operation.
5. Master the art of organisation design
Service excellence is a function of how the organisation is designed. Its key elements are what the leaders do and how effective the management processes are in facilitating the desired outcome. This is particularly obvious in the area of customer complaints. How are complaints handled? Are they treated as a priority and sorted according to urgency? Or are they chucked in a pile, to be dealt with as and when possible?
6. Make the link to the bottom line
Masters of service excellence understand that customers who have a great experience are more likely to continue to buy from their companies and more likely to recommend them to others. They also understand that even customers that complain can become brand advocates – if their complaint is resolved quickly and satisfactorily.
7. Make everything a little better every day
Leaders in service excellence train their people to drive continuous improvement. Companies which settle for a set level of service – even if it’s good – will inevitably fall behind the competition over time.
8. Understand that the future will be different
Technology is changing the way service is delivered all the time. Failing to grasp the opportunities and threats presented will mean failure. In customer service, webchat, email, SMS, and Enterprise Feedback Management are just a few of the technologies changing the landscape significantly.
9. Learn from your mistakes
Everybody makes mistakes, but winners learn from them, giving their front-line people as much freedom as possible to fix problems. When individuals or teams make mistakes, use them as opportunities to learn. A customer service charter is a great idea – but a willingness to change and develop your customer service strategy based on feedback from your customers and changing market conditions is even better.
10. Make things easier for customers
Too many firms still make buying and dealing with the customer service department unnecessarily difficult – for both retail and business customers – with unclear pricing, long delivery times, insufficient information and poor support and service. Customer patience is limited – and is only likely to become more constrained in our cash-rich, time-poor society. But for those companies that get it right, the prizes are immense.
Paul Clark is the CEO of Charter UK (www.charter-uk.com)