Customer Service Standards of Performance

Over the last few years, we’ve had the privilege of having a large number of conversations with leaders in the Aged Care industry. Those conversations vary in terms of the topic, but they often have the same outcome: an exchange of knowledge that benefits both parties.

One of the topics we come back to often is Standards of Performance. The following is pretty typical of the conversations we’ve had so far; see if you can see yourself or your centre in this article.

A typical conversation

“I need to improve our customer service,” said the exasperated centre manager. “Let me give you an example. We have relatives showing up all times of the day or night. When they arrive late, there’s usually nobody on the front desk to let them in, so they have to use the bell. Sometimes it takes them more than a few tries to get someone to come down and let them in, and by then they’re pretty frustrated. It’s really simple, but it’s also really hard to get it right.”

“So what customer service standards do you have?” I enquired.

“We’ve got lots of standards. Standards aren’t the problem,” came the reply.

“What kind of standards do you mean, can you give me an example?” I pressed.

“Examples? Well, we’ve got standards for what to do when a resident has a fall, or how someone should be lifted from a chair, or how to avoid pressure sores. That kind of thing. We’ve got lots of standards,” the centre manager responded somewhat irritably.

“Ah thank you,” I continued. “What I’m looking for is what standards, for example, you’ve set for how visitors are supposed to be treated when they arrive after hours. I can’t effectively train your staff on customer service without standards. I can put together a very lovely training course with what are possibly new concepts to your staff, like learning the four key factors that affect customers’ perception of service, but without standards they won’t know how to apply those new concepts in real life back at the workplace. You’d effectively be wasting your money.”

“Can you tell me more?”

I was heartened that I might be getting somewhere.

“Well, think about it this way. Without formal enforced standards, people apply their own standards using their best efforts to complete a role. The standards your people use today will come from a couple of different places. If they’ve been employed in the industry for a while, they might create their own standards from their previous experience in a similar role, or their industry knowledge. If they’re brand new, then it’s more likely they’ll work out what to do based on their personal values, or their supervisor’s personal values. Personal values are generated from all sorts of places: their upbringing at home, their school, sporting teams they’ve been involved with, all sorts of other social interactions. They’ll vary from employee to employee,” I explained.

“So how do you work out what a standard should be? Or what you need to write standards for?”

I was beginning to think I was getting through.

“A good place to start is to create a moments of truth map,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Ringing that bell when a relative arrives late? That’s a moment of truth for your customers,” I explained. “Moments of truth are opportunities for you to leave a lasting customer service impression with your customers. You can work out what your moments of truth are – from your customers’ point of view – using tools like ‘a day in the life’ analyses, or focus groups, or interviews or surveys. From that work, you can figure out pretty quickly what your top five, ten, or twenty moments of truth are. Then, depending on what resources and time you have available, you can commit to creating standards of performance for whichever of those moments of truth you need to. Some of those moments of truth will probably be covered by existing standards, but I reckon many of them wouldn’t be.”

“So how do I write a standard of performance?”

“It’s pretty simple, actually. They should always be written to include an action, an object of the action – so the thing you’re trying to affect with the action – and a measure of some sort so you can tell when the action is being completed properly. They should be written with action, a verb, beginning the sentence. This automatically shortens the sentence and makes it more readable. For example, answer the telephone in three rings. ‘Answer’ is the action, ‘the telephone’ is the object, and ‘in three rings’ is the measure.”

“Okay, so if I’ve written some customer service standards of performance, how should I train our staff?”

“Well, training staff to execute standards has to be short, frequent, fun, and memorable. In customer service intensive industries, like aged care, it’s usually inconvenient to take people off the job for a day to train them in standards. In any case, periodic training every few months isn’t good enough to embed the standards into the way people work. Short, frequent, training experiences that people can use directly after the training have the best chance of creating a culture where people understand that they need to execute to a standard. So you can use quizzes, competitions, or games that incorporate standards to train staff in ten minute bursts before shifts, or after them. You can make a whole heap of one-page training sheets that you can then use any time you like to train people on a particular standard in context. If you can spare a half-day of training for everybody, make the training fully experiential with little or no presentation. Use a concept like the ‘Service Olympics’ to making standards training memorable.”

The CDC context for creating standards of performance

The conversation above is a fairly standard interaction when we asked to train people on customer service in aged care. With the advent of consumer-directed care in home care, this conversation becomes even more important. Our staff need to be given standards to which we expect them to perform to ensure we meet our clients more overt needs.

Aged care clients, whether they are recipients of residential or home care, aside from their clinical needs, have six types of need:

  1. Information: clients need information at all stages of interaction with our staff and facilities.
  2. Choices: CDC is about creating choice for our clients. They need choice whether it is in the range of products and services or in finding solutions to problems they are experiencing in dealing with us.
  3. Control: Clients need to feel that they are controlling their interaction with us, not that we are controlling them through our interaction process.
  4. Fairness: Clients want to get fair value and feel that they have been treated fairly relative to other clients.
  5. Friendliness: Humans want to be welcomed and to belong.
  6. Empathy: Clients want us to prove we can “Walk in their shoes.”

Creating and communicating customer service standards of performance for those moments when customers form a lasting impression of our ability to meet their key needs is a much more effective activity to undertake than providing ‘vanilla’ customer service training.

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