One of the hardest tasks in managing change is developing a true customer service culture within organisations which have been internally or product focused.
How many times have we experienced the “Your call is important to us …” message interrupting our long wait listening to some dirge of music more at home at a funeral parlour or some very old time movie theatre?
Or the notice that tells us to do something or contact the originating company through three different means of contact to explain our situation, but the only one they ever respond to is phone and even then we get shuffled around departments.
Changing customer service requires a change in the behaviours of people, which means changing their attitude, skills or knowledge. However, it often also requires a change to the vision and mission of the organisation and processes, procedures and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It also involves a change in approach to business from the top.
In managing change in customer service attributes, there are some key principles and tools which have stood the test of time. In this article, I will explore three of those principles and tools.
Customers or clients have a perception of value, based on the perceived benefits they receive for your services and the perceived cost of receiving your service.
Perceptions of benefit
Perceptions of benefit of goods or services have several sources. They include, but are not limited to, the:
- Outcome of the physical use
- Emotional attachment to the brand values associated with purchasing or arranging supply of the good or service
- Absence of buyer’s remorse
- Feeling of well-being created by the purchasing/supply process
- Transfer of knowledge associated with a service.
Sources of the perception of costs include, but are not limited to:
- Ease/difficulty of use
- Ease/difficulty of purchase
- Ease/difficulty of after sales or after supply service
- Actual dollar costs if a purchased good or service
- Residual value of a good
Customers and clients determine the value of a good or service intuitively, attaching very different levels of importance to the different sources of costs and benefits. When they perceive the costs outweigh the benefits, they consider the good or service to be low value. When the opposite is true, the good or service is considered to be of high value. When the perceptions balance out, the good or service is considered to be fair value.
Commercial organisations wanting to deliver superior customer service should strive to reduce perceived costs and increase perceived value, much of which comprises low cost options for the organisation, well before reducing the price of a good or service. Government agencies which charge a price directly or through budget mechanisms should do the same. Agencies which do not charge a price should still try to increase the perceived value of their good or service, just with exclusion of price as a perceived cost. High value drives perception of trust and repurchase or re-use.
Moments of truth
Customers and clients perceive value at many touch points in an organisation. Moments of truth mapping is a useful tool for determining where to concentrate efforts on creating improved value.
A moment of truth is when an interaction occurs between a customer and the service provider that can leave a lasting positive or negative impression on a customer.
You may begin with mapping a generic customer’s experience and determining the moments of truth.
It is insufficient, however, to only have a generic organisational view of the map. To make use of the map to improve customer service, the view of each significant target segment must be understood to ensure that appropriate service is given at appropriate moments.
Surveys of customers’ actual experiences, asking them what has frustrated them in the past, are an acceptable way to gather information. Using customer satisfaction surveys which only ask, “How well did we do?” are not.
Customer complaints are a source of extra material, but given that only a small percentage of customers who are dissatisfied actually fill them out, they cannot be the sole source of information.
The employees of an organisation are also a good source of information to determine the moments of truth. Employees see first-hand the body language, the tone and pace of voice and the circumstances that surveys will never see, and that customers will sometimes not realise is happening.
Which segmentation is used is naturally dependent on the nature of the organisation, its goal and the level of data it can collect. However, its ability to detect a particular segment and offer a differentiated service during the day-to-day course of business is the most important determinant of the nature and level of segmentation to use.
Determining, at each moment of truth, for each segment, what impacts on the customer’s perception and memory of the service is the key to providing good service.
Standards of Operation
Customer service performance and behaviour in many organisations is not managed well. The common missing ingredient in managing performance and behaviour to achieve high perceived levels of customer service is the absence of enforced standards of performance.
Standards of performance should take the form of an action and an object of the action with accompanying measures that tell us whether the action has been completed satisfactorily.
For example, answer the telephone in three rings. Or attend a minimum of ten board meetings. Or unload a truck, without incident, within one hour, 80% of the time and with ninety minutes 100% of the time.
Note in the last example, a qualifier “without incident” was given. One might also add conditions to standards. For example, “When the front office is fully staffed, check in will be completed, without complaint, within three minutes on 90% of occasions and within five minutes on 100% of occasions.” The condition is, “When the front office is fully staffed”.
Standards of behaviour are more likely to be written into policies or codes of behaviour. For example, “Directors will declare all pecuniary interests in the pecuniary interest register.” Or “All employees will act in a safe manner at all times at work, travelling to and from work and when representing the company”. Or “All employees will refrain from behaviour which causes offence to customers, suppliers, the general public and colleagues at all times”.
Without standards to follow, employees are likely to do their best efforts, resulting in high levels of variation with a combination of under and over-servicing, the consequences of which are overall low levels of perceived service (people remember and talk about the worst service) and all at an average high cost. With standards to follow, employees are able to perform similarly, allowing much more control over the actual level of service delivered and the cost to do so.