Powerful questions force us to think deeply on the topic about which we chose to ask the questions. Powerful questions are unambiguous and evoke accountability.
Here are seven questions we should all ask to unravel what is required to deliver superior customer service.
1. What customers do we need to make our business successful?
This question demands two answers.
The first is: what is our business? In reaching this understanding, it is beneficial to remember the truths embodied in the following story.
One of the world’s leading manufacturers of electric power tools invites its new executives to attend an induction course, at the opening session of which they are urged to consider a slide projected onto a large wall screen. The image put before them is of a gleaming electric drill and the executives are asked if this is what the company sells.
The executives look uncertainly around at one another and as a group to concede that, yes, this is indeed what the company sells. It seems like a safe bet. They are immediately challenged by the next slide, however: that of a photograph of a hole, neatly drilled in a wall.
“That is what we sell”, the trainers suggest with some considerable satisfaction. “Very few of our customers are passionately committed to the deployment of electric power tools in their homes. They want holes. And it is your jobs as executives in this corporation to find ever more competitive, efficient, and imaginative ways of giving our customers what they want – holes in their walls”.
The second is: what does a successful version of our business look like? What values of which financial, customer and community metrics describe our view of a successful business?
The two answers enable us to start to determine how many customers, with what problems, we need to solve in order to have a successful business.
2. What do our preferred customers expect?
This question demands that we know not only what products or services a customer group needs, but what problem needs to be solved.
Customers will expect us to solve their problem, not just to meet their need. In solving their problem, what will they expect in terms of sales, credit, logistics, billing and communication?
We must match the minimum of what they expect with the minimum of what we provide. We must be willing to ask what customers need and not fall into the trap of using the opinion of one (ours). Conducting well constructed and sampled qualitative research is a good way to find out the relative importance of customer expectations and quantitative research to find out how many customers exist with groups of expectations. If we cannot afford to, then we should talk to the people from whom our preferred customers buy.
3. What would surprise them?
This question demands knowledge of customer’s unmet needs.
In addition to understanding what our preferred customers expect as a minimum, we must understand the range of services which they would not expect, but value. In doing so, we will know what services to give to deliver superior service. Typically, these services are low cost ones which we can afford to give away.
For example, following up a customer in retail sales of medium to high value goods or services has high impact on reducing any feelings of remorse over the purchase and highlights any issues over the purchase to be dealt with quickly. The cost is a few minutes of labour and a phone call. The service is unexpected and, in the vast majority of cases, very welcomed and valued.
4. What would make it easy for our preferred customers to do business with us?
This question demands we know how our customers prefer to buy and what problems our approach to selling may cause them.
Designing our business interactions to help our preferred customers buy our goods and services allows us to focus on two things in sequence.
The first is to design our processes to help our preferred customers buy, thereby reducing their perceived costs.
Secondly, with that design of processes in mind, we can reduce our costs of executing those processes.
Making it easy to do business with us has two advantages. It usually reduces the cost of the transaction, leading to higher available margins. Making it easy to do business with us will also help capture market share of our preferred customer segment, above and beyond what is calculated by a competitive analysis excluding this parameter.
5. What kind of employees do we need to surprise the customers we need?
This question demands we know what behaviour, skills and knowledge are required to solve our preferred customer’s problem, exceed their expectations and make it easy to buy from us.
To deliver superior service, employees need to believe in delivering superior service. Beliefs drive attitudes and behaviours. An employee’s attitude towards customer service is the starting point to delivering superior service.
Recruitment must take into account the beliefs and attitudes of prospective employees as well as their technical skills and experiences.
The beliefs and behaviours of prospective employees must match those required to deliver the minimum service required and the unexpected service which will be valued by our preferred customer segment.
6. How do we attract the people we need to join us, and how do we get them to stay?
This question demands we know what will win the competition for the behaviour, skills and knowledge we require to provide superior service to our preferred customers.
What rewards and recognition system will encourage the types of employees we want to come to our organisation and to stay, grow and teach others?
What design of performance management system will reinforce the behaviour and performance we need to be able to deliver superior service to our preferred customer segment? Will it weed out those who do not fit because of poor behaviour or poor performance?
7. What information would tell us that our business is successful?
This question demands we know not only the values of lagging financial, customer and community metrics that indicate a successful business, but also leading indicators of superior customer service.
Taking time out to ask some or all of these powerful questions on what is necessary to provide superior customer service will create some anxiety. It is designed to. The answers will, in most cases, show a gap between what is happening now and what is needed to deliver superior service.
To close the gap takes both will and ability, not only of the leader of the organisation, but also the team they lead. Involving the team in answering these powerful questions will get the buy-in required to start on the journey to providing superior customer service.